ON ITS WAY OUT: A man enters the public restroom on the 2400 block of Ocean Front Walk on Monday. It is slated to be replaced. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)

MY WRITE —Last Tuesday night, three items on the City Council’s consent calendar created quite a stir at what was expected to be a rather mundane council meeting.
They involved hiring private firms to provide services to the city that would normally be performed by city employees. One issue was the awarding of multi-million contracts to two companies to continue providing custodial services for the Santa Monica Pier, beach restrooms, the Public Safety Facility, Civic Center and various city offices.
City staff urged council to approve the contracts because they would save money. In the case of cleaning services for beach restrooms, staff advised, “Council could direct staff to pursue providing custodial services at the beach restrooms with City employees. The cost of contract custodial services at the beach restrooms is approximately $2.5 million over a five year period compared to $3.7 million if the same level of service was provided by City employees resulting in an additional cost of approximately $1.2 million over five years to the Beach Fund.”
You’d think that anytime City Hall could get good, efficient and on-time services and save money it’s a “win-win” situation, right? Wrong. There were a number of folks who say, “Bad idea.” They claimed outsourcing doesn’t save money.
Public Works Director Martin Pastucha disagreed. He said the outside companies have provided good service to the city and disputed claims by some who claim that there have been no cost savings. “I think our numbers would show something different,” he stated.
Nevertheless, council didn’t approve the contracts but instructed staff to come up with a policy vis-√†-vis direct employees versus outsourcing.
Next up were two items that called for outside services for the Big Blue Bus. A one-year contract with Vehicle Technical Consultants (VTC) for maintenance and repair services on Big Blue Bus facilities was approved because the current contract had expired and VTC was operating on a month-to-month basis. Another contract, for BBB detailing services was unanimously approved.
By way of background, the City of Santa Monica has about 2,200 employees. The current 2014-2015 city budget is $575-million. Of that budget, 51 percent is employee expense including wages and benefits – or over $291-million!
For years, city leaders have been warning us about upcoming deficits due to rising employee-related costs including benefits such as retirement, health care and pension expense. It’s one reason why City Hall floated a half-cent sales tax increase (Measure Y) in 2010 – to help stave off tens of millions of dollars in employee-related red ink in the years to come.
If outsourcing reduces the expense of providing city services and maintains quality levels, it’s “fine and dandy” in my book. Somewhere down the line, we have to bring municipal costs in line or face much higher taxes and/or cuts in programs.
What should have been a slam-dunk was derailed by municipal and other union members, city employees and the usual “progressive” clique of tax and spenders who claimed that city jobs would be lost – never mind that outside contractors would probably be hiring to fulfill their contracts.
You can bet the family Prius that any new city policy will call for minimizing outsourcing and creating even more city jobs while passing the added costs on to us taxpayers.
The City of Santa Monica has a fiduciary duty to keep the costs of government down whenever and wherever possible. It is not a charity whose purpose it is to keep people employed and well paid. However, City Hall also has to strike a proper balance on doing what’s right for its employees.
Incumbent Councilman Kevin McKeown, seems to be more interested in his personal social engineering agenda and currying favor with unions and special interests than serving residents, these days. He said that with the improved economy, City Hall should be able to afford the expense of more in house employees and opposed the need to outsource.
McKeown even suggested that City Hall should pay for special tutoring for city employees to pass required civil service tests. What? Spend more money on employees and/or applicants who can’t even pass a civil service exam?
Uber-leftist Marcy Winograd, who has been waging a spurious campaign alleging mistreatment of animals by the operators of a children’s pony ride at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, told council that staff should begin work immediately to bring outsourced jobs back in house. No matter the cost, Marcy?
Council hopefuls who opposed outsourcing included Frank Gruber, Sue Himmelrich and Mike Feinstein. It tells me that they too have put their personal agendas before resident needs and can’t be trusted to hold the line on wasteful spending and tax hikes, if elected.
This kind of thinking is just one example where the social engineering agendas of politicians and city administrators alike does absolutely nothing at all for residents but costs us dearly in fee increases for essential city services such as water, sewers and solid waste management.
And, if they aren’t hitting us with fee increases they’re hitting us with new or higher taxes like the jacked-up real estate transfer tax – Measure H — on this November’s ballot. They also ignore the reality that those on fixed or limited incomes are pushed further down the poverty ladder by higher taxes and general fiscal irresponsibility.
Those running for office (and in office) would be wise to remind themselves about who they serve. Special interests and unions or we the people who elect them?

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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