Intended to flatten management structure and reduce payroll, an ongoing reorganization of Augusta government in the works since late 2010 hasn’t reduced overall salaries by much, an analysis by The Augusta Chronicle has found.
Overall, Augusta government staffing went from 2,772 employees at the start of 2011 to 2,437 in January 2012.
Despite 335 fewer positions on the payroll, salary costs dropped by only 1.3 percent, going from around $91.32 million to nearly $90.13 million this year.
City Administrator Fred Russell said the plan could reduce annual payroll costs by about $2 million when he unveiled plans to reorganize city government in early 2011. A year later, total salaries are down by just more than $1.19 million.
When Russell surprised Augusta commissioners last summer by awarding 44 hefty pay increases – several of them greater than 40 percent – to select engineering, environmental services, finance, recreation and utilities managers, he explained that each had taken on more work and additional supervisory duties under the reorganization and the higher pay would actually create savings.
The savings has yet to surface in personnel costs, however. According to The Chronicle’s analysis, the only departments where total salaries noticeably decreased over the past year, among departments that were not merged with others or outsourced, were animal control, the library and Augusta Regional Airport.
Since the beginning of 2011, 87 employees have had raises of 10 percent or more. Ten pay increases of more than 12 percent awarded in Engineering amounted to greater than $111,500. Fourteen pay raises in Recreation, Parks and Facilities grew the payroll by $90,521. The lone employee left in transit received a 53 percent pay increase.
Transit was outsourced last year and 69 of its 70 positions went to the private sector, although the city still pays Mobility Transit to run the service.
Reorganized to take in building and grounds maintenance, Augusta Recreation, Parks and Facilities managed to shed 16 positions over the year, but the department’s total salaries grew by more than $1.82 million, a 52 percent increase.
Most departments retained about the same number of personnel in 2012 as they had in 2011. Total department salaries still rose slightly, however, as most employees who had gone without a raise for several years and lost three days’ pay last year because of furlough reduction got a $500 raise this year from the commission.
The changes, though slight, are “part of what I was directed to do, to make sure we’re getting the best bang for the buck,” Russell said. “The telling aspect is, at what level do we want to maintain services? It’s always a give and take.”
Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, a proponent of restructuring the government and outsourcing city tasks, called the slight payroll reduction “a very slow start” to a necessary process.
“It’s been delayed. We can’t get consensus of the commission to make the necessary cuts. Every time we try to streamline or hire a private manager, we’re racists, bigots or ending the federal government, and we’ve only done two: transit and the golf course.”
Commissioner Jerry Brigham said the reductions would save the city money in the long term.
“How much more money would those positions save over this year, and the year after that? That’s where the savings is,” he said.
The commissioner who’s called himself “nitpicker-in-chief” said he would prefer to analyze the data himself but was optimistic after last week’s commission retreat, where the group agreed to hire an efficiency expert.
“I’m hoping if we get this efficiency study done it will tell us what’s going on,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said. “Someone with the professional expertise (can) come in and give this government an unbiased look, without any internal influences.”