Slavin Management Consultants said Gahanna is "anorexic" when it comes to staffing, and it will have no choice but to reduce or eliminate services without additional revenues.
Slavin's Jill Pylant, a human-resources division manager, reviewed with council committee members April 22 the results of a study that began in the fall. She said all the issues identified in her report, such as low staffing levels, employee turnover and burnout, could be traced back to the city struggling through the economic decline by reducing staff instead of services.
The report is a follow-up to a staff audit and classification/ compensation study from 2004 and compensation plan and corrections to a few classifications in 2008.
She said she found Gahanna to be a dynamic little city in 2004, wanting to grow up, be progressive and do all the things citizens wanted it to do.
When returning four years later, she noticed employees -- and the management team, in particular -- were "fraying at the edges," but the economy was crashing and she had hoped the fraying would be temporary.
"The city had made a great deal of progress in the years since the first study, and we believed as soon as the economy righted itself, the city would continue to work towards its mission 'to ensure an exceptional quality of life by providing comprehensive services, ...' " she said.
Pylant said she was dismayed last fall to find the management team much changed because of turnover among department heads and exhaustion from employees having to do more with less.
"In our opinion, the city is at a tipping point: It can right itself and do what is required to meet its mission or it will become yet another small, mediocre city at the edge of a significant metropolitan area," Pylant said in the report.
She said the city operates in a reactive mode almost exclusively.
"This was true in 2004 and, if anything, is worse today," she said.
Pylant said the city must address its staffing needs if it wants to develop a proactive posture in the provision of services.
"While lean organizations are typically more efficient than 'fat' organizations, the city has become quite anorexic, in terms of staffing," she said. "Of course, the economy has played a large role in why staffing in the city is so low; however, this must be corrected if the city hopes to cure the burnout many employees are currently suffering, sustain its operation status and retain its good employees."
The consultant recommends that over the next two years, the city bring staffing back to 2008 levels in all departments.
Pylant said most of the recommendations have to do with staff departments (that provide services to the public indirectly by supporting the line departments) rather than the line departments that provide services to the public directly.
She said she has been trying for eight years to get a professionally trained manager in the city.
In 2008, the city created a position of assistant city administrator.
"You were sort of going in that direction," Pylant said.
The position serves as a conduit to the mayor but does little to ease the number of direct reports the mayor must supervise.
She recommends the city create a director of administrative services to oversee the staff departments in an effort to free the mayor to spend more time in the community, as well as with the line departments. A communications assistant also is recommended for the public-information manager.
Pylant said the city is down five police officers because of the city's financial issues over the past several years.
Although the department still is meeting its mission, even with a 35-percent increase in demand for police services, the sworn ranks have no depth.
"If an officer is hurt or injured, you don't have backup," Pylant said. "In sports terms, you have no bench. That's true of other departments. I think that's serious."
She recommends the five police positions be added back to the ranks, perhaps at a rate of two per year.
Human resources is another area in need of staffing support, especially concerning turnover and the number of seasonal staff, she said.
Pylant said the Parks & Recreation Department is responsible for programming and maintaining 42 parks, covering about 775-plus acres, including two recreational complexes with swimming pools. The department has 12 full-time staff members and about 100 seasonal staffers.
She said 30 part-time regular employees work throughout the year. Twenty-seven of them work 35 hours per week.
"That isn't equitable," she said. "You need to be aware of that. I suspect it has evolved over time. As the city got more expensive to operate, you went to part time because you didn't have to pay benefits."
When the Affordable Care Act is more fully implemented in 2014, Pylant said, the city will be required to offer affordable health care to all employees working 30 or more hours per week or pay a significant penalty.
"Next year, you will have to cut hours or pay some benefits," she said.
In salary findings, Pylant said, Gahanna's actual average pay is about 2 percent below market/midpoint. The salary ranges are on average lower than the market, and the salary range market/midpoint is 7 percent below the survey market. But, she said, some jobs are higher and some lower than market, depending on the job classification.
During her report to council, she discussed six positions to be re-established or created, and council member Karen Angelou said she counted a total of 16 recommended positions within the report.
"You can go forward and figure a way to get this done or start cutting services," Pylant said. "If you cut more staff, you cut services by default. It's not my place to say you don't need 42 parks or full-time police. Those are the type of decisions I see you confronted with."