Spend Smarter: City reacts to fewer resources

Historic City News has been following the budget planning process in St. Augustine as officials faced with the need to cut approximately $2 million from the city’s annual budget pored over ways to trim expenditures.

In an announcement from Cathy DuPont received this afternoon, Historic City News was informed that the search has included “every department in city government”.

“The result in savings has been astounding,” DuPont said. “The creativity invigorating”.

Continued requests for services, and in some cases increased calls for services, have made it difficult for Mark Litzinger, Tim Burchfield and City Manager John Regan to reconcile requests to needs — especially when there has been no increase in financial resources.

Historic City News editor Michael Gold, who is a candidate for the St. Augustine City Commission in November, applauded the news when it was announced earlier today. “We have to change the culture of spending in city government,” Gold said. “I really support what John and Tim and Mark are doing; employing wise spending processes that are working in other communities.”

Gold added, “A department-by-department assessment of the way the city does business is in order. The City of St. Augustine is arguably the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the community. We need to investigate how we make those purchases — understanding the indispensable role the City plays in our local economy.”

DuPont provided Historic City News with an overview of a dozen ways city management has found to maintain a high level of service with a lower amount of spending; what they call “spending smarter”.

1. Health Insurance: Through aggressive shopping and a realignment services, the city was able to trim what at first appeared to be a 26% increase in health insurance for city employees down to 2% realizing a savings of over $645,000.

2. Tires: To do the city’s work takes a lot of city vehicles and a lot of tires. Rather than purchasing new tires, the city now retreads tires at half the cost, saving about $15,000 a year. And with current retread technology, the process can be repeated up to three times, really saving where the rubber hits the road.

3. Vehicle painting: When the city purchases a vehicle, it spends about $800 to have that vehicle painted brown. Not anymore. Even though vehicles purchases are reduced greatly, another cost cutting move, the savings from leaving new vehicles with their factory white color, but still be identified by the city coat of arms, will amount to about $5,000 a year.

4. Surplus: For many years the city has held periodic auctions to dispose of surplus equipment such as cars and computers, bulldozers and desks. Getting a fair return depended on who came to the auction; many times there were not many bidders. Now, though the use of govdeals.com, something of an eBay for government surplus, the city is able to reach a much wider audience of bidders. This year alone, surplus sales have netted over $75,000 for the city, ten times the normal income from surplus sales.

5. Generator maintenance: The dozen generators at key locations throughout the city, key for continued reliable service in the event of emergencies, are all now maintained in-house for an annual savings of $12,000 rather than outsourcing the routine, and necessary, upkeep.

6. Cooling systems: During the last week of July the city installed a new air conditioning “chiller” at City Hall to replace one that was inefficient and demanded higher maintenance. Anticipated savings annually: $15,000 – $20,000.

7. Work force: Reducing work force where there is not a reduction in work load is challenging, but when the new fiscal year begins in October, there will be 17 fewer positions in city personnel than there are now. The reduction was accomplished by allowing positions left empty from retirements or resignations to go unfilled, and by taking an aggressive approach to reorganizations that combine and reassign workloads to be more efficient. By taking these steps, workforce costs were reduced by $985,000 a year.

8. Energy conservation, small steps: The most effective way to cut energy costs is to conserve, and the city continues to make every effort to reduce consumption no matter how small the increment. Conference rooms, restrooms, and most offices in city buildings are now equipped with motion sensors to turn lights off automatically when the room is not in use. Estimated savings each year: $5,000.

9. Energy conservation, large steps: One of the city’s biggest users of electrical lighting is the Historic Downtown Parking Facility, but with the planned installation of the latest in LED lighting technology, the facility will be able to maintain the same safe, well lit environment for $60,000 – $80,000 less a year. Also, the city’s Wastewater Treatment Division implemented aeration and electrical improvements taking approximately $100,000 off the city’s annual electrical bill.

10. Life Insurance and Liability Insurance: By seeking competitive bids on the city’s employee life insurance program, a company was identified that would provide the service at a lower cost at which point the city’s current provided met the lower cost, so a savings without a change in providers. Estimated annual savings: $3,000. Additionally, competitive bidding for the city’s general liability policy resulted in a savings of $110,000.

11. Being green saves dollars: Cost: Recycling is not just the right thing to do; it’s the dollar-wise thing to do. By recycling cardboard, construction and demolition debris, and yard waste programs the cost of materials going to the land fill is less, so is the expense is less, 30% for construction debris alone. Recycling also includes refurbishing, repairing and reusing equipment like a compactor and dozens of dumpsters saving over $50,000. Being greener also resulted in the restructuring of pick-up rout saving over $20,000 in labor and 1,000 gallons diesel fuel annually.

12. Reducing mowing responsibility: For every mile of state right-of-way the city maintains under its agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation, the city does more work than the state requires. Reducing the area maintained by a total of 3.5 resulted in approximately $28,000 dollars annually.

“Even as the economy improves and there are opportunities to raise the level of service as requested by the public,” DuPont wrote, “the spending smarter practices instituted in these lean years will serve us all well into the future.”

Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News photographer Kerry McGuire

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