Thursday, April 09, 2015

How the city bureaucracy grows: A case study

George Wooding and Nancy Wuerfel provide a case history in the Westside Observer of how San Francisco's bureaucracy continues to grow (Played for a Fool).

Some context: The City of San Francisco now has 35,771 employees. The Environment Department has 145 employees and, as Wuerfel and Wooding point out, hopes to have more on the city's general fund gravy train:

Funding is the name of the game for San Francisco’s ambitious Department of Environment (SFE) which is now maneuvering to get the Mayor to allow the agency to draw funds directly from the City’s already over-committed discretionary General Fund.

The SFE currently is a City enterprise agency. This means that it has to be financially self-sufficient, generating its own revenue without subsidies from the General Fund. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the San Francisco International Airport, and the Port of San Francisco are all enterprise agencies.

If SFE becomes a “General Fund department” and annually takes a cut from the City’s shrinking discretionary money, other City agencies such as the libraries, Recreation and Park, Human Services Agency, Public Health, Children Youth and Families, plus several more departments will start to receive less annual funding. The City services that people depend on will foot the bill to pay for SFE.

SFE grew from its creation in the revised 1995 City Charter with a budget of $281,000 in 1997 to presently a $20 million operation. It employs over 100 people and occupies a rented 24,400 sq ft space at 1455 Market Street.

Unlike other City enterprise agencies, the SFE is empire building, and refuses to cut back on employees, expenses or projects even though its revenue does not cover its costs. The result is currently a budget shortfall and SFE wants a City bail out...

To understand the department’s mismanagement, one needs to know that SFE grew from its creation in the revised 1995 City Charter with a budget of $281,000 in 1997 to presently a $20 million operation. It employs over 100 people and occupies a rented 24,400 sq ft space at 1455 Market Street in order to house everyone...

SFE could curtail some financing problems by stopping the practice of hiring long term costly City employees with short term grant funding. For example, last July SFE got the Mayor’s approval to convert four staff from temporary employees to permanent status with all the benefits that includes. Now SFE is advertising for another new permanent employee in the salary range of $84,000 - $102,000, knowing this adds to its deficit.

Grants can be used to hire independent contractors without City benefits to perform SFE’s work, instead of hiring employees with benefits. When the grant money ends, so does the need to pay somebody. Problem solved.

The rest of the $20 million budget comes from other City departments who contribute 9% ($1,752,000) to SFE in the form of work orders, and from the Solid Waste Management Program (SWMP) for 45% ($9,323,000). The SWMP money is a fee added to the residential garbage rates renegotiated whenever the Recology rates are periodically increased. SFE tells Recology how much money to collect on behalf of the City, and this sum is then part of the rates. The Refuse Rate Board always approves whatever SFE asks.

At the same January 27th meeting where the budget was approved, the Commission heard a presentation by a Mayor’s Budget Office staff member on the Controller’s 5 year financial plan to the year 2020. It projects a shortfall of $15.9 million for next year’s budget, and that expenditures are continuing to grow faster than revenue. Because the 5 year plan is presenting a “recession scenario,” the city proposes to curb growth and increase revenues.

The Commissioners heard these words of warning, ignored them, and decided that now is the ideal time to get on the City’s gravy train, before the financial picture gets any worse. Then they discussed various strategies for convincing the Mayor to make SFE a General Fund Department. Since the Mayor referred to SFE programs in his recent State of the City speech, they decided he could be manipulated into providing funds for them...



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