As many as 50 Augusta human resources and payroll personnel stand to lose their jobs if the city outsources those functions.
A search for a new human resources director has been under way but, now, some commissioners want to retain former director Rod Powell as a consultant for three more months to assist with the outsourcing process.
“We’ve had, obviously, quite a few errors in a very poorly managed HR department in the last six years before Rod Powell came over,” said Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, a proponent of outsourcing.
Those errors include paying as much as $1 million in health benefits to employees from whom the premiums were not being deducted, he said.
Recently, the city has had difficulty ascertaining who in each department handles timecards and payroll, while each of 38 to 40 departments has an employee performing the functions, Bowles said.
Those staffers, plus 10 to 12 in the human resources office itself, are candidates for downsizing, he said.
The city has an accounting firm, KPMG, performing a cost-benefit analysis of whether the services could be done for less.
The 2012 budget approved by commissioners last week allotted $1.09 million for human resources. If these positions are eliminated, they would be in addition to 34 jobs already targeted for downsizing by the end of 2011, City Administrator Fred Russell said.
Powell, who retired in August, said he’d worked in other cities to outsource human resources functions and was willing to remain with the city as a consultant through the process.
So far, he’s agreed as part of his three-month severance package to provide consulting services on certain issues, including the city’s new personnel policies and procedures manual, he said.
Powell is working remotely from his new home in Florida but has agreed to make periodic visits to Augusta.
The outsourcing process means developing a request for proposals and inviting private firms to underbid what the city currently pays its employees to do, he said.
The private sector handles human resources very differently from government, and Powell recommended keeping a couple of human resources staffers in-house to provide a point of contact.
“I wouldn’t recommend contracting everything,” he said.
Processing employee benefits was recently automated and the process contracted out to ADP, a company that promised 1,000 Augusta jobs when it opened a solution center on Flowing Wells Road in 2008. ADP offers payroll services, which currently are handled in-house through what Powell said is a mostly manual process.
While it had narrowed down a list of candidates, the city is likely holding off on hiring a new human resources director because he or she would join the department “thinking they’d be running a normal shop,” Powell said.
Augusta’s four black commissioners have complained about the method used by the remaining six prior to their six “yes” votes to outsource other departments, including the city golf course and Augusta Public Transit.
An extension of Powell’s contract goes before the commission’s Administrative Services Committee on Monday.