Code and building department merger could save South Bend $400,000

South Bend Common Council members learned more about Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s proposal to merge the city’s code enforcement and building departments during a budget hearing Wednesday night.

Controller Mark Neal gave a presentation to the council flushing out the details of the proposal. He says the move would cost eight city workers their jobs, but would still result in increased efficiency.

“We'll have an opportunity to cross train inspectors so that they can handle the volume of activity given the seasonal fluctuation of what takes place in both of those departments,” Neal said.

As a result, inspectors would respond to both building and code issues, but be paid a higher salary. Neal says the merger would still save the
city about $400,000 per year.

But, Council Vice President Oliver Davis says the savings comes at too high a cost; he is unhappy about the prospect of getting rid of multiple city workers.

“To announce to them in November right when we're getting ready for Christmas and Thanksgiving that they all have to reapply for their jobs and then several of them who have been working here 20, 30, 40 years will have to go back to reapply,” Davis said. “The timing of this whole merger to me is a great concern.”

Neal says all workers will have an opportunity to reapply for jobs. They’ll be notified at least 60 days in advance if they aren’t selected for a position. If that’s the case, the city has $20,000 set aside for outplacement services for those employees.

“We certainly want to be sure we can provide the resources people need,” Neal said.

Council President Derek Dieter says the proposal has him concerned not only about city workers, but also about South Bend residents.
He’s worried that having fewer inspectors with more responsibilities could negatively impact response time and morale.

“You’re going to get a burnout in any application when you’re reducing and expecting everybody to do more work with less,” he said.

But, Councilman Fred Ferlic says the city has to cut back in order to maintain its strong financial health. He’s confident the workers will be able to handle the case load with the help of extra training.

“I have yet to see a city employee that is not energetic and willing to work,” he said. “And, unless we go that route we’re going to become a Benton Harbor, or Detroit, or Stockton, California. So, we have to start reducing the size of government.”

If the council passes the combined budget for code enforcement and the building department, they must also pass an ordinance amending city code in order for the merger to happen.

But, if they vote the budget down, it will revert back to the 2012 budget.

The council must pass a 2014 budget by Nov. 1.

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