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Extensive City Audit to Focus on Efficiency : Finances: The independent study, costing about $250,000, will evaluate all civic operations to help officials formulate long-term budget strategies.

August 12, 1993|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — In an attempt to deal with increasingly tight budgets, the Glendale City Council on Tuesday called for an independent, citywide audit of all departments to find ways to operate more efficiently and to develop a long-range strategy for fiscal planning.

Expected to cost $250,000, the audit is the first of its kind authorized in the city and is an unusual step to be taken by a political organization, local officials and state observers said.

"I think that if we consider Glendale a business, we ought to operate as a business," said Mayor Larry Zarian, a retired businessman, who for five years had lobbied unsuccessfully--until now--for the independent study.

Zarian said three conservative council members who held the majority vote until they retired this year had repeatedly rejected his proposal to spend dwindling tax dollars on an independent study.

All five members of the council this week endorsed the audit.

"We have a city of over 1,500 employees and a $317-million budget," said Zarian, who for 15 years owned a chain of retail stores that sold appliances, furniture, jewelry, gifts and automotive supplies. "I had annual audits done of my businesses and saved myself tremendous amounts of money. We ought to look at the city and say, 'Let's see if we are doing things right.' "

The audit, to be conducted by a professional firm that has not yet been selected, will evaluate interdepartmental relationships and operations in all of the city's 16 divisions, said Robert K. McFall, assistant city manager.

It would examine the role of employees, use of equipment, amount of time spent performing tasks and any counterproductive or duplicate procedures.

One unrelenting city critic, resident John Beach, pointed out to the City Council on Tuesday that a city crew of tree trimmers, for instance, recently went to work and left debris in one neighborhood just hours after a street sweeper had passed through.

Specifications for bids for the study are being sent this week to about 50 professional firms in the western United States, and ads will be published in trade journals nationwide, McFall said. Bids must be returned to the city by Sept. 3. A consultant is expected to be hired by Oct. 1.

McFall said officials expect a diagnostic study with recommendations for action to be completed by the end of February so that officials can use the results to formulate next year's city budget. A strategy also would be developed for long-range planning, such as capital spending and sources of new revenues.

John Longville, immediate past president of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, called Glendale's action "a pretty unusual move." He said most cities, such as Rialto in San Bernardino County, where he serves as mayor, have long used volunteer committees or even outside consultants to look at aspects of government efficiency, but that he is not aware of any city taking on the wide-ranging, aggressive study proposed by Glendale.

"The idea of paying someone to come in and review the budget is potentially very useful," Longville said. "We need to have some flexibility to look for any efficiencies we can to survive in today's poor economic environment."

An audit done three years ago of just one Glendale division--public services--resulted in widespread changes and savings of millions of dollars, city officials said.

Michael P. Hopkins, public service director, said that particular in-depth study identified efficiencies in upgrading and saving the city's Greyson electrical power production plant that has resulted "in millions of dollars of savings to customers" in utility rates.

The audit also triggered reductions in crew sizes through use of bucket trucks in the field and computer technology in warehousing, equipment maintenance and record-keeping.

"We're using equipment and technology rather than people climbing poles," Hopkins said.

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