East Baton Rouge Parish officials said Wednesday they want to dismantle the Department of Public Works and create six individual departments to increase accountability and efficiency.
DPW is the parish’s largest department in both employees and budget, with about 800 employees and a $180 million a year budget, interim DPW Director David Guillory said. The department oversees parish functions including roads, sewage and drainage, traffic lights, grass cutting and blight.
City-parish officials said the changes are necessary to streamline services and make government run more efficiently.
“We put everything (in DPW) together and then it goes up through one or two decision makers, whereas other communities that are growing and vibrant, they realize that that creates bottle necking and slows down the decision making,” said Christel Slaughter, partner at SSA Consultants, a firm subcontracted to oversee the DPW reorganization.
The proposed change breaks DPW up into six new departments, each with its own unclassified department head.
It also eliminates the position of DPW director, but creates a new assistant chief administrative officer position on the mayor’s staff who would largely oversee the various DPW departments.
The new recommended departments and their responsibilities are:
- Environmental services, in charge of sanitation and the $1.5 billion sewer improvements program.
- Transportation, responsible for roads, bridges and traffic engineering.
- Maintenance, in charge of grass cutting, pothole repair, house demolition and drainage cleaning.
- Development, in charge of permitting and blight enforcement.
- Buildings and grounds, in charge of architecture services and the maintenance of public buildings such as the parish prison and the River Center.
- Fleet management, over maintenance and repairs of city-parish, EMS and police vehicles.
The recommendations came from a team of private consultants and city-parish officials who also met with a separate steering committee that included a variety of industry and trade representatives.
The recommendations will eventually be presented to the Metro Council for approval and then sent to the voters, because some of the changes require amending the city-parish Plan of Government. However, the city-parish will phase in some of the changes ahead of the vote to prepare for implementation.
William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden, said no employees will be laid off as a result of the reorganization. He also said he did not think the changes will require additional funding because DPW’s existing budget could be split among the departments.
“We’re talking about spaces, we’re not talking about faces,” said John Basilica Jr., vice president of HNTB, the firm hired to oversee the reorganization.
DPW has a 2013 budget of $50.2 million from general fund revenues, but also receives significant funding collected through sales taxes and user fees that are specifically dedicated to pay for sewer and road improvements.
The creation of additional department heads will mean some higher-paying positions, Daniel said, but those costs can be absorbed with other efficiencies. He said DPW has 25 percent of its positions vacant, which provides budget flexibility. He said the reorganization could allow some positions to remain vacant and those funds could then be shifted to cover the higher-paying department head positions.
Slaughter told the steering committee Wednesday that DPW is in a crisis because it has a large number of vacancies that it isn’t able to fill because the jobs are not competitive enough. To make matters worse, 26 percent of DPW employees are expected to retire in the next seven years, said John Snow, an SSA consultant.
The reorganization is being planned in conjunction with a pay study that evaluates how the compensation packages for city-parish employees compare to peer cities. Daniel said the pay study recommendations are expected to be ready by June.
While Baton Rouge’s starting pay is lower than most private and public competitors, the city-parish has previously touted an attractive benefits package. But increasing insurance costs have deflated some of the value of the benefits package in recent years, Daniel said.
Slaughter also pointed out that people entering the work force are less likely to settle down at a single job for the duration of their career, so long-term benefits are less important than starting salaries. She said it is likely the recommendations from the pay study will shift benefits to salaries. She also suggested that employees could be grandfathered into their current benefits packages.
Alvin Rattle, an executive board member of the local union representing DPW workers, said the DPW reorganization plan should have been presented with information about salary and benefit changes because they are paramount to the city’s ability to recruit talent.
“Our main problem is we don’t have enough people, because we can’t get good qualified employees,” Rattle said. “The employees of DPW want to know, ‘Are they getting a raise?’ ”