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Manager Answers Auditor's Report on Unspent Street Repair Money; Mgr. Asks Council To Budget $630,000 For Add'l Staff; Also Seeks To Restructure Public Works Dept.

Council Votes To "Receive & File" Auditor's Report, Will Get Details Of Mgr's Plan Later

(September 6, 2000) After nearly two hours of discussion that included a detailed response by City Manager Henry Taboada, the City Council voted to "receive and file" (effectively take no further action on) a report by the City Auditor's office that charged significant portions of budgeted street repair money went unspent in FY 99.

City Manager Henry Taboada presented an itemized response that challenged several assumptions in the Auditor's office report, then used the spotlight to publicly ask the Council to budget an additional $630,000 in public works money annually for street repairs (on grounds staff shortages had contributed to a repair backlog) and permit the Manager to reorganize the Public Works Department.

By the end of the item, the Manager's request for a $630,000 "budget enhancement" seemed to have considerable Council support.

Auditor's Report, Manager's Response

City Auditor Burroughs began by delivering basically a verbal summation of the salient points of his office's report (which had been released in written form three weeks earlier.)

Following Mr. Burroughs' presentation, City Manager Taboada said the Auditor's report "has really brought to light an issue that was below the surface and not on our radar screen for several years," allowing "a better appreciation of the impacts we've had over the last 10 or 12 years, resulting from a reduction in the general fund to the point wher our staffing has really left us behind in our projects that languished..."

Mr.Taboada said the purpose of his response "is not to take issue with the City Auditor...I want to clarify the size of the city's CIP [Capital Improvement Projects], I want to expand on issues impacting project completion, and I want to provide options for improving program delivery."

The Manager then challenged several assumptions in the Auditor's report. The Manager itemized various capital street budgeted items to show that only $20 million, not $68.2 million, was the budgeted sum actualy attributable to street repairs.

Among the items listed by the Manager as street capital projects not attributable to street repair were (with descriptions by the Manager indicated parenthetically):

  • $12 million for construction of I-605 interchange at the "Towne Center" (largely driven by CalTrans' schedule, not under city jurisdiction);
  • $3 million in annual street park lighting;
  • $1.5 million in street signals;
  • $3 million for the east-west corridor (major bus stop improvements, MTA funded)
  • $6 million for bridge rehabilitation (use-restricted funds from federal bridge rehabilitation program over years; can't proceed until funding fully in place)
  • $3 million, Spring Street CIP (phase two widening Spring Street from Atlantic Ave. to LB Blvd.; schedule driven by LA County which administers design and construction)
  • $1 million, Studebaker Rd. (schedule driven by developer and environmental issues)
  • $1 million, curb ramps (ADA project, restricted funds)
  • Other accumulated CIP projects, approx $2 million, no impact on street repair
  • Nearly $13 million for the "Traffic Mitigation Program" ("the schedules for these projects are driven by development throughout the city, and this project again has no significant impact on local street conditions.")

    The Manager said the amounts left for streets are as follows:

  • $4 million for local, residential streets for repair of drainage and pavement. This is "the primary program for addressing local street repair needs."

  • $16 million for major and secondary street CIP, the city's annual program to resurface major streets. This is "the primary program to address major street repairs."

    Thus, the Manager said, the street repair figure is $20 million, not the $68.2 million in the Auditor's report.

    The Manager also said the CIP was intended "for project planning, not project scheduling...[M]ulti-year budgeting improves cost tracking for long time lead projects and the CIP budgets many funds which are reimbursed only, cash not in city accounts, such as federal grants. So even this $20 million figure must be put into context."

    The Manager illustrated what he called the "apples to oranges" comparison that results from trying to match a multi-year budget to a single year's expenditure...[T]he Auditor's report compares three year's budget to one year's expenditures...Looking at it...on a one-year budget versus one year expenditure, the same $6 million is now compared against approximately $7.2 million or 81.9% expended, so it's $6 million looked at two different ways, you can come to two different conclusions about how we're spending our money."

    "We think that looking at this on a rolling basis is perhaps not fully expository and that we need to work on a way to present the capital budget in a way that reflects actual money available to spend in a given year and also gives you the funds that are committed to that project on a long term basis."

    As to why more money isn't spent on local street repairs and less on public thoroughfare projects, the Manager said the primary reason is funding restrictions. The major source of funds for the public thoroughfare CIP includes $4 million in general funds (the non restricted funds), so the majority of funds available for street CIPs are in fact restricted in some manner.

  • Federal T-21, restricted to major not neighborhood streets
  • County Prop C, restricted to bus routes, mainly major thoroughfares
  • Impact fees, restricted to specific widening cogestion relief projects on major intersections primarily
  • Grant programs, focus on major street traffic flow increasing projects
  • Current gasoline tax commitments, provides required local match on grant funded projects and advances funds needed for construction on reimbursement only projects; also covers annual street lighting and curb lamps

    The Manager pointed out the disparity between major and local street mileage and funding share:

    "These restrictions result in a significant imbalance between a relative need for street repairs on major streets versus local streets, compared to the share of funding received by major streets versus local streets." Major streets make up about 20% of total mileage but receive 78% of funding share, while local streets (80% of street mileage) receive 22% of the funding.

    "[T]he greatest need receives the least amount of money, and this is primarily due to the source of the funds, and this is why we have difficulty keeping up with potholes and sidewalks on neighborhood streets. It's a function of funding, not staffing, in this particular instance," Mr. Taboada said.

    The Manager then dealt with project delivery issues, acknowledging there is still a significant lag between the time funds are budgeted and when they are actually spent. He said the current time line for street rehabilitation projects based on current staffing requires approval to proceed which is set annually; consultant procurement if needed (6-14 wks), design (16-20 wks), contract specification (4-6 wks), bid award contracts (8-20 wks), construction (15-20 wks) for a total of 53-80 weeks or 1 to 1 1/2 years.

    The Manager said engineering and staff support has been cut over 30% since 1990 from 122 to 83 positions while annual CIP expenditures increased by more than 70% from $32 million to $55 million.

    Manager's Proposal

    The Manager then offered what he called ingredients for improvement: policy direction to clarify priorities, program management changes (how City Hall does business) and financial resources or "enhancements" needed to meet objectives.

    Among the Manager's suggestions, "We need a Traffic Mitigation Program that focuses on today's capital priorities, not those when the program was established. Without flexible funding, local streets will continue to deteriorate to the point that reconstruction at a much higher cost...becomes the only option. Funding agency priorities continue to ignore the needs of neighborhoods and local streets and the traffic mitigation program needs to be seriously re-examined."

    The Manager also stated he was "going to recommend the reorganization of the Public Works Department to enhance focus on project delivery, to integrate performance measurement and reporting and for us to participate in a statewide effort to streamline the process."

    Mr. Taboada said he needed the ability to recruit a department head based on these new organizational priorities.

    Annual general fund cost would be $630,000 (staffing "enhancements" required: capital projects management, $500,000; transportation programming, $60,000; CIP accounting, $70,000).

    As to paying for this $630,000, Mr. Taboada indicated he'd leave that to his coming update (scheduled later on the Council agenda) on city revenues and expenditures.

    Council reaction

    Councilwoman Jackie Kell thanked Mr. Taboada for his proposed management changes but said her message was, "I would like to see this money spent, as much of this money spent, as soon as possible..."

    Councilman Ray Grabinski then stated:

    "When some of these things get done, I'll be gone...and I was one of the people who helped pass Prop C. The customers have not been served...We seem to be fast enough and quick enough to put in the tax, to put in the fee and to do all the rest. We didn't get the Iron Triangle done, we didn't put Alamitos over Ocean or under Ocean, we didn't do a lot of those things but some people were charged for that money..."

    ...I will just say to you, sir, that I find it offensive that we're talkin' about Ray Holland or anybody else who was here before, because we manage what goes on through you, so we're responsible for things not moving as appropriately as they should be."

    "...I know my constituents, just like everybody on this Council, have waitewd for a long time to get these street improvements, and I've told them, in error, and I apologize, that we didn't have the money, and that wasn't the case."

    Mr. Taboada responded:

    "I think we're made a case that the reason we don't have sufficient staff to accomplish the work program that's in the CIP budget is that since 1986 we have decimated the Engineering bureau for the sake of public safety, and I think that needs to be said...Now what I'm proposing to you is that as a policy matter you consider authorizing us to staff up based on not project funds but general funds to be able to do that you think needs to be done...Call it embarrassing if you like, but these are facts, these are facts that are in evidence and if you want to examine them in retrospect, you can come up with all kinds of reasons why we should'a Well, the should'a was based on dollars that you didn't have, and I didn't have to offer you. I think now we're in a position to at least bring you forward a plan that is responsive to what Mr. Burroughs has pointed out and that you can embrace and give me the direction to go forward with, and I stand ready to do that."

    Councilman Grabinski replied:

    Henry, there are at least two people on this City Council who were elected to because of infrastructure, Jackie Kell is one of them, I'm one of them...For you to stand there and say that that was not a priority, infrastructure was not a priority, and thenalso to say that we knew we were 33% short of engineers that were slowing down these projects is absolutely wrong, Henry. I'll tell you why. Because when you said last year, very flip, 'You people have a million dollars to play with,' if you would have told us that it would have gotten some streets fixed, I guarantee ya there'd have been some people on this City Council who would've said, 'Start hiring back those engineers.' And I for one would have said a couple of years ago, cut back on some of the raises if that's what's holding up all of this stuff, so it really doesn't wash, I'm sorry."

    Mr. Taboada answered politely, "We have a difference of opinion."

    Interim Councilwoman Richardson-Batts said in pertinent part: "This is very disturbing to see the significance of the impact that we have here, even though I understand some of the [sic] reasonings of what Mr. Taboada is saying, however I am very concerned that we establish an ongoing review of departments so we can make sure that this does not happen again in the future, so I will be strongly supporting your portion of the budget for the additional staff members and I would in addition to that like to see a very aggressive method of evaluating the departments to ensure this doesn't continue..."

    Councilman Jerry Shultz said, "[I]n all fairness to the City Manager, I remember those years when the City Council at that time cut public works, cut engineering, and I recall at that time it was pointed out to the Council what could happen when you slash staff and it was pointed out that projects probably would bottleneck and it would take longer. It's like the City Council, for example, slashes the budget of public safety and directs the City Manager to carry it out and he does so and the crime rate rises, is it then fair for us to criticize the City Manager for the rise in the crime rate? We're really the ones that set policy and approve the budget..."

    Councilmember Frank Colonna made a point about cutting the utility tax. "This is definitely raising the flag in terms of where we're going to go after November if our city, citizens and residents pass a 5% utility tax reduction in this city. It's gonna be real interesting to see the challenge we're gonna have before us and which of these departments we're gonna have in front of us to try to figure out how to streamline, to accommodate those millions of dollars that we won't have and as a result, I hope that this takes on a different message to the public and that is to give some insight into what we're trying to accomplish with our city."

    Vice Mayor Dan Baker said, "I'm very glad that this discussion has shifted from where we've been to where we're going. I think that's very appropriate that we stay on that track." Baker added that he was very supportive of speeding up the time line on projects, but urged the Manager to consider that of that $630,000 at the time re-organization, "perhaps there's a way to consolidate some of the different bureaus...but there may be a way to find part of that $630,000 during your reorganization."

    Mr. Taboada replied:

    "If you look at what's being proposed, there is an emphasis on the people that would be hired...[It] includes a new division in the Engineering bureau, adds 6 engineers-technicians, 1 construction inspector, 2.5 administrative/clerical and only one manager. It adds 2 capital projects coordinators and brings our capacity to deliver projects to $5-$8 million more per each CIP year. So that really is, we're talking' about one manager and the rest of the folks are support people and field people."

    Councilmember Webb made a motion to refer the Auditor's and Manager's reports (the latter without the reorganization plan) to the Council's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Economic Development and Finance Committee for recommendations to the Council. However, after Councilmember Oropeza wondered aloud what more could accomplished in Committee, Councilman Colonna made a substitute motion to "receive and file" (i.e. take no further action on) the Auditor's report and await a report from the City Manager to the Council with 45 days or sooner on reorganizing the Public Works Department.

    Auditor Burroughs said, "It's OK with me if you don't put this in committee. I think it's gonna get dealt with..."

    Councilman Colonna's substitute "receive and file" and wait for the Manager's report passed 7-2 (Webb and Grabinski dissenting).

    Later in the agenda, the Council took up city staff's separately prepared report on City Hall's "Traffic Mitigation Program" (also delayed three weeks). We will be posting an article on the Traffic Mitigation Program separately.

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