Study outlines how Modesto can do a better job

kvaline@modbee.comMarch 14, 2013 

DB Fall Splendor 04 .jpg

DARRYL BUSH/dbush@modbee.com - Bicyclists ride on Columbia Way below a backdrop of colorful trees on a sunny Fall day, in Modesto, Calif., Sunday, November 13, 2011.

DARRYL BUSH — Modesto Bee

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
    Recent stories written by Kevin
    E-mail: kvaline@modbee.com

— Modesto can do a better job reducing its overtime costs, should look at whether it makes sense to phase out its ownership of city trees and find ways to get its top managers to get along better.

These are among the numerous recommendations contained in the city auditor's 78-page organizational restructuring study of the city. The study had its public debut Thursday before the City Council's Audit Committee.

The study is expected to come before the full City Council in late May when it holds workshops for the 2013-14 budget, which starts July 1. By then, top city managers will have reviewed the study and put together a list of recommendations for the council to consider along with the study.

The study was prepared by the certified public accountants and business consulting firm of Moss-Adams LLP. Here are some of the recommendations:

• In 2012, the city spent about $6 million on overtime, which was $1.24 million, or 24 percent, more than what was budgeted. Moss-Adams wrote Modesto can do a better job managing overtime costs and can reduce them by 5 percent to 20 percent in many cases.

• Modesto spends more than $2 million annually caring for its trees. But it continues to be criticized for not doing enough and assumes the liability for damage caused by fallen limbs and toppled trees.

In 1999, the city conducted a cost-benefit analysis of its urban forest that concluded the city received $1.89 for every $1 it spent. The auditors recommend Modesto conduct another cost-benefit analysis, which includes "an evaluation of options for phasing out tree ownership and care over a multi-year period." The report stresses the analysis address the costs and risks of retaining ownership and phasing out ownership.

• The auditors say for several years Modesto has had a lack of cohesiveness among its senior management team. Efforts in the past several months to address this problem have had a limited impact. The auditors recommend the city continue to address this through such measures as using coaches to work with managers.

• Modesto aims to pay its workers 15 percent below what other local governments pay. The auditors say, over the long term, this will contribute to high turnover and recruiting challenges. They recommend the city pay workers 5 percent below the market wage. Modesto also is planning to conduct a compensation study this year, its first since 2009.

• The city does not have a senior-level economic development manager focused on attracting and retaining businesses. The auditors recommend the city create such a position.

The study is available at www.modestogov.com.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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