Commentary: Newport council sets appropriate staffing levels

May 19, 2012|By Dave Kiff

Re. Wu: "Employee-to-resident ratio suggests big govt.," May 6):

It was kind of Jack Wu to credit me with swinging a Conan-like budget ax (the Barbarian, though sometimes I feel more like O'Brien), but that's not where credit is due.

The City Council adopts budgets, including cuts. All seven members spend many hours reviewing the budget documents by the time they vote. They rely upon their peers on the three-member Council Finance Committee to study every detail of the budget I propose.


In recent years, they have shrunk the number of staff positions beyond my initial proposals. Conan might be wielding an ax, but the council pushes the arm forward. That's how it works in a council-manager form of government. The council sets the tone, I follow it.

When developing the draft budget, I'm guided by two important documents developed by the council. The first is the 2010 Fiscal Sustainability Policy to protect reserves, require employees to pay more for pensions, set up a second plan for new hires and more. The second is 2011's Compensation Philosophy document, which directs staff to use private sector comparisons, stay toward the middle of comparable agencies and more. These policies have changed the way we do business. We've gone from 830 full-time employees in 2009 to 755 as proposed in the budget year that starts July 1, 2012.

Jack also compared us to neighboring cities. He's not the first to use the "employees per capita" method. While it might be as good as any to use, I dislike it because of the boatload of assumptions that come with it. The main problem is this: Which per capita number should we use?

We have about 85,000 residents. Another 60,000 to 80,000 people come here to work or visit each weekday. And 100,000 to 200,000 arrive on a nice weekend or summer day. So which number is best? If it's 85,000, you assume that city employees (police, fire, lifeguards) don't serve non-residents. (Now that would be barbaric!) Yet 285,000 wouldn't make sense either; we only reach that number a few days out of the year.

Cities around us are different and do things differently, making comparisons difficult. Consider:

•Geography. Newport Beach has bays in the middle, islands and a peninsula. For response-time reasons, that means up to four more fire stations and staffing. Even though Huntington and Newport both have lifeguards, we manage about 7 miles of beach while H.B. guards about 3.5.

Newport Harbor is both commercial and recreational, unlike Huntington Harbour.

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