Revising and updating the city charter, beginning a new parks master plan, expanding the youth council program, continued outreach and engagement and beginning a conversation about long-term city staffing will be the top goals for the Keizer City Council for the next two years.
Goal-setting was the only thing on the docket for the council when it met for a work session Monday, Feb. 25. The two big discussions of the night revolved around revising the city charter (see related story City to form, Page A1) and city staffing needs.
Mayor Cathy Clark said city staffing will be a major topic for the city’s Long-Range Planning and Budget committees to discuss in the coming months.
“As our community population continues to grow, we’ve got to let people know – and I need to know – if we are appropriately staffed,” Clark said.
City Manager Chris Eppley provided a bird’s eye view of the situation as it stands.
“The fundamental question is what to we want our workforce to be and how do we get there. We have about one third the staff and about one half the tax rate of comparable cities,” Eppley said. “Answering those questions might mean coming to the realization that we are not going to offer certain services or that it takes longer to provide them.”
Personnel costs account for roughly 80 percent of the city’s annual budget and additional payments into the Public Employees Retirement System, bills for 9-1-1 dispatch services and increasing health care costs all siphon off money budgeted for salaries.
“One blip [in those costs] prompts a conversation about effects on personnel. It’s an immediate impact on staffing,” said Keizer Financial Director Tim Wood.
Costs associated with health care and retirement programs have risen roughly 5 percent each in the last nine years and the city’s revenue streams have not kept pace.
Despite those obstacles, city councilors and staff receive regular requests for additional services such as code enforcement.
“Code enforcement is demanded in the community and [Code Enforcement Officer] Ben [Crosby] is busy on a daily basis. They have demonstrated support for that, but those are the things we need to figure out and we have to come back to [the community] with what that will costs,” Clark said.
Councilor Elizabeth Smith, a sales manager and mortgage officer, said it might be time to reach out to others in her industry and help them understand the real costs of living in Keizer beyond a small tax rate.
“In my industry, when we are looking at property taxes we tell people that Keizer means low taxes. We are aware of it, but not how difficult it is to run the city on that,” she said.
In addition to adding or sustaining services, Councilor Roland Herrera advocated for increased attention to diversity.
“I would like to see more staff that looks like our community. I think its valuable to the outreach into our community,” Herrera said.
Councilor Dan Kohler said he wasn’t an advocate of quotas, but Eppley said the goal could be achieved by weeding out implicit bias in the city’s recruiting process.
On the topic of outreach, Councilor Marlene Parsons asked that the city find a way to better prepare volunteers who apply to become part of advisory boards and committees.
“We bring them in and they are trying to play catch up. We can do a better job of helping them understand their role on the committee and the work that is being done,” Parsons said.
In a similar vein, the council hopes to do a better job of expanding and strengthening the small, but growing, contingent of youth liaisons to various committees.
“It’s a very difficult thing to ask to come into a fully adult [governing] body and ask them to participate. I would like to see more people involved with recruiting so they feel like they have more mentoring and support,” said Councilor Laura Reid.
Clark said the city is still trying to figure out how to make the program a more meaningful experience, but wants to begin by bringing in the current liaisons for a conversation about what could be done to change the trajectory.