City plans to cap annual raises

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The city’s finance subcommittee recommends capping city salary raises at 3 percent per year. Also, the city plans creation of a new water quality department and would restructure the existing planning department.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

The Administration and Finance Subcommittee at its March 3 meeting approved the implementation of a “step system” for annual city staff raises that could save the city approximately $50,000 per year.

Malibu city employees are currently eligible for annual raises of between zero and 5 percent based on performance. According to the staff report, the current criteria for determining raises are “cumbersome, subjective and difficult for managers and employees to interpret.”

The new “step system” would make staff eligible either for a 3 percent raise each year or none at all. All city employees are employed within a salary range, and are ineligible for raises after having reached the top of that range.

Staff plans to develop a new, more concise appraisal form for determining raises that would have 10 clearly outlined steps for each position. By implementing the step system, staff estimates it will take employees 10 years to reach the top of their salary ranges, compared with six years under the current system.

The city’s highest earner, as reported by The Malibu Times in October, is City Manager Jim Thorsen at $195,715, not including benefits. Vic Peterson, who heads the Environmental and Community Development department (ECD) and serves as the building official, receives $166,076 annually, not including benefits. (These numbers are based on figures for 2009, released by State Controller John Chiang. Numbers for 2010 have not yet been posted). Council members receive the lowest salaries at $6,788 annually, not including benefits.

Feldman said the $50,000 in possible savings was an estimate, and “right now it’s not a guarantee,” since the amount paid in raises varies from year to year. The item will be considered by the city council at a future meeting for final approval.

New water quality department to be formed

The city is planning to reshuffle staff to create a new Environmental and Sustainability Department that would focus primarily on water quality issues, including the design and implementation of the city’s wastewater and storm water treatment facilities.

The Environmental and Community Development (ECD) department is essentially being split into two new departments to create the new water quality division. Planning division staff would move to a renamed Planning Department. Currently, all planning positions operate under the ECD, which would be eliminated with the changes.

A recommendation approving the changes was passed by the Administration and Finance Subcommittee at its meeting last week and will go to the City Council for approval at its April 27 quarterly meeting.

“The main intent is to give the city a focused group of employees who are going to be focusing on water quality and environmental issues,” Reva Feldman, the city’s assistant city manager and administrative services director, said.

As part of the move, current ECD Director Vic Peterson would oversee the new water quality department as Environmental Services Director. Planning Manager Joyce Parker-Bozylinski would head the new Planning Department as director, overseeing current and advanced planning, code enforcement and permit services. Both would report directly to City Manager Jim Thorsen.

Feldman said Parker-Bozylinski, whose annual salary is $121,000 (as reported in October by The Malibu Times), may receive a raise as part of the move, but said she could not confirm that at this time.

Additionally, current Environmental and Building Safety Manager Craig George would be given the title, Deputy Building Official, and serve under Peterson. Senior Environmental Programs Coordinator Jennifer Voccola and Senior Office Assistant Rebecca Nelson would move from the Public Works Department to the new Environmental and Sustainability Department.

The staff report cited an “increased need for staff to focus on clean water and environmental issues” as the impetus behind the change. The reorganization “is recommended to more accurately reflect the work and priorities of each division.”

According to the staff report, the new department “would lead all of the city’s clean water, environmental, and building and safety duties.” In addition to designing and implementing future wastewater and storm water treatment facilities, the department would oversee water quality monitoring, water usage education, complaint response, plan checking and grading plan processes. Future priorities include “green building codes [and] low impact and sustainability ordinances, such as water and wastewater recycling.”

The new department would also pursue alternative funding for clean water and sustainability programs, including “grants, partnerships, user fees, assessment districts, development fees or other funding mechanisms.”

City to create new undesignated reserve fund

The Administration and Finance Subcommittee also recommended that the city create a formal General Fund Undesignated Reserve equal to 50 percent of the annual General Fund operating budget. The city currently has an informal policy to keep at least $8 million in reserve for natural disasters and other unforeseen problems, but surrounding cities such as Agoura Hills and Calabasas have established undesignated reserves at 40 percent of their annual general fund operating budgets.

The city’s fiscal year 2010-11 General Fund operating budget is $21.8 million. Staff is projecting to have $9.5 million in reserve when the fiscal year ends in June. If the next fiscal year’s General Fund operating budget is similar, the city would have to add approximately $1.5 million to the General Fund Undesignated Reserve under the new policy. The new policy will be considered by the city council at a future meeting.