Danedri Thompson
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Gardner City Council members approved a plan to realign city staff. Under the proposal, the city will add two employees and shifting some staff responsibilities in order to conduct city business more effectively.
“In some departments, we’re putting out fires,” city administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee said. “And there are things that citizens should be able to walk-in and get, but they’re not able to due to time constraints.”
Council member Kristina Harrison listed a lengthy wait for building permit approval as an example.
Mary Bush, Gardner’s human resource manager, presented a review of the city staffing and salary comparisons to council members at a Dec. 3 meeting.
Gardner has fewer staff members compared to other cities of similar size, according to the human resource review.
Locally, Belton, which boasts a population of more than 23,000, has 185 employees, and Gladstone, with more than 25,000 residents, has 199 employees. Gardner, which topped 19,000 residents according to the 2010 U.S. Census, has 101 employees.
Gardner also has a smaller workforce than cities of similar size beyond the Kansas City Metropolitan area. For example, McPherson, Kan., has a population of more than 13,000 and 100 employees, while Garden City, Kan., boasts more than 26,000 residents and 305 employees.
“We’re not going to ask you tonight to add another 100 or even 20 employees,” city administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee told the council. “I would ask you to allow us to realign some assets.”
The city’s staffing numbers peaked at 128 in 2009, and has steadily declined since then. Bush said in addition to examining where the city has been, it’s important to look at where we’re going.
Since 1980, the city has doubled in size every 10 years.
“If you take that assumption, in 2020, we’d be just shy of 40,000 people,” Bush said.
Cities of that size have even more employees. For example, there are more than 35,000 people in Leavenworth and 342 city employees. Leawood, with a population of more than 32,000, has 252 employees.
“As part of the assessment, we asked each department to provide an overview of the tasks they performed last year,” Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator, explained.
It isn’t just a matter of full-time-equivalent employees, council member Harrison said. Council should also examine funding projects for additional employees to do.
“As we start to think about visioning, we have to start to think about how we’re going to fund that plan,” Harrison-Lee said.
She estimated that the changes to staff responsibilities will net about $20,000 in savings annually.
Larry Fotovich voted against the realignment of the city’s human resources.
“I find it hard to digest without information about why some departments are shrinking and others are growing,” Fotovich said.
However, council member Heath Freeman supported the proposal because he said he trusts the city administration.
“As we looked at this process, it’s time for us to put the trust in our staff,” Freeman said. “They came back with a comprehensive review like we asked. This is going to make things more efficient and not cost us money.”
In other business, the city council:
• passed a salary ordinance that includes a 3 percent market adjustment for city employees.
• authorized staff to make an offer and negotiate for the purchase of property easements related to the Big Bull Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
• accepted easements from several property owners for the White Drive sanitary sewer project.
•  adopted a policy for the sale of surplus city real property.
• approved a final plat for the USD 231 new middle school and elementary school campuses.