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Staff Shuffle City Plan Cuts Deficit
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A re-shuffling of positions - and the elimination of one - has resulted in a 'shake up' at Escalon City Hall, with the ultimate outcome being a cost savings to help the bottom line.

"When I was appointed acting and then made interim city manager, one of the things the council directed me to do was, given our current upside down budget, look at the structure of the city, to see if we could operate more efficiently," said Interim City Manager Doug Dunford. "We wanted to realign the departments in a way that would help the city and be beneficial for the citizens and customers."

With the Nov. 30 retirement resignation of City Planner Duane Peterson, Dunford said that was one area where savings could be achieved. Peterson had been filling the role of what city officials termed the 'community development department' director, overseeing the planning and building departments. Now, that role has been added to the job description of City Engineer John Abrew and building and planning will join with engineering to become the Development Services Department, with Abrew overseeing it. No new city planner will be brought on board. Peterson, starting in January, will work one day a week through the end of the fiscal year in June to help with the transition.

Carol Norris, who worked with Peterson, will serve as the administrative assistant for planning, building and engineering under the new department umbrella.

"We feel John can oversee it, keep it moving forward," Dunford said of combining the departments. "That will make it a one stop shop."

Rather than have people go to one department for building permits, another for planning questions and yet a third for engineering, they can now get their questions answered in one location.

"Things will be expedited," Dunford explained. "We also looked at some services that the Assistant to the City Manager was responsible for to see if we could consolidate some of that."

As a result, payroll, the city's computer system and website administration has been moved under the finance department auspices, all city council communications have been placed with the City Clerk, and the Assistant to the City Manager position has been eliminated. Bridget Gaines, who had been in that role, was able to use her seniority to move in to the post of Recreation Director, with former director Denean Santos let go. Additional responsibilities were added to the Recreation Director position, with the post now encompassing both youth and senior programs and charged with overseeing activities at the Community Center and the adjacent Hogan Park.

"They're out there reaching out, not only to kids but also to the older population," Dunford said of the rec department staff. "We also moved recreation back under the police department."

Staff in that department will join the rest of the police department personnel in the new Civic Center facility on McHenry Avenue later this month, when the move is made from the current downtown location. Development Services Department personnel will then move in to the old police department, taking over that building.

"The Recreation Director now reports to the police chief," said Dunford.

Having recreation under the police department should mean more efficiency, he added.

"The way the (new) building is set up, coaches can come in and sign up, get fingerprinted and get their ID cards," Dunford explained. "Bridget has assumed the role of rec director and we're looking forward to her moving that department forward."

Gaines and Fran Gaither, who handles much of the secretarial work for recreation programs, will both move into the new McHenry Avenue building.

The city now has five department heads - Police, Public Works, City Engineering/Development Services, City Clerk and Finance - and two mid-management posts, recreation and police services, streamlining the management team.

"There were a lot of moves and we were able to significantly reduce our deficit," Dunford said. "It went from $104,000 down to about $11,000."

City Mayor Walt Murken said the council was pleased with the changes recommended by Dunford, with the ultimate goal of maintaining services but cutting costs.

"We're trying to trim and streamline where we can and I don't think it (staff shuffling) will make a difference that's noticeable to the public," Murken said.

He added that while he doesn't like having to let anyone go, the reorganization was achieved with the loss of just one staff member.

"I'm generally pleased with it," Murken said of the plan. "So far, he (Dunford) has had some good ideas, things we were able to implement to save costs."

Councilman Jeff Laugero agreed that the reorganization plan seemed to maximize savings while minimizing impact.

"It's unfortunate there will be some impact, with one person losing their job, we don't want to see that happen but this is sound and well thought out," Laugero said of the reorganization. "To close a $100,000 (budget) gap to $11,000, that's pretty good."

Laugero said the council was eager to see what recommendations came out of the staff review.

"One of the things we wanted done was to really examine the structure of the city, are we using everyone as efficiently as we can," he noted. "Doug has gone in and reviewed it and made recommendations ... it makes sense, the plan takes the deficit down and he is making good business decisions. We have to be efficient with the staff we have to ride the tough economic times out."

Dunford said the goal was two-fold, to become more efficient and balance the budget.

"It was an efficiency study, a way to help us operate smoothly, more efficiently and cheaper," he said.