Throughout the past few years, the continuous decline in levels of City Staff has been one of the city of Fullerton’s most significant problems. In December 2021, the City had a staff of 471 employees, according to a recent snapshot of City employment levels provided by Anissa Livas, an Administrative Analyst with the City Manager’s Office.
This represents a further decline from 506 employees in January 2021, and particularly from a high of 710 employees as recently as the 2013-2014 fiscal year, according to previous City Budgets as well as numbers compiled by the Fullerton Observer from readily available reporting tools and records. In fact, around 54 employees have left the city of Fullerton throughout the first half of 2021 alone.
Veronica Rodarte, a Senior Labor Relations Representative with the Orange County Employees Association, attributes the diminishing levels of City Staff to insufficient salaries, which are just not competitive enough to attract needed employees. “Every city has its fair share of hard-to-fill positions, but most of the larger cities similar in size to Fullerton do not struggle as much with hiring and maintaining staff,” further citing positions in the Public Works Department that are “barely above minimum wage.”
Additionally, Rodarte, whose organization represents the Fullerton Municipal Employees Federation, states that the dysfunction throughout City Departments resulting from the reduced number of staff further dissuades potential job applicants from applying to needed positions, describing this phenomenon “like a Catch-22.”
These staffing cuts have led to corresponding cuts in municipal services ranging from reduced library hours to the elimination of after-school programs for children. The City now must hire private contractors for problems previously handled by City Staff such as water main breaks, Rodarte said.
As for the cause of the staffing cuts, Rodarte blames the across-the-board cuts occurring throughout City Departments on the City Council’s assumptions that Fullerton will have a deficit when setting budgets, which she calls a constant “scarcity mindset.”
“Certain members of the Council have a view of public employees that is not necessarily true,” she said, explaining why the cuts continue to be made even in the face of recent budget surpluses.
In recent months, the city of Fullerton has continued to pursue such cuts; The Observer reported back in December that the City Council decided in a 3-2 vote to make 2.5% “across-the-board budget cuts” and keep vacant nearly 37 City positions in order to save around $4 million from the City’s budget, even in the face of nearly $33 million received in federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan Act.
For the future, restoring staffing levels to previous highs will require a change in mindset and attitudes on the part of the City Council, Rodarte said. For the future, she encourages them to be “strategic” by building up City Departments that regularly bring in revenue to head off any worries that would cause future budget cuts.
Ultimately, the reason that the ability to retain and increase staff levels has such high stakes, according to Rodarte, is because “public employees are the city of Fullerton.”
Categories: Local News