CARLSBAD — After two years of study and debate, the Carlsbad City Council decided not to outsource the city’s parks maintenance on Feb. 25, preventing the layoff of 22 city employees.
In July 2012, an independent consultant hired by the city advised that Carlsbad could save between $1.7 million and $3.9 million if parks maintenance was contracted out to private companies.
Parks upkeep in Carlsbad consists of maintaining 19,000 trees, 178 acres of community parks and athletic fields, 130 acres of landscape, 86 acres of streetscapes, and more. Currently, 65 percent of that work is completed by outside contractors.
After the report was released, City Council agreed to request proposals from private companies interested in taking over the work to study how much money could actually be saved.
City Council reviewed the first set of bids in September 2013, rejecting them due to inadequacies, and sent out a second RFP late last year.
The Parks and Recreation Department in the meantime worked to enhance efficiencies and other cost-saving measures to avoid contracting out its work.
Since fiscal year 2011-12, the department has reduced its workforce by 10.5 full-time employees, lowered its annual operating costs by $638,000, and implemented new maintenance practices, according to the department’s director Chris Hazeltine at the February City Council meeting.
“At the same time the report was taking place, we were moving in the direction of efficiencies,” he explained to Council.
He noted that the Parks and Recreation Department’s operating costs would have reduced further had it not been for the addition work taken on in recent years, including completing the department’s needs assessment report and maintaining the city’s new Alga Norte Park.
The most recent bids from private companies offered a $365,498 savings for the city, equaling 9.6 percent of the operating costs of parks maintenance.
But with the department’s cost reduction success and continued efforts, city staff recommended that City Council reject all of the contracting bids and retain the 22 city employees for parks maintenance.
“We believe firmly that we are meeting the council’s objectives with this process, and that was to provide excellent customer service at the best price possible,” said Hazeltine. “We receive very few complaints about our operational model. In fact, we score pretty high in our community surveys.”
Public speakers at the meeting advocated for keeping city staff for parks maintenance.
“Parks are at the heart of the community and having staff who know and care about the facilities really can’t be replaced,” said the president of the Carlsbad Community Gardens Collaborative.
“It takes a lot of character to come into work with the threat of outsourcing looming over your head,” said Tye Gillespie.
City Council members stated that it was their duty to explore cost-savings that could have reached several million dollars.
“We should not ever be afraid to test ourselves of being efficient,” said Mayor Matt Hall.
But upon viewing the actual financial savings of parks maintenance outsourcing, council unanimously agreed to keep the operations in house.
Councilmember Keith Blackburn said he was absolutely in support of staff’s recommendation to reject these bids and continue to use our own employees.