November 22, 2014

Elyria
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Auditors say Elyria could save $6.7 million

ELYRIA — If the goal of the much-anticipated performance audit released today was to find ways to save Elyria money, the 112-page document compiled by the State Auditor’s Office did that to the tune of more than $6 million in cost-saving recommendations.

Mayor Holly Brinda said she s not surprised to know the auditors, who worked between July 2012 and March 2013 using dating from fiscal years 2011 and 2012, came to such a high number.

“They look at this exclusively through a financial lens,” she said.

During the near-year long process, countless documents were reviewed and numerous interviews were conducted. In addition, several peer cities were used to make comparisons included Cuyahoga Falls, Lorain, Middletown, Fairfield and Mansfield.

The audit provides the baseline Brinda said she so desperately wanted for the city.

“As a new mayor, I pushed for this and wanted it to see where we are at and set benchmarks for continuous improvement,” she said. “With this document, we can look forward to that day a year from now when we can say this is where we are now compared to where we were then.”

The recommendations run the gamut between cutting staff in several departments and reducing overtime to renegotiating employee collective bargaining contracts and finding a private company to pick up residential trash.

The audit reveals some pretty alarming practices in the city that continue to cost residents hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most glaring appears to be the way the city bills for the water useage.

Boiled down, there’s a lot of water being used, but not being paid for.

In 2011, the city billed nearly $9.1 million to customers for water services and collected roughly $8.4 million for a collection rate of 93.7 percent. In 2011, Elyria’s water pumping plant pumped 3.81 billion gallons of water, but the city reported that 2.826 billion was billed to customers for a water loss percentage of 25.8 percent.

The industry standard is about 15 percent for systems of Elyria’s age, the audit said.

Further driving water loss is the fact the city does not have meters on the buildings it owns, which means an unknown percentage of water is unaccounted for in those buildings.

In her response to the audit, Brinda said the city likewise agrees that too much water was being loss in the city’s systems.

“With 1994 systems currently in place, the city acknowledges that our water ‘loss’ is above the national benchmark,” she said.

The plan for resolving the issue includes switching out some of the older meters and using newer, more reliable technology to track water flow.

The savings from reducing water loss may be significant — upwards of $1.1 million, but it is not the only recommendation the audit is calling for that will have huge impacts.

The most far-reaching recommendations deal with a department that is heavily funded by federal funds that have an expiration date – the Elyria Fire Department. With that end date in mind, city officials wanted some advice on what to do prior to losing the grant and possibly 23 firefighters.

“It is this administration’s intention to find ways not to return to a 52-member department,” Brinda wrote. “We do not think having a two-fire station city in a 20-square mile industrial city like Elyria is practical or in the best interest of the community.”

However, staffing levels in the Fire Department will largely depend upon what the city chooses to do in terms of emergency medical service in the city. Currently, LifeCare Ambulance Inc. is the private company that handles all EMS calls in the city. The Fire Department often responds to scenes as first responders but it is LifeCare that transports patients to hospitals.

The audit believes now is the time for the city to address the agreement, but it gave no specific direction to city officials, leaving the final decision in the hands of elected officials.

“If the city decides to renegotiate the EMS contract, it should review the current contract to ensure the agreement adequately reflects the needs of its citizens,” the audit said. “The city should decide it the Fire Department will continue to provide first response services or if that will be the sole responsibility of the vendor. If the Fire Department is going to provide first response services, the city should negotiate to receive reimbursements for all first response expenses including supplies, training, dispatch expenses fuel and vehicle depreciation costs associated with EMS response.”

Recommendation: Financial impact

  • Develop an energy conservation management policy $180,693
  • Reduce overtime usage $61,357
  • Competitively bid life insurance coverage $13,920
  • Reduce the use of sick leave $55,865
  • Improve health insurance program $329,000
  • Renegotiate contract with local firefighters’ union $324,086
  • Increase of control in the Police Department $172,075
  • Renegotiate Elyria Police Patrolmen’s Association Contract $131,655
  • Reduce overtime in the Police Department $29,000
  • Enter into a Joint Dispatch Agreement $204,960
  • Adjust base salaries of Safety Service Employees $131,921
  • Consolidate operations to form a general health district $67,000
  • Integrate the Building and Community Development departments $129,371
  • Reduce cemetery staff $158,000
  • Reduce Engineering Department staff $122,616
  • Total General Fund savings $2,111,519
  • Reduce overtime usage $458,503
  • Outsource trash services $1,212,578
  • Reduce water loss and infiltration and inflow $1,130,575
  • Implement late fees on utility bills and adjust payment policies $15,415
  • Reduce utility billing staff $331,784
  • Reduce line maintenance staff $728,577
  • Reduce wastewater staff $708,789
  • Close a city pool $47,500
  • Total savings from enterprise and special funds $4,633,721
  • Total combined savings from all recommendations $6,745,240

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.