Council confronts the costs of growing city staff

The Keizer City Council got a somewhat bleak accounting of where the city stands on staffing needs and its inability to fund them at a work session Monday, Jan. 13. 

In total, department heads presented their cases for roughly six additional employees throughout City Hall, but it took City Manager Chris Eppley about an hour to dump a bucket of cold reality on all of the discussion. 

“In most cases, these [positions] are purely aspirational because our financial picture is not changing. Unless something drastic happens, none of these positions can be funded in the next or any future budget. The majority of them are [paid for out of the] general fund and that is our most constrained fund,” 

To illustrate the point, Keizer Finance Director Tim Wood said the city is struggling to maintain its existing staff and replacing an officer for the Keizer Police Department is on hold. Tax revenues are currently about $80,000 under projections; franchise fees, paid by entities like Comcast, were $40,000 less than they were in 2019; and Keizer had to absorb roughly $130,000 in accrued time off payments to retiring employees in the last year. 

“Any hiccup has an immediate effect on personnel,” Wood said. 

To be clear, the public safety fee being collected on utility bills is being used in full for that purpose, the police officer position on hold is paid for out of the city’s general fund. 

Despite the warnings of futility, two staffing needs rose to the top for the city councilors: additional code enforcement capacity and a $15,000 software program to assist the city’s two full-time human resources employees. 

Keizer currently has one code enforcement officer, Ben Crosby, who splits his time between the city’s development department and assisting police. Comparable cities have two or three full-time code enforcement officers. 

“We cannot continue to mature as a community with one officer spread across all these various roles,” said Development Director Nate Brown. 

In the first 10 days of 2020, Crosby opened 10 new cases, the majority being parking complaints.

With additional officers dedicated to code enforcement, the city could also implement a multifamily housing inspection program to ensure landlords are maintaining liveable spaces. Such a program might create a revenue stream that could pay for a full-time position, Brown said. 

Human Resources Director Machell DePina said her two-person department would benefit from a third full-time employee to handle employee benefits or an human resources information system software program. The software program would be the cheaper route by far. 

“This was $15,000 last year and I know money is an issue, but I heard from Machell last year that it would save a huge amount of work,” said Councilor Kim Freeman. “A software program is way cheaper than a body.”

If Keizer were to immediately hire for all the desired positions, it would cost roughly an additional $800,000 per year, Wood said. 

Creatively marketing some city-owned property might generate up to $400,000 in additional revenue, but the city is cannot raise taxes beyond a set percentage each year as a result of state law. 

“I don’t know how to be more creative than getting into the land leasing business,” Eppley said. “This is not going to be an easy discussion to have with the community. And, I don’t think this is time to bring up something as unattractive as an administrative fee.”

Other new or replacement staff positions discussed during the meeting included: a full-time public information and cultural engagement coordinator; a full-time or part-time deputy city attorney; an additional full-time property and evidence position for KPD; a part-time or full-time community service officer for KPD; and an emergency preparedness coordinator for Keizer Public Works.