City staff is sufficient

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 24, 2014 09:29 am

The Baker City Council last week revived a debate that councilors started last spring.

The issue is whether the city has enough employees to do all the tasks residents expect.

Councilor Mike Downing contends the city workforce is too small. 

He believes the city needs more firefighters, police officers and public works employees.

Mayor Richard Langrell and Councilor Roger Coles disagree.

“I think we have enough employees,” Langrell said last week.

Councilors staked out pretty much the same positions last spring while they were working on the budget for the fiscal year that started July 1, 2013. In fact one of the Council’s top two priorities is to reduce labor costs over the next five years.

That might be tough to accomplish — especially with the uncertainty in the city’s bill for Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System.

Fortunately, cutting labor costs might not be necessary.

The City Council approved three-year contracts last year with each of the city’s three labor unions. Those contracts include annual pay raises from 1 percent to 1.5 percent — modest amounts that the city should be able to afford without resorting to layoffs or other major changes.

We’re skeptical, though, that the city, with its relatively stable population and consequently stable property tax revenue, can afford to hire more employees without making significant cuts elsewhere.

Ultimately, it’s City Manager Mike Kee’s job to decide how many employees the city needs to serve citizens.

And Kee was unequivocal when he addressed the Council’s debate last week: “The (city) staff isn’t overloaded. We’ve been maintaining staffing levels, maintaining the services we provide.”

That’s what we expect from the city, it’s what we’ve been getting, and we’re confident that it’s what we’ll continue to receive.