Wednesday, June 14, 2006

6/13/06 City Council Notes

By Dian Woodhouse

I attended about half of the city council meeting and then the Mount Ogden Neighborhood meeting because they were cross-scheduled. All Council members were present except for Bill Glasmann. The budget was approved, with the City Council showing an admirable concern for the nuts and bolts of running a city. Infrastructure, in a word, and concern for the citizenry, too. For instance, in the Standard Examiner a few days ago we saw an article that the administration was proposing a 13.34% increase in our water rates. The Council approved a 3.4% increase, and wants to appoint a committee to look into rates and solutions. It is said that we citizens are not paying for all the water we use, and our water use is being heavily subsidized by the city. But of course, the hows and wherefores of all this have to be looked into, and until it is, no large increase will happen.

Council Executive Director Bill Cook made the budget presentation, and there have been some interesting changes. First, as things now stand and have stood, we have been putting some of the lease revenue we receive from BDO back into BDO as per our agreement with the military. As of October, 2006, this arrangement will end, and we will then receive All of the lease money from BDO, which brings us an infusion of New Money. The council put this new money toward capital improvements. Not development.

(This brings up an interesting question, which might illustrate my own confusion on this more than anything, but the question is---We delegated 50% of BDO lease revenue to pay our mall bonds back during the rec center days. Is that figure now 50% of the total we will be getting in October, when we begin getting all the revenue, or the same monetary figure as it was when delegated, which would actually be 25% of the future total?)

Whatever the answer to that one, it was stated that we will have $1 million available for capital improvements. Money for a bond payment due in '08 has been set aside, and here are some, not all, figures for that $1 million:

$121,000 for asphalt trails
$49,000 for a shade screen for the amphitheatre in the summer
$25,000 for a portion of the roof of the Union Station
$10,000 for trails in general, as requested by the Trails Committee
$9,000 for plumbing for the fire station

Then, $180,000 has been left in the fund from which to draw upon in the future.

There are also two "entryway" projects---one on 24th Street and one on 31st. These are evidently being done to beautify the entrances to Ogden from the freeway exits on those streets, and it is timely to do them now since those portions of the freeway are being worked on.

The Council has also asked that an ordinance be drafted concerning CO2 protectors for police, and that a financial tracking system be instituted for the RDA.

This is heady stuff, to be sure. The Arts grants have been beefed up to $30,000, provision has been made for part time help for fire operations, and training has been added for the planning and landmarks commissions.

But there was a downside. The police and fire representatives were not happy. Not at all. It seems that both were given les than a 5% merit raise based on a score of 3 or higher on their evaluations. And to further complicate this, a new merit system is being considered for the police. Both received a 2% bonus, but I don't think either received a cost of living allowance.

One of the problems with this is that this a 5% merit raise was also given to UAGE, which accepted it rather early on in the negotiating process. However, the merit system for police and fire is much different, and I would imagine, more rigorous. To treat these three entities the same when they are all so different and when police and fire are way below average when compared to other cities along the Wasatch Front is not really a good decision, in my opinion.

This opinion was shared by those who spoke against this issue. One, a representative of the Civil Service Commission, said that the Council really had to take a look at what was happening in the matter of police terminations. Evidently, new, young police men and women hire on in Ogden City and, "They suck up money for our training and then they leave," because they get higher salaries elsewhere. "Ogden is a tough beat," this gentleman said, but, "To train them and lose them is penny wise and pound foolish."

An officer then spoke, and mentioned again the resolutions the police alleged in the hearing last week were not being complied with by Ogden City after Ogden City had agreed to comply with them. The final offer by Ogden City was "sending a message that the resolutions are null and void," this officer said, and stated that it was if the City were saying, "We'll tell you this much today, but we're not going to abide by it in the future."

He also spoke of the fact that the merit system was based on a sliding scale, and part of it has to do with the number of citations the officers give. "Should I write more citations so I can get a 5 instead of a 3?" he asked.

This last, in my opinion, really can't go on. I've heard that this was part of how the OPD worked, and now it has been confirmed. This does not bode well for a harmonious relationship between our law enforcement and us, to be sure. It makes it really difficult. It really taints the way we look at each other. Is it comfortable for us to drive around in the city knowing that we may be being looked upon by the police as a means to achieve a citation quota? Is it good working conditions for them to be under the gun to achieve this quota in order to make a living wage? Especially in terms of law enforcement, where violations are either there or they aren't, I think it puts a layer on how they have to do that job that really shouldn't be there at all.

Sharon Beech spoke in favor of revising the budget so as to get the police and fire employees more money. "I think it unconscionable that these men have to come here and beg for a living wage so they can take care of the rest of us," she said. She went on to suggest several ways for cutting the fat from the budget, one of which involved city employees submitting for gas reimbursement instead of being given blanket monthly car allowances. Another was to get rid of the lobbyist. "That lobbyist wasn't working for these men back here," she said, mentioning SB 229, and ended with the suggestion that Stuart Reid return his severance package. "I think there was chicanery involved in that, and I think he should give the money back."

Representative Neil Hansen spoke, and raised an interesting point, which was that the population of Ogden has grown, fuel prices have increased, utilities have gone up, and yet the employees hired to serve the city have not kept up with that changing pace in either number or wages. He too advocated budget revisions along these lines.

Finally, a fireman spoke, briefly and to the point: "We feel this budget has punished police and firefighters for going to impasse," he said.

Councilman Safsten brought up a few points, which were: that many things on the capital improvements list had been there for years, that if a department generates revenue, that revenue cannot be allocated to another department, and that the resolutions the officer referred to the City allegedly violating were year to year things, not constant.

And Chairman Garcia stated that in his 13 years of public service, this budget had been the most difficult one he had ever had to do.

The Council looked sort of glum at this point, and understandably so. In my opinion, many of the budgetary decisions and emphases made were quite good and on the right track. But everybody wants a win/win, and I think everybody in that room was wishing we could, for once have one. As matters stand now, we are involved in a losing proposition with the police and fire departments in that we are simply training employees that other cities then benefit from. This is not good for us as a city, it certainly can't be good for morale in those two departments, and it's more like treading water than actually getting anywhere. In the police presentation, the police said something like, "We have made a commitment to this city," and I think it's way overdue that we also make a commitment to them.

As always, corrections, additions, and comments are greatly appreciated.

21 comments:

sharon said...

Such a good job of reporting, Dian. Also, your own observations are always 'spot on'!

I don't think you were there at the end when the council discussion before adopting the budget turned up several areas of concern.

Not the least was the lousy treatment of the police and firefighters. Discussion followed and questions were asked of Andrea Lockwood and Cook on whether or not these areas could be revisited if they voted NOW to adopt the budget.

The budget needs to be ready by June 22...so yet time to work hard.

They decided to vote now to accept...the only dissenting vote was......ta da....Dorrene Jeske.

She felt the council had too many issues unresolved.

But, Dian...thanx again for being so astute.

Rick Safsten stopped in his pickup where we were standing in the parking lot after the meeting. Grinning, he called to me, and pointing at the truck, said, "This is all mine....I've made the last payment!" Good sport.

Screwed again by Godfrey said...

The council was fed mis information by the City Administration on the pay for performance issues. The UAGE employees will receive a 5% merit increase if they score a 3 or better on their evaluations, the Firefighters and Police will receive a 2.5% merit increase if they receive a 3 on their evaluations, the city administration has said that they can’t give one employee group something and not the others. What this all boils down to, is they are punishing the Firefighters and Police for going to impasse.

The City administration’s negotiations are very similar to the other ways that the A-team presents issues on other projects such as the Gondola, Rec Center, and many other projects. They provide many misleading facts and information. The Council was provided with no information from the employee groups, only the information that the administration wanted them to hear.

The negotiation process is flawed, the Council needs to have representative, or allow the employee groups to provide their information directly through a work session because the administration can not be trusted to provide the employees version of concerns and requests.

It's pretty sad that the employees who work so hard to provide a service to the community, can’t trust the administration, who is constantly attempting to screw the employees, and are successful in doing so.

dian said...

Thanks, Sharon, and you're right--I couldn't stay for the entire meeting. About revisiting the budget items---it is my understanding that June 22nd is the date that the budget Has to be finished. However, it is finished and approved now. Early.

It is also my understanding that they can revise it at any time.

About these police and fire negotiations--I do have questions. It seems to me that the city's negotiator simply went in with an offer and held firm on it. To my way of thinking, if the city is involved in a collective bargaining process, bargaining is the operative word. Not to say that Mr. Johnson should have gone in initially with a falsely low offer, but simply that during the process, as concerns and conditions were brought up, they should have been addressed in some manner.

Perhaps they were. Not being present at these meetings, I couldn't say. But the unfortunate impression I had, at least, was that the city had made its decision even before the negotiations began, and it seems that the other side feels now that the city was unwilling even to listen.

These are intangible things and have nothing to do with the money, but the fact is that they do have an effect. A very negative effect, and that is too bad.

There are a lot of questions here, in fact. To hear that the city was subsidizing the water was unusual. How are they arriving at this conclusion? Are they looking at individual meters, or are they throwing the whole expense (much of which might have to do with their own property,) into one category and then coming up with a shortfall, and was there then a push to raise our rates on that basis? Or is this what the committee is supposed to look at? Also, we have inflow pipes leaking all over the city, as we all know. Is that the cause of the high water expense? Or are we all truly using more than we pay for?

Very interesting issues here, to name just two of them.

Curmudgeon said...

Dian:
I don't know what to say about the budget as it now stands, particuarly with respect to the police and firemen. It's not a good situation.

I do know this. The city, particularly homeowners, gain a great deal from a fully staffed, well equiped, constantly training fire department. Where I used to live, the city had a fire department with the highest possible rating by the insurance agency that does that sort of thing. As a result, homeowners' insurance costs in the city were appreciably lower. When the Council stinted on firemen's equipment and training budgets once, and the rating fell, and homeowners' [and city public] insurance payements went up, there was hell to pay until the top rating was restored. Council research showed that very nearly all the money they invested in having top rated fire protection was "returned" to the city, so to speak, via lower insurance rates, and via taxes generated when that saved money was spent on other things. In short, they concluded that it cost the city money, overall, not to have a fully supported, constantly training experienced fire department. And certainly having experienced men trained on the city's dollar leaving to take jobs [and the benefit of their training] to other towns makes little sense. It's not wise government.

The police situation is a little different, with respect to insurance benefits. But Ogden especially [with its apparent historic reputation as an unsafe place, particularly downtown --- which reputation is wholly undeserved now] it would seem to me has a particular interest in having a fully staffed, experienced, well equiped and constantly training police department as well.

I think I mentioned once before that I'd seen one of those "top twenty places to retire" lists [there are lots fo them out there] and I looked up Ogden [which had not made the top list.] Ogden rated very high on some scales, reasonbably high on others, but was dropped way down in the overall ratings because, compared to the other cities looked at, the crime rate was higher. The point is, having a top police department is a development matter.

There is endless talk of late about what Ogden has to do to become more attractive to businesses and the people who work in them so they will want to come here to work and live. We seem to be focusing largely on glitzy "silver bullets" and massive specualtive projects in this debate [Rec Centers, Gondolas, Tyrolean mountain castles etc.] Perhaps we need to focus a little less on one-shot silver bullets and more on getting the mundane, unglamorous basics of urban public services right first. Like public safety, fire protection, water and sewage systems. I don't care how many Tyrolean villas staffed with waiters in lederhosen get built: if the streets aren't kept safe, and clean, and the water doesn't run clear from the tap, and the sewage lines aren't working right, folks will not come. The basics aren't glamorous, but they matter.

Finally, I don't know if the Council and Administration inserted the sliding-scale merit pay system for the police and firemen as punishment for not agreeing to a contract via negotiations [i.e. punishment for going to impass.] But it looks that way. Or, rather, it certainly would look that way to me if I were a fireman or a policeman. And the kind of long-term resentment that generates is not good. Not for the firemen and policemen and not for the city. Expecially not when the papers report the city buying a hummer for the use of high management and sweetheart handshake "termination" payouts for management appointees who, it turns out, are not actually terminating their employment by the city. And so on. Folks are generally willing to put up with a lot in a tight budget year provided they believe all city employees are in the same boat and making sacrifices. They are not, however, when there is [or seems to be] a double-standard in place with economic pain being passed down to labor, at the same time perks and benefits are being served up to high administration and management. This too is not good governance.

Thanks, yet again, Dian for the full report and your thoughts on what was going on.

dian said...

Screwed said:

The Council was provided with no information from the employee groups, only the information that the administration wanted them to hear.

I thought that Mark Johnson went back and forth between the administration and council and the unions. Keeping everybody up to date on what was going on on both sides. No reason for my thinking that except that that is how negotiating is normally done, I thought.

You're saying that wasn't the case?

screwed by Godfrey again said...

Dian, given the way that the council asked questions about the UAGE, merit pay for performance, and the Firefighter and Police pay for performance just implemented, and watching the way Mark Johnson acted like he didnt have the figures, and the track record of the administration in tell the whole story, "white lies". It's my perception that the Council didnt recieve the employees side of the negotiations. The employees didnt have any direct communication with the council to clarify their stance. Therefore I dont believe that the council got the truth from the administration, Johnson works for the Mayor, not the Council, they are not getting the whole story.

dian said...

Screwed:

This then must have been why Kevin Hoffmann, the firefighter rep, asked at the last meeting if the impasse hearing could be held in a council work session, saying later that he wanted to be able to talk to the council face to face. Have a dialogue. Amazing that this didn't happen during the entire process.

Had to have the Blogmeister correct the main article, specifically dealing with the offered merit increases, and thank you for drawing my attention to this. The correct figure is either a 2.5% or a 2%, whereas I had written a 5%. Have a call into someone who should know, and in the meantime have written that it was less than %5, which will have to do until someone gets back to me.

Again, thank you for drawing my attention to this.

ozboy said...

What does the budget say about the Little Lord's Million dollar brain trust?

What does Patterson, Harmer, Johnson, Brown, and three or four more on that level, really cost the tax payers? How much is ripped out of the city's budget to pay their salaries, retirements, health Ins, Secretaries, Cars, Trips and other little perks the Cops and FireFighters could only dream about?

Just how much dead weight are the tax payers of Ogden really carrying with this gang of incompitents?

Anonymous said...

Dian,

For all city employees:
1-time bonus pay: 2%
PLUS
Merit Pay: up to 5%, based on performance evaluation by supervisor.

Merit pay scale is different for UAG employees and the Police/Fire. This is the rub, of course.

The UAG employees negotiated their merit scale in the discussions with Mark Johnson. When Fire and Police went to impasse, by agreement, all negotiated items come off the table, including the merit scale that UAG got. Police and Fire took a chance and lost their ability to get the UAG merit scale. Those 2 groups got a less desirable scale last night. It makes me wonder why Police and Fire went to impasse in the first place. If I were a firefighter or a police officer this morning, I would be wondering what my union rep. just did for me. The UAG rep. is looking good to his folks this morning.

ARCritic said...

Dian,
The way that I understand the BDO lease revenue dedicated to the Rec Center bond is that it is only dedicated as collateral. The lenders were concerned, like everyone here, that the lease revenue plus the RDA tax increment from the 10 other RDA projects would not be enough to pay the bond. Especially if the business in the Rec Center fail and there is no lease revenue. The city committed revenue from BDO as a back up. So the city has full use of the BDO lease money until the payments on the Rec Center bonds can't be made by the city.

I was also confused a little bit by your comment that Safsten said money from a revenue generating department can't be transfered to another department. With what are called 'enterprise funds' basically business the city runs, like the water department and sewer department, that is true. However, money from most fines and forfeitures in courts and fees in the development (building) department and recreation fees all go into the general fund and are used accordingly. Granted, except for the court, the department budget is usually much bigger than their revenue.

And just so you all know, the other cities and I would bet the county are appreciative to the citizens of Ogden for the training that you provide to the policemen and firemen that we hire. :-)

dian said...

Thanks, anonymous. I just finished talking with a firefighter and received a bit more info about this. Am sort of reeling from it, too.

First, it is true that the city's final offer was less than the offer on the table before the talks went to impasse. This is why the final offer is being labeled as punitive. Obviously, from the firefighters' point of view, the city had, and has, more money to pay them because the offer of it was on the table before impasse.

So there is that. And one therefore might ask---why go to impasse then, if this sort of retribution is possible?

The answer to that is that the only time the firefighters, at least, are allowed to communicate directly with the Ogden City Council is in time of impasse. And therefore, impasse has been used in the past to give the firefighters an opportunity to directly address the Council.

That is what I was just told. During the negotiating process, which should start in January but this year didn't start until April, all discussions between the firefighters and Ogden City take place between the firefighter reps and the administration's reps. In fact, I was told that it is written into the contract between the firefighters and the city that the firefighters are expressly prohibited from having these discussions with council members.

What happens is that the administration's people then go back to the Ogden City Council and present the firefighter's concerns. The firefighter rep cannot do that under this contract.

There seems to be a feeling, illustrated by Screwed"s post earlier, that the council is perhaps not getting the full information, and/or not completely understanding the issues because of this system.

One of these issues is the evaluation program. I am told that this is a relatively new program and that the city had agreed not to tie it to wages until it was found whether or not it was workable. (One opinion is that it is not workable, at least to tie it to wages, because of its difficulty.) It seems that the city went ahead and tied the wage scale to it anyway, with Wicks being a dissenting vote, Schwebke reports in the Standard Examiner today. And who is in charge of the final approval of evaluations, upon which merit raises are based?

Currently, I am told, it is Mark Johnson from the city administration. If he deems an evaluation is unrealistically high, for instance, he can fire it back and refuse to accept it until it meets his approval.

I was also told that the main issue that caused the impasse was a 2% cost of living allowance. This the city was unwilling to give.

So what we have here is, in my opinion, an extremely flawed and dysfunctional negotiating system, in that there is no direct communication between the firefighters and those making the final budgetary decisions--the council.

(Wouldn't you think that the council would Want the opportunity to talk to these people? Ask them questions? Get a complete understanding of things? Maybe that's not the way they like the government to function, but I would think that a better understanding would be reached if the council were able to ask questions of the reps themselves.)

One firefighter point of view, at least, is that the current evaluation system is unrealistic and that you have to walk on water to get a score over a 3. If you get a 3, it is a 2% merit increase. The higher your score, the more your increase, but you ceiling out at a 5% which, again, I am told, is almost impossible to do. And of course, the city administration is overseeing the scores.

And representing them to the council in the negotiations.

And basically, calling all the shots.

Dorothy Littrell said...

Does anyone know the total amount Ogden City pays Gold's Gym per month for the memberships for all Ogden City employees partiticipating in working out at Golds Gym?

Firefighters and police should certainly be getting raises before giving perks to other employees to increase Gold's Gym revenue.

see, I Told you so said...

Well, here it is again,

That as the water rates have to be raised I can say that there is only one reason for that!!!
That is called MISMANAGEMENT BY THE GODFREY ADMIN.
Why doesn't anyone ask the little twirp where the $8,000,000.00 Came from to build the new public works building on 30th and wall. (could it be from the water utility fund) and how much did It cost the city for the contamination of pcb's of that whole block back when it was being built.
now you know some of the story. stayed turned there is more to come,....but lets give it to the taxpayers one more time in the yeng yang. so much waste not enough accountablity!!!!!

Curmudgeon said...

See, I told you:

SE reported, I think [don't have the story at hand] that part of the shortfall stems from water conservation efforts, which have been successful. The result is, less water use, therefor lower revenue from water fees to the city. Same happening in Salt Lake and other places. That hardly, it seems to me, is the result of mismanagement, unless "good" management would have been to discourage water conservation during the recent drought.

If you are suggesting misuse of public funds with respect to construction of the public works building, you I hope have some specifics to back it up. Are you alleging that?

Do you have a source for the pcb matter? A newspaper story, maybe? Something I could look up? I'm not aware of the contamination you say took place during construction or its source. Would like to know more.

On the general question of the Council's action on water rates: I like the Council's refusal, again, to be stampeded into action and its decision to take some time in order to look into the matter, and gather the facts and information necessary for it to make a prudent and defensible decision. It's a way of conducting the public's business that I hope the Council continues to follow. Good on 'em.

dian said...

arcritic:

Regarding the BDO revenue going to mall bond payments, I heard last night that there is a bond payment due in July of '08 and the council has set aside money for that. This may be a matter of prudence in case the money does not appear from other sources. I am sure we all Want it to come from sources other than that revenue.

You are also absolutely correct about the enterprise funds, and I should have made a distinction using that word.

And finally, regarding this:

And just so you all know, the other cities and I would bet the county are appreciative to the citizens of Ogden for the training that you provide to the policemen and firemen that we hire. :-)

It is nice to be appreciated, and know that we are fostering good relationships between our respective cities. And who knows, perhaps someday they will find themselves in a position to return the favor.

ARCritic said...

Well Dian, I would like to say Riverdale has returned the favor in some small way (SB 35 the fazing out of the hold harmless provision of the local option sales tax distribution) but the 500K that we lost, because they baselined us at 04-05 numbers rather than 05-06 numbers, plus any increase we would have seen between 05-06 and 06-07, will probably be distributed mostly to cities to the south of us. The roughly $5M that is being taken from the hold harmless cities will be distributed to cities who get more than 100% of the amount of sales tax that is collected in their city. That is cities that have large populations relative to their sales tax base, bedroom communities.

But we tried.

dian said...

Blast from the Past:

Here's a link to the Ogden City Budget meeting from one year ago:

The Ogden City Council is expected to vote tonight on the municipality's proposed $99 million fiscal year 2006 budget, which calls for pay raises of up to 7 percent for employees...

Ogden City Council may approve employee raises, Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Ol' duffer said...

Did I miss something Tu nite?

HAS the city been shoring up all those water and sewer lines? Road repair? The sink hole, which is getting squishing again, on Country Hills Dr. was paid in part with snow removal funds!

I beleive the ARTS were given only $12,000.....not $18,000. as quoted in the budget of 2005.

Did you notice that the Airport has been assessed higher fees now?

And so on, and on, and on........

Thanks Dian.

dian said...

You're welcome. I have no idea of the status of what was said to be on the slate for this year for the most part, but I agree that there may be discrepancies.

I think the Union Station did get some of its roof fixed, though.

flyonthewall said...

The ARTS have risen from the $18,000, given in 2006, to $30,000 for 2007.

Curmudgeon said...

Fly on the Wall:

Good. Every study I've seen indicates that arts spending by cities returns to the city multiples in new business done in the city and of course attendant tax sales.

The problem is, of course, that there are so many claims on the city budget, all [well, ok, most] of them worthwhile. With limited funds, apportioning them becomes a difficult and inevitably stressful balancing act which, in the end, leaves nobody happy.

That the city needs new revenues is unquestionable. That a Rube Goldberg real estate specualtion gondola/gondola scheme is the way to generate them is a much dicier proposition. Based on what I've seen so far, mortgaging the city's future to these speculative schemes that seem doomed to fail would be a very bad idea. Doing something likely to fail just to do something is not wise policy.

Which should not stop us for a moment soliticing new ideas for increasing business [and tax revenues] in Ogden so in future budgets there will be the funds necesary to fund police and firemen's pay on a par with at least the regional average, and to fund the other claimants on public support adequately.

For those moaning about opponents to the gondola/gondola speculation having no ideas, permit me to point out [as was emphasized at the Mt. Ogden Community meetings this week], the city has a great deal going to improve its business climate: it has invested in the mall redevelopment downtown. It has the river project underway. And it has before the council the Wasatch Regional Council's endorsement of a trolley system between downtown and WSU and McKay-Dee to handle the coming transit problems in that corridor. Precisely the sort of trolley development that has led to over a billion dollars I believe in subsequent residential and business investment along the trolley route in Portland. And has led to similar investment elsewhere.

The Council should begin moving on this project, and it would be wise for Mayor Godfrey to stop trying to side track the trolley project to feed us all the latest batch of Lift Ogden "Tyrolian resorts and vacation villas" Kool Aid. He should be supporting the trolley plan as the most likely to succeed next Ogden development project.

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