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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Mar. 1, 201805:50 AM EST

The Cawton Report: City Council looking at erosion of consolidation

Duplication of services could be costing the city money.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

City Council members are reviewing how to improve what some call the erosion of consolidation that could be costing the city money because of duplication of services.

The issue of “decentralization of common internal services” was identified in a 2014 Task Force on Consolidated Government report. 

It came up Wednesday at a meeting of the council committee charged with implementing solutions identified by the task force. 

Lori Boyer, chair of the 2014 panel, said that over the past 25 years, the city’s independent authorities and other local government agencies have slowly stopped using internal services, creating a web of differing standards and duplicative costs. 

According to Chapter 108 of the Jacksonville City Charter, “the central services provided by the Consolidated Government shall be used by all City agencies and by the independent agencies, except when otherwise provided by law.”

Boyer, serving her second term on the council, said the charter provides exceptions to that rule, but not in most cases.   

“With as many things (agencies) as there are, I’m going to bet there are things that are being provided outside central services that were never allowed officially out,” Boyer said. 

She said some have slipped through in annual budgets. 

The city uses an internal services fund to finance goods and services provided by one city department or affiliated agency to another on a cost-reimbursement basis. 

That fund houses 16 subfunds to address charges from departments, for example fleet management, the copy center, information technology, legal services provided by the Office of General Counsel and others. 

In a report Wednesday, Council Auditor Kyle Billy said that in some cases, the independent authorities, such as JEA and the transportation, aviation and port authorities, as well as the Duval County School Board and the State Attorney’s Office and other constitutional offices only use some centralized services, and in some cases, none.

City Budget Officer Angela Moyer said the agencies often argue that their needs are more specific than those of a typical city department, and that it’s easier to ensure quality control if the services are done in-house. 

Council member Bill Gulliford, who chairs the committee, said he didn’t buy that argument, saying the city can hire employees to work on those specific needs from one office. 

“Everyone wants to build an empire of their own,” Gulliford said. “We know what happens to empires.” 

Gulliford said, “We need to decide if we want to be a consolidated government or not,” stating the findings of the 2014 task force were clear that outsourcing was potentially costing the city money.  

Boyer and Gulliford asked for a review detailing the cost differences from agencies spinning off services.

Boyer said the city ends up paying for those services through annual agency budgets, so “why not try to bring those back and take advantage of economies of scale?” 

According to Billy, JEA occasionally uses fleet management when its own contractors can’t do vehicle work, while JAA, JPA and JTA receive no services.

Minor services, like oil changes, are contracted with an outside vendor, on which other agencies can piggyback if they want to use the discount. 

Moyer said that while piggybacking does happen, there is no formal coordination to encourage agencies to do so. 

Gulliford said there was no reason that departments like employee services and procurement, both of which are no longer considered internal services, can’t be used by all agencies and offices. 

None of the independent authorities use the city’s Employment Services Division and each has its own procurement division and code. 

Boyer said an across-the-board review of all procurement codes would make sure they’re in compliance. 

“They may be compliant with the state procurement laws, but they also have to be compliant with the charter,” she said. 

Folding all the procurement functions back into the city, she said, would eliminate confusion. 

Billy said the next step is talking with agencies about why they’re not using central services, employee services and procurement. 

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa agreed, saying the administration would create the “Power Purchasing Committee” to facilitate those conversations.

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