Every organization needs a way to evaluate the effectiveness of its work. At school, students are tested to see if they learn the material. Nonprofits are required by major fund providers to do performance audits every year. Businesses do inventories to determine which goods sell and to ensure their books are in order. However, there is no real, unbiased way to assess government. That’s why we recently hired a national consulting firm to complete an organizational assessment of all aspects of City Government. Your City Council and I want to ensure that we are spending your hard earned money effectively. How is spending $48,000 helping us save money, you ask. That’s a fair question. After a national bidding process was completed, the firm Matrix came in as the most qualified and offered the best price to perform an assessment of all departments. Matrix has completed hundreds of these assessments and has the subject matter experts to perform a rigorous test of the city’s practices and effectiveness. In addition, a national firm such as Matrix can show us a thing or two we might not have thought of in the management of our police, public works, finance, administration, and yes, even our Mayor and City Council. And remember, Orting is not the only city to do this. As a matter of fact, most cities over a certain population have these assessments done at least once every ten years. Because Orting has never done it before, you could say we are little overdue….
Today Orting employs 34 staff to serve a city of about 7,800 people that will grow to 8,500 over the next few years. This is the same number of staff as we had in 2004 with a population of 4,500. We know that we have the smallest number of staff for this population in the state. Our general fund which pays for police, administration, finance, court, planning, and a building department, is also the smallest in the state for a city our size. So it may seem from a casual view that we are as efficient as could be. We have used new technologies to spread our people out as far as we can. We contract out for our legal, engineering, and planning services. One question we must ask is would we be a better organization if we brought those services in house. In fact the financial savings might cover the cost of the assessment in the first year. Right now we have no office space for them. City services are considered “critical services”. That is, they must occur. We can’t take a break from performing all the tasks required of a city. We can’t let down. So there can be risk and liability with inappropriate staffing levels. Your Council and I have determined that we are at an exciting crossroads where we must plan now for the future. Matrix will give us a kind of report card on how we are doing compared to other effective cities. They will also give us recommendations for staffing, how to better organize that staffing, and what new technologies we can bring to bear to improve. We expect their work to be completed by August. I think it’s important to remember that your city government spends about $12 million a year on all our services and facilities. While $48,000 is a lot of money, we expect the benefits that come out of this will mean better services for you at the lowest possible cost. That will be worthwhile.
If you have been around Orting for a few years, you surely remember driving by City Hall at 110 Train Street. and seeing the noses of our fire trucks poking out from the brick bays. As recently as the early 2000s, our firefighters were amazing drivers who could back the modern engines with just 2-3 inches of clearance on either side into bays built 50 years before. The overhead doors could not even be closed and our entire fire department was exposed to whoever might walk in off the street. We were so out-of-date, a picture or Orting’s City Fire Department made the cover of the FEMA fire station safety manual, as an example of what NOT to do. While a little humorous in hindsight, such a spectacle should not be repeated if we have the means to avoid it. In 2006 we built the new facilities you see today. In 2008, the citizens of our city voted to be annexed into the County’s Fire District 18, and we disbanded our city fire department. A couple of years ago, Fire District 18 alerted the city that they were running out of space at the city’s public safety building and wanted to buy the building or leave and build their own facility. The current building – now 11 years old — not only houses the fire department but the police department, court, and city council and commission meetings. After working out an agreement this year to sell the building to OVFR for $2.2 million, it seemed the time had come to take a comprehensive look at city facilities. The purchase and sale of the public safety building must be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2017. Starting in January, the City has to pay rent for the police and court until it completes new facilities in what is expected to be 2018. Right now the Multi-Purpose Center (MPC) can work for Council but would not be sufficient for court. While the Court may have to use the MPC for a while, the facilities are inadequate for that use and the City needs to remedy that as soon as possible.
The City has hired an architectural firm, Helix, through the competitive bidding process. As we speak, Helix is working with us to determine our needs for the police station and where it should be located. The firm will also help the City better understand current and future space/office needs and how it can serve the public more effectively.
The City expects to build a new public works facility by the sewer treatment facility in 2017 or 2018. For the last 20 years, the City has been saving money for this facility and now has sufficient funds to pay cash for it. Right now Orting’s public works staff and supplies are divided between three locations in aging facilities and this is not particularly efficient.
For example, public works currently uses the old fire station (the decades-old brick building mentioned earlier). When a public works building is completed and the fire bays are vacated, the City will have the opportunity to see how we can best use the space. It’s a suitable building but doesn’t meet all the accessibility rules terms of the American Disability Act (ADA) and may have some modern earth quake deficiencies. If we are to be eligible for federal grants, we will have to solve these problems. This is one area our architectural firm will help us evaluate. We still owe about $900,000 on the current Public Safety Building, so after we pay that the sale of the building will leave the City with about $1.3 million. In order to plan for adequate police, court, and public meeting spaces, $1.3 million will have to be combined with reserves from our other funds. The City may even have to consider further bond debt to complete the various projects. Some of our possible decisions would be to determine if the Multipurpose Center (MPC) (connected to the library) is sufficient or should the City consider remodeling the bays in the old building for Council and Court. Can our old facilities be brought up to modern building standards including earthquake readiness? Or is it more cost effective to build a new building? And, no matter which decision is made, how do should it be paid for? This is a great time to give me and your city council your thoughts and ideas about these plans. We will have public meetings in the near future and an open house to make sure our citizens have a chance to weigh in on these plans. We need to plan for the future now if we are to avoid once again becoming the cover of a FEMA manual.