Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana)
BYLINE: By, Bill Engle
Noting the structures of city and county government “are not conducive to cost-effective management,” the Joint Commission on City-County Government on Tuesday recommended the city and county be managed by separate administrators.
But the city cannot do that without changing state law, and the county can only do so by creating another position that would work on the behalf of the county commissioners.
But that wasn’t the commission’s charge. Commission members — five appointed by Richmond Mayor Sally Hutton, five by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and five by the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce — were asked to study city and county government, looking for efficiencies and potential cost savings for taxpayers.
The joint commission Tuesday released its report to about 85 people at the County Administration Building. The 16-page report capped a seven-month study by the commission of city and county government offices.
DOCUMENT: The final report from the Joint Commission on City-County Government
The recommendations bubbled throughout with requests for more cooperation, better management, more uniformity of practices and an emphasis on completing projects with “an eye on the bottom line.”
In short, the report asked officials to run their offices more like a business.
“There were a lot of business people involved in this commission, and I think that’s reflected in the report,” said commission co-chairman Jon Ford. “Our whole process was open, and we learned a lot. We think these recommendations are realistic and achievable.”
Their first recommendation — for the city to hire an administrator to manage daily affairs — is not achievable, at least under current Indiana code. Wayne County Attorney Ron Cross told commission members in an appendix to the report that because of population, Richmond is a second class city and, as such, is governed by an elected mayor and city council.
If the population fell below 35,000, the Richmond Common Council would have to adopt an ordinance to become a third class city and thus be eligible to be run by a city administrator.
The county, however, can create the position of county administrator, who would act on the behalf of the commissioners and whose budget would be controlled by county council.
The report includes recommendations that:
· The city information technology department, which is considered understaffed, add at least one full-time technician and one support person,
· The city review purposes and problems caused by city control of zoning for the 2-mile fringe to alleviate confusion for developers and property owners,
· City and county government officials continue exploring opportunities to share staff and expertise in engineering, vehicle maintenance, road plowing and road repairs,
· The city conduct a financial analysis of the Richmond Fire Department’s plan to provide ambulance service in the city to better determine costs, benefits and potential savings and present the findings to the Richmond Common Council,
· City and county government officials should work to reach uniformity in policies, including for paid time off for employees, purchasing and justification for a government purchased vehicle,
· A representative from Richmond Common Council be a part of negotiations of contracts with city union employees, and
· City officials and employee union representatives recognize the city’s financial plight and “find ways of aligning employee fringe benefits to that reality.”
After the presentation, 16 people asked a variety of questions about the study, most of which related to identifying cost savings for taxpayers.
“When will you be able to identify the percentages of savings?” asked Glen Gentry of Richmond.
“At this point, we’re not sure of what the savings would be,” said Wayne County Commissioner Ken Paust. “If we can save any money, we’re going to do that today.”
“In the end,” Mary Anne Butters, a candidate for Wayne County commissioner, asked, “what’s next?”
Paust said he and Mayor Sally Hutton “will sit down and get this process started very soon.
“It’s a good report, and we are looking forward to digging into it,” he said.
“The report is very good,” Hutton said. “It’s good to see that they are recommending some of the ideas that we have been toying around with for several years.”
County council president Gary Saunders said city and county councils will meet in the weeks ahead to continue the process.
“We will be meeting shortly to look at everything that’s been discussed,” he said. “It’s very important that we continue the collaboration and continue this process.”
“The measure of the report’s success is what we do with it,” Paust said.
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