Divided Howell council OKs $108K efficiency study of three departments

HOWELL – The Howell Township Council has authorized a consultant to conduct an efficiency study of the Howell Police Department, the Community Development department and the Department of Public Works.

Council members split along party lines as they awarded a $108,000 contract to Government Strategy Group of Shrewsbury to study the operation of the three municipal departments.

During a recent meeting, Deputy Mayor Thomas Russo, Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell and Councilwoman Pamela Richmond, the three Republicans on the governing body, voted “yes” on a motion to award the contract to Government Strategy Group.

Mayor Theresa Berger and Councilman John Bonevich, the two Democrats on the governing body, voted “no” on the motion.

In voting to authorize the efficiency study, O’Donnell said, “this does not say we do not trust the administration. Even President Reagan said trust, yet verify.

“So basically the efficiency study does not mean we are looking for the ‘gotcha’ angle on any one person or any one section of our employees.

“We trust the manager to do the right thing. I think it is important to realize the taxpayers trust us to ensure money is being spent wisely and efficiently,” she said.

Earlier in the meeting, a resident noted that the police department would be included in the efficiency study.

O’Donnell addressed the resident’s comment and said, “It is interesting that (the police department) happens to be the largest portion of our budget.

“I would think that the efficiency and knowing the money is being spent in the most wise and intelligent way for the betterment of the entire township would be the first thought council would have.

“I am hopeful people understand the efficiency study is for the good of the town. It is to ensure we are running this business as efficiently and as effectively as possible,” the councilwoman said.

Berger said she believes $108,000 “is an excessive amount of money to spend on this study. I believe we have stop-gaps in place, we have audits that we do on an annual basis.

“There are so many programs we do that are checks and balances. I think at this time to spend $108,000 on this study, when (a similar study) was done years ago and nobody did anything with it, that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars, to be honest, at this time,” the mayor said.

Bonevich said the expenditure for the consultant “is outside of our budget and we are in a pandemic. This is not the time to spend $108,000.”

O’Donnell said she had been talking about an efficiency study for six months and said she believes the council is still responsible to do the right thing even during a pandemic.

“If ever there is a time maybe to be even more in tune, it is now, when money is critical. I think it is time we actually take a good hard look, have outside eyes look at our township spending and ensure it is being done in the best way. We spend over $50 million and huge corporations are still doing efficiency studies,” O’Donnell said.

Russo said he went back and forth on the need for an efficiency study at this time and said, “It is a lot of money. I thought about it and I saw the last efficiency study was done while I was in high school (2005-06) when (Howell) had dial-up modems and fax machines … This (study) is an idea to save money and make things more efficient. It is not binding, (there will be) recommendations. The department heads have the sole responsibility of the departments.”

Richmond said, “So much has changed in this world in 16 years that I think it is our responsibility to the taxpayers to look at this and see how we can save money, and how we can save the taxpayers money. That is our job up here.

“We have to sit here and look at all these departments that for 16 years have been complacent … We still owe it to our taxpayers to see what we can find. Unless anyone is hiding anything, I don’t see what the problem is with doing it,” the councilwoman said.

Richmond said spending $108,000 to conduct an efficiency study could result in saving hundreds of thousands of dollars and therefore it would be money well spent.

Berger clarified her remarks by stating she is not opposed to an efficiency study, but that she wanted the appropriation budgeted for.

“It is not about politics, it is about dollars and cents,” the mayor said.