Upland Mulling Multiple Service Outsourcing Options

(November 30)   Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn has been authorized to actively seek bids on outsourcing several key components of the city’s municipal services, including law enforcement, fire protection, engineering, code enforcement, computer systems, fleet maintenance, animal control, and operation and management of the city library.
Upland has long been a full service city, with in-house departments that carry out practically every aspect of its municipal function.
But in recent years the city has been beset with financial challenges, including a contracting economy that has reduced revenue into city coffers, coupled with rising expenditures such as legal costs on lawsuits in which the city has been both a plaintiff and a defendant, as well as escalating salary, benefit and pension costs for current and past employees.
On November 7, Dunn outlined separate and combined general options, including seeking concessions from employees in all of the city’s divisions and departments with regard to current and future contracts, including downward adjustments on salaries and benefits; dissolving the city’s police, fire, engineering and inspection departments and contracting for those services with outside agencies such as the county, the California Division of Forestry or the city of Ontario; selling the fire department’s ladder truck and converting Fire Station #2 to a paramedic team by going from a three-man to a two-man crew; periodic shutdowns of one fire station to drive down overtime; renegotiating the existing contract for the city’s air ambulance; leasing communication towers to cellular phone companies; and selling off certain assets for one-time revenue. If expenditure reductions cannot be made, Dunn said the city will need to explore new forms of revenue, including increasing the cost of municipal services or seeking citizen approval of a city-wide sales tax  or a parcel tax for the library.
Over the dissenting vote of councilman Gino Filippi, the balance of the council directed Dunn to explore each of those options, quantify the savings they will provide, and return to the council in January with a refined set of specific recommendations.
The city’s general fund reserves, which were earlier projected at $4.2 million, have dwindled to $932,000 and the council had previously okayed two short-term measures Dunn offered them, cutting $229,000 from various elements of general government operations, including within Dunn’s office and in that of the city’s development services division.
The council has also given Dunn permission to transfer $250,000 from the city’s gas tax fund, normally utilized for street and road improvements and required by law to be deposited in a separate bank account, to the city’s general fund, if the general fund becomes depleted. The general fund is used to pay for the city’s day-to-day operations.
A certain level of resistance against the outsourcings has already surfaced. Filippi, who three weeks ago said the city should explore all cost saving alternatives, this week balked at actually giving Dunn latitude to purposefully explore closing out the fire and police departments.
Whether the threat of just such budgetary fixes are sincere or intended to induce the Upland Police Officers Association and the Upland Professional Firefighters Association into serious bargaining mode remains to be demonstrated.  In this regard, the city’s current assumption of many employees’ contributions toward their retirement funds and the employee bargaining groups’ willingness to surrender that perquisite for those they represent is at issue. In years past, during brighter economic times, the city, while providing what was designated as its part of that contribution toward employees’ pensions, also agreed to pay that portion of the pension fund that was put up by the employees themselves. At present, the city is paying $1.6 million per year in covering what would otherwise be the employees’ burden. If the city’s seven employee bargaining groups would make that concession alone, Dunn indicated he is reasonably sure that layoffs will be avoided for at least the next two years.

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