By Mary Spicer
After years of cutting expenses by reducing the number of employees and thereby eliminating traditional paths of career development, the City of Meadville has arrived at a crossroads.
At the present time, according to a report presented to Meadville City Council during its recent study session by City Manager Joe Chriest, the age of the average non-union city employee now exceeds 54 years. By the end of 2016, five management and five non-management employees will have met the city’s minimum retirement requirements. Specifically, they will be at least 60 years of age and have completed a minimum of 20 years of service.
In response to what he sees as a widespread absence of trained personnel ready to step into senior positions, Chriest is in the process of preparing a citywide management succession plan.
Implementation of one part of the plan, however, needs to start almost immediately. Before the end of the current year, both the chief and assistant chief of Meadville’s police department will be retiring.
Under normal circumstances, Meadville has a 21-member police force, including the chief and assistant chief. However, during years of budget discussions with the city, Chief Dave Stefanucci has steadfastly maintained that at 21, one below the department’s 2009 staffing level, he really needs to hire another police officer.
“I feel we have gone too far from what we need to make the schedules work,” Stefanucci wrote in a memorandum included as part of the 120-page budget proposal presented to Meadville City Council by Finance Director Tim Groves at the start of the 2013 budget season last November. “We have been pushing the men far beyond what they should be as far as working overtime to cover the lost manpower.” In addition, while officers leaving in 2012 took more than 90 years of experience with them, according to Chriest, 10 of the city’s 19 remaining uniformed officers have completed less than six years of service.
Question of the day
With Stefanucci and Assistant Chief Tom Liscinski scheduled to retire in July and September respectively, council is rapidly approaching a decision point. Should the size of the complement climb to 23 between May and September and then hold at 22 between September and December before dropping to 21 after the end of the year; or should the number of officers drop to 20 in July and 19 in September before climbing to 21 after the end of the year?
According to Finance Director Tim Groves, the city has traditionally saved money by waiting until a retiree’s vacation and sick time have run out before going out to hire a replacement.
Both Stefanucci and Liscinski, whose days of reporting to work will end in July and September respectively, will continue to be paid for accumulated vacation and sick time through December. As a result, they were both included for the full year in the 2013 budget. Because they are participating in the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, their exact retirement dates have already been set and cannot be extended.
According to Chriest, plans call for Liscinski to step into the position of acting chief between Stefanucci’s last day in the office and his own.
In accordance with the Third Class City Code’s optional charter law, which stipulates that the chief and other officers must be selected from within the city’s force and appointed by the city manager, Chriest plans to solicit letters of interest in the near future, schedule interviews for late February and early March and select the chief and assistant chief in March. “The successful candidates will work with the incumbents from April through July,” Chriest reported to council during the work session.
At the same time, Chriest recommended the hiring of two new patrol officers in May, a plan that he said “will allow the new officers to train while we have a full complement.”
Not so fast, council responded.
“We want to know how much it will cost and where the money is coming from,” Mayor Christopher Soff said after Chriest confirmed that while Stefanucci and Liscinski are both included in the current budget through the end of the year, salaries and benefits for two new patrol officers from May through the end of the year were not.
Councilmembers LeRoy Stearns and Nancy Mangilo-Bittner agreed that they both want to see the cost before authorizing any additional expenses.
“It’s a question of what it will cost to hire a replacement patrol person before the cycle is complete so they’re never short-handed,” Groves told the Tribune Thursday. “We have to sit down with Dave (Stefanucci) and decide what the cost will be.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.