That was the most interesting takeaway from an otherwise dry-as-bone city council budget hearing Tuesday afternoon.
In response to questions raised by Councilman Larry Carr, who has made the issue a central topic of his freshman term, city manager John Shirey said various departments were in the early stages of adopting formal performance measures that would tell their managers and elected officials how well they’re actually doing.
“And the public,” chimed in Mayor Kevin Johnson.
“And the public,” Shirey replied.
As of right now, there doesn’t seem to be any uniform rubric to determine how smartly the city is spending its $873 million annual budget.
“This city got away from [a] performance measure that was instituted by one of my predecessors, Bill Edgar, and we’re bringing it back,” Shirey told council members.
That appeared to be news to Johnson and especially Carr, who spent the early portion of the budget hearing asking the heads of the fire and police departments whether the restorations that have been made through the city’s half-cent sales tax, Measure U, resulted in improved service to the public.
“What are we buying with this money?” Carr posed to fire Chief Walt White.
Response times have increased slightly since 2008, White noted, while a fuller outside evaluation is currently underway. White said the department is undergoing an insurance service organization review that measures three areas: staffing and response times, water, and dispatch capabilities.
The ratings can negatively affect homeowners’ insurance rates if too high. White said the department scored 2s and 3s in most areas of the city last go-round. Landing in the 5-to-7 range is where insurance rates could increase. “As a city, we rate very well,” he added.
The department is also seeking accreditation through the Center for Public Safety Excellence, White said.
Through Measure U, which Sacramento voters adopted in 2012, the department received about $10 million in additional resources to restore four browned-out fire companies and retain 27 grant-funded firefighters.
Also hired were an investigator and a fire prevention officer to improve the department’s accountability and oversight, respectively, which were repeated areas of concern for the city’s Office of Public Safety and Accountability, which tracks complaints against the fire and police departments.
Both departments have re-started their academies as well, conducting three apiece thus far. Using north of $12 million in Measure U funds, the police department added eight detective positions to concentrate on violent felony crimes, six forensic positions and four dispatchers, and is retaining 85 grant-funded officers.
Fifteen of those are in their federal funding period, said finance director Leyne Millstein. The city is on the hook for approximately $500,000 in matching costs, and will eventually have to pay retention costs.
“Again, nothing’s really free, because the federal government either doesn’t give us the full cost of the position or, when they take it away … we don’t necessarily want to give up that level of service when we have it,” she added.
That could prove trickier as Measure U approaches its March 2019 sunset date, Millstein said. Rising labor costs are dampening the sales tax’s revenue projections. Additionally, without renewing the sales tax or finding some other revenue source, the city will have to find about $40 million annually to keep all the programs and services it restored through Measure U.
“We are not seeing growth on the general fund side to buy ourselves out of the costs we already know we have,” Millstein said.
If no replacement fund is found, the city might have to eliminate 320 full-time-equivalent positions it’s in the process of buying back come 2019.