The faster, but more expensive, solution to sluggish Baton Rouge city services? Outsourcing | News

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Plans to outsource more city-parish services next year are getting more ‘yes’ votes from the Metro Council than opposition despite those contracts increasing the $1 billion-plus budget pitched by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

Many council members The Advocate reached out to last week agree that shifting large shares of the operations within the city-parish’s maintenance, permitting and code enforcement departments will improve the parish’s responsiveness to the community and enable those divisions to clear backlogs of service requests they’ve fallen behind on due to staffing issues. 

“Everyone is so short-staffed right now, if we outsource we get things moving quicker,” said Councilman Aaron Moak. “Listen, I come from Central where everything of ours is privatized. This whole thing is about increasing our responsiveness to citizens.” 

The pandemic won’t deal the devastating blow to the city-parish’s coffers some expected thanks to an anticipated sales tax growth and a windfa…

Moak will head the series of budget hearings the Metro Council is holding to publicly dissect the budget before considering adopting it during a special meeting Dec. 7. The first of those hearing will take place at 5 p.m. Monday. 

Overall, Broome’s proposed budget for 2022 comes in more than $50 million compared to what the council adopted last year. That 5.21% increase is largely due to one-time expenditures the administration is using American Rescue Plan stimulus money to pay for. 

However, spending is increasing within maintenance and Department of Development columns. The two areas were contracts with outside vendors are set to multiple next year. 

The Department of Maintenance has asked for an additional $853,540, which increases its $22.7 million projected expenditures by 6.55% over last year, to broker contracts for landscaping, tree maintenance, litter and trash pickup and routine spraying of ditches and drainage canals. 

The escalated spraying is part of efforts to mitigate flooding within the city-parish’s antiquated drainage system which frequently gets clogged with litter and trash — another issue the city-parish is using third-party vendors to do a better job at abating. 

The Department of Development is seeking approval to restructure how it will function next budget cycle through two contracts with South Central Planning and Development Commission for $1.8 million and $413,000, respectively. Those contracts are an expansion of services the city-parish had with its previous contract with the vendor, which could cost taxpayers an additional $600,000 if approved. 

The East Baton Rouge Parish budget is set to grow by more than $50 million, or 5.2%, in 2022, with new efforts to improve permitting and maint…

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Those contracts will give South Central Planning and Development Commission oversight over the city-parish’s permits and inspections for commercial, residential and site reviews and the management of blight operations, utilizing some city-parish employees. 

That restructuring within the Department of Development is responsible for the slight decrease in full-time employee allotments presented in the proposed budget, which is set to drop by 14 positions the department will loose through outsourcing.

“I’m not a fan of outsourcing services that are mainstay operations and the infrastructure of a municipality,” Councilwoman Chauna Banks said. “We outsource but still have the headaches and complaints from constituents.”

Banks believes its incumbent of the city-parish to develop its own workforce, which she thinks doling out to outside vendors dilutes the city-parish’s ability of being one of the top employers and its effectiveness at addressing the basic functions of government. 

She appears to be alone in her sentiments thus far.  

Many of her colleagues shares Moak’s thoughts on the issue. 

“Oftentimes people focus on the sticker price of contracting versus having a group of employees do the job but don’t look at all the legacy costs associated with employees, like paying for retirement benefits, healthcare, etc,” Councilman Cleve Dunn said. “With vendors, we’re just paying for that service they’re providing.” 

Councilman Rowdy Gaudet also noted the challenges many private companies face in the pandemic as justification for the proposed changes. 

“Outsourcing and getting private companies to do that work is the solution,” he said. “Going to the private industry to supplement existing city-parish staff is the right approach.”   

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