Members of Pennington Council have been provided with a report that has identified certain problems in borough operations such as thin staffing for administrative services.
The Pennington Council was briefed on the report conducted by consultants at Government Management Advisors, LLC on Nov. 1 at a council meeting. The report not only identified problems, but recommended ways to resolve the issues.
“The problems include essentially tissue paper staffing for administrative service. Right now, administrative financial services of the borough operate on one leg and that one leg is Betty Sterling,” said Greg Fehrenbech, principal at GMA. “Staff reductions over the past five years to save dollars, which is a very common action taken by New Jersey municipalities over the years with the two caps in place, occur in many places.”
He added that the result has severely undercut the ability to provide municipal services and undermines the foundation of the borough’s organization structure.
“There is a severe lack of succession planning and in sports terms, the borough not only has no bench, it cannot at times field a full lineup,” Fehrenbech said. “From a Human Resources perspective, the organization needs accurate and broad job descriptions at least for the administrative positions that were the subject of the study.”
Fehrenbech recommended the development of standard operating procedures for Borough Council committees and a scope of responsibilities, so members understand their roles and responsibilities relating to interactions with administrative staff and departmental supervisors.
“Institute succession planning for all administrative staff positions. Retain the current centralized water billing and collection system in conformance with general practices,” he said. “And lastly one of the things that I determined was that you really should not try to fix things that are not broken.”
In July, the Pennington Council authorized a contract with Government Management Advisors, LLC for consulting services to analyze operations and identify the most effective functions and distribution of workloads among borough personnel, according to a resolution.
The Government Management Advisors was tasked with analyzing staff positions in the administrative areas of finance, tax and utility billing and collections, land use administration, corporation secretary functions and day-to-day responsibilities.
They would provide systemic and organization changes which helped support the strengths that were identified and tackle the weaknesses spotlighted in the report.
Other recommendations to address the weaknesses included filling the vacant land use administrator/planning board secretary position that could provide backup for the technical assistant to the construction official and requests that come in regarding construction code issues; and the hiring of a full-time administrative assistant to provide a reception, clerical, account clerk cashier and backup support.
Additionally, the assistant to the Public Works superintendent should be thoroughly trained to provide backup support in the water billing operations and continue to be provided with direct access regarding water usage data.
“There should be established a regular informed communication between water and sewer billing collections with water and sewer operations. The existing technical assistant to the construction official should be retained for a point of contact within Borough Hall for residents,” Fehrenbech said.
During the Pennington Council meeting on Nov. 1, Mayor James Davy said the borough is trying to thread the needle at finding a recommendation that makes the most sense for the borough.
“One that does not result in too much of a budget impact going into next year given some of the personnel changes we just did in the police department,” he said. “In talking with the borough administrator and the borough clerk, we were thinking that the immediate need right now to going into the end of the year and into next year is for that land use administrator/planning board secretary on a full-time basis with having that backup capability in the office as well.”
Then the borough would look at the administrative assistant position as a budget item in 2022’s deliberation of the budget, he said.