In recent years, one of the biggest problems facing the city of Fullerton has been the steady decline in the city’s staff. As of December 2021, the city employed 471 people, according to a recent snapshot of the city’s employment figures provided by Anissa Livas, a management analyst at the city manager’s office.
This represents a further decrease from 506 employees in January 2021, and specifically from a peak of 710 employees in fiscal year 2013-2014, according to previous city budgets and figures compiled by the Fullerton Observer from readily available reporting tools and records. In fact, around 54 employees left the city of Fullerton in the first half of 2021 alone.
Veronica Rodarte, senior labor relations representative at the Orange County Employees Association, attributes the declining number of city employees to inadequate salaries that are simply not competitive enough to attract needed workers. “Every city has its fair share of hard-to-fill vacancies, but most larger cities of a similar size to Fullerton don’t have as many problems recruiting and retaining staff,” he further quotes offices in the Public Works Department as saying. the “barely above minimum wage.”
In addition, Rodarte, whose organization represents the Fullerton Municipal Employees Federation, notes that the dysfunctions in all municipalities resulting from reduced headcount further discourage potential job applicants from applying for needed positions and describes this phenomenon “like a catch 22”.
These staff cuts have led to corresponding cuts in community services, ranging from reduced library hours to the elimination of after-school programs for children. The city must now hire private contractors for problems previously handled by city workers, such as water lines, Rodarte said.
As the cause of the staff cuts, Rodarte blames the City Council’s assumptions for the overall cuts across all boroughs that Fullerton will have a deficit in setting budgets, which she describes as a perpetual “scarcity mentality.”
“Some members of the Council have a view of public servants that is not necessarily true,” she said, explaining why cuts continue even with recent budget surpluses.
In recent months, the city of Fullerton has continued such cuts; the observer reported back in December that the City Council voted 3-2 to implement “overall budget cuts” of 2.5% and leave nearly 37 city vacancies to save about $4 million from the city’s budget , even in the face of nearly $33 million in federal stimulus money received from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Going forward, restoring staffing levels to previous highs will require a change in mindset and attitude on the part of the city council, Rodarte said. Going forward, she encourages them to be “strategic” by building city governments that generate regular revenue to stave off any worries that could lead to future budget cuts.
Ultimately, the reason the ability to retain and increase staff is so much at stake, according to Rodarte, is that “public servants are the town of Fullerton.”