Over the last two years, I have asked the City Council and staff to focus on the reduction of administrative costs and redundancies in order to make government work smarter and be leaner. For example, a typical position has a salary and an additional cost involving pension and health insurance costs. Reducing the number of city employees is a direct financial benefit to the bottom line due to increased use of technology and the talented staff we have.
Last year, we combined the building facility maintenance, information technology, and employee health benefits functions between the Board of Education and City Hall. Those collaborations are working well, and discussions continue on how to make them even stronger.
Last November, voters approved moving the Sewer Department from Public Works to the Water Department. This has resulted in improved customer service for water and sewer users and contractors as the administrative functions are in one place, with more staff cross-trained to answer questions. Purchasing functions are now combined, increasing buying power, and eventually crews will be working more closely. Watch for the second set of charter revision questions for water and sewer on the Nov. 5th ballot.
Recently, I announced the merger of the Parks Department and Youth Services. This was done after the retirement of the long-time director in June, and as part of an analysis I do whenever a vacancy is created, either through attrition or retirement. This allows us to tweak job descriptions, redistribute work, or redirect positions to areas where they are needed most.
One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” Last Friday my opponent wrote a letter to the editor complaining that this was going to hurt kids and families. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I take offense that someone would actually politicize a policy decision that will strengthen two departments. I would like to emphasize that neither department, nor their volunteer commissions, will be diminished. Even over the short period this summer as we analyzed the possibility, staff and others were enthusiastic about the possibilities.
Some facts: The elimination of the director’s position and total salary/benefits package will save the city $133,000. A portion of that savings will be redistributed to the parks superintendent as a stipend who will now supervise Youth Services as well as the creation of two new supervisory positions within the new combined department. Net savings will be anywhere from $20-$45,000 in savings. The added benefit of a streamlined department will result in more robust programming - for example, the Youth Services Department has a prevention grant to create substance free social activities for high school youth. On Friday nights, they are hosting free teen nights at the Page Park Pavilion. Another example is the under-utilized Youth Services Pine Lake Challenge Course, which will now be rebranded as an Adventure Course, and marketed to by the Parks Department, increasing their revenue potential.
Both divisions currently have outreach workers, and they too will be working together. Some Youth Services positions will transfer back to City Hall while clinical and counseling services will remain in the more confidential and appropriate setting of the building on 51 High St. And even more good news - Bristol Hospital is interested in potentially renting a section of that building for their Parent & Child Center that was recently displaced from Prospect Street. This would be another great public-private partnership as well as additional rental revenue for the city.
Another fact: Cities and towns across the state are looking at consolidations of Youth Services when appropriate including New Britain, Norwich, West Hartford and Wethersfield to name a few. In an increasingly tight budget environment, I feel that it is our responsibility to regularly evaluate how services are being delivered and if there is a more efficient way of doing so.
With all the successes that Josh Medeiros has brought to the Parks and Recreation Department since taking over eight months ago, I look forward to seeing the same level of commitment to Youth Services, as well as exciting programs and collaborations that will result from the two departments working together.
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is the mayor of Bristol.