Inside, City Administrator Fred Russell attempts to provide a numerical justification for his ongoing reorganization of city government.
The verdict: The changes will save the city $2,026,246 annually, but only $675,400 this year, because it hasn’t been fully implemented.
Russell also recommends, in the packet mailed to the commission while he’s on vacation for a week, that the city repay employees for two upcoming furlough days.
For months, commissioners Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett have demanded a detailed report on actual savings from the reorganization, but the demand spread across the entire commission earlier this month when members learned that Russell had awarded retroactive raises to 44 employees impacted by the reorganization. The move prompted Mason to call for Russell’s job, but only Lockett and two other commissioners joined Mason in voting to fire the administrator.
Russell, who has stated the raises were given because the 44 employees took on additional duties under the reorganized government, detailed the department-level changes but said little in the report about specific job duties.
A portion of the report obtained by The Augusta Chronicle details numerous additional duties and “implemented efficiencies” assigned during the reorganization to the city’s environmental services, engineering, recreation, finance and utilities departments.
In Environmental Services, for example, where seven employees received annual raises totaling $33,340, the department’s overall salaries and benefits paid drop from $2.15 million before the reorganization to $1.83 million after, according to the report.
The department shrank from 61 to 53 personnel as it took on new tasks of street sweeping, vacant lot maintenance, underground tank and industrial stormwater permitting and brownfields, the report says.
Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson, who was among those given a raise, said the changes were working.
“It’s taking new management with a new set of eyes to come up with a new set of solutions,” he said.
In Engineering, where Russell awarded a dozen raises totaling $137,986, total personnel increased from 76 to 166 as the department took on maintenance of vegetation; drainage; ponds; bridges; Augusta Levee; trees, asphalt and concrete construction; and a Georgia Department of Transportation maintenance contract, the report says.
Engineering, where most of the dismantled former Public Services Department landed, saw its total annual salaries and benefits paid increase from $3 million to $5.4 million during the reorganization.
Commission members’ reaction to the report was mixed.
“How can you not be impressed with $2 million in savings?” said Commissioner Jerry Brigham, adding that Augusta government likely was “still somewhat loaded.”
Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles received his copy of the report later and hadn’t had an opportunity to review it, but was skeptical that the cost-savings numbers actually included vacant positions.
Augusta Human Resources Director Rod Powell said some of the positions eliminated in the reorganization were already vacant, although late Tuesday he wasn’t sure of the precise number.
Commissioner Matt Aitken, who was one of the four to vote to fire Russell, said he’d had little time to review the report, but wanted to know more about the city’s current financial picture that might allow it to refund employees for the furlough days.
Lockett said he applauded the decision on the furlough days but questioned the report.
“A lot of these groups come out of an enterprise fund,” he said of reorganizing departments such as Utilities and Solid Waste that generate revenue on their own and reinvest it.
He also questioned why some of the employees given raises oversee functions now being studied, according to the report, for privatization.
“It seems to me like we are playing a shell game,” Lockett said.