The Burbank City Council this week adopted a “needs-based” staffing policy that staff members said will reduce unnecessary overtime for municipal workers. Meanwhile, multiple residents questioned council members about the city’s finances.
Management Services Director Betsy McClinton said that the policy, which the council unanimously approved during its virtual meeting Tuesday, will give the city the flexibility to hire more or fewer staff members depending on need, or have more staff in communities that require it. The policy is also expected to help cut down on overtime.
It is unclear how much money would be saved by the new policy, according to McClinton, who added that the city spent nearly $7.2 million from the general fund on overtime in fiscal year 2018-19.
In accordance with California law, the city must meet with its labor groups before the new policy can be implemented, she said during the meeting. Her staff report to the council did not mention which employees might be affected by the policy.
The approval of the new policy was preceded by the passing of a resolution that would require city employees hired before 2013 to begin paying half of the annual costs of their pensions, as workers hired during or after 2013 are. McClinton estimated in her staff report that the additional contribution from employees would result in savings of just over $1.2 million.
However, the policy’s approval is subject to a secret ballot election among the employees affected. The city staff expects that the measure will pass, according to the staff report.
RESIDENTS SEEK INFORMATION ON CITY’S ECONOMY
Much of the council meeting, including public comment, related to city finances.
Linda Bessin questioned the efficacy of the aid programs that council members later approved in the meeting. She questioned whether the money, which will go to low-income renters and small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, was sufficient to address their need. (See related story on Page 1.)
“Tonight, Burbank is finally taking steps to address the economic hardships our city has sustained due to the COVID-19 crisis,” Bessin said by phone during the meeting. “However, upon review of the material presented by staff, it appears that there are too many questions that remain unanswered.”
Bessin has announced on social media that she is running for council, and made a public comment during the prior council meeting to push the city to quantify the coronavirus’ impact on the local economy.
Two other community members also contended that city leaders’ salaries were too high during the pandemic and that Burbank’s budget has been plagued with financial issues even before the crisis.
“The front-line employees – those who do the work, drive the trash trucks, patrol the streets – are not the ones making over $200,000 per year,” said Sue Cleereman during the meeting.
Council members were paid an approximate gross between $16,500 and $30,500 in 2019, according to city documents, which also listed 128 employees who made more than $200,000 in pay and cash benefits that year. The vast majority of those were employees from the water and power, police and fire departments.
Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy did not elaborate specifically on city workers’ salaries, saying that the city was “exploring all the options,” though she noted that the budget would be reviewed in August once more was understood about the economic impact of the coronavirus.
“The world did not expect COVID-19, including Burbank,” she said during the meeting.
However, Gabel-Luddy echoed Bessin’s desire for more information. After the Community Development Department updated council members on its plans to communicate with Burbank businesses later in the meeting, she asked for data about the city’s economic wellbeing.
Patrick Prescott, the city’s community development director, said that understanding exactly how the pandemic has affected all of Burbank’s businesses is challenging. McFarland added that in the time it would take to process a deeper study, which could cost $100,000, the data collected would likely become outdated.
But Prescott also said that his department was surveying businesses to gauge their needs, and McFarland believes national data can be used to estimate how Burbank is doing.
Coronavirus impact on other industries, particularly tourism, is more measurable, she said. Burbank Airport’s number of passengers has declined by 95%, and hotel occupancy in April was down 76% from last year.