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Comparison: Dixon has fewer workers

City has always been lean, Burke says

DIXON – Dixon city officials contend they have run a lean government over the years. 

Exhibit A: The city has fewer employees than Sterling, which has a similar population.

Sterling, however, differs with some of Dixon's numbers.

In a town hall last week, Dixon officials presented numbers comparing Sterling and Dixon. 

It used most of the two cities' departments in the comparison: city administration and finance; police; fire; streets and public properties; wastewater; and building. 

In each of those departments, Dixon has fewer employees. 

According to Dixon's numbers, it has 73 city employees, far less than Sterling's 103. 

Since 1995, Dixon's public works department has seen a big drop in employees – from 29 to 19. 

"City Hall has always been run with very few people," said Mayor Jim Burke, who started in 1999. “That goes way back before me.”

The city, he said, has cut its workforce through attrition, in part because of Rita Crundwell's "looting."

Crundwell, the city's former longtime comptroller, went to prison this year for stealing nearly $54 million from the city over more than two decades. 

Sterling explains the differences

Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard said some of Dixon's numbers are "off just a bit." For instance, Sterling counts 9.5 employees in administration and finance, not 11.5, as Dixon states. Dixon has 8 employees in those departments.

Dixon's numbers say that it has 32 employees in its police department, while Sterling has 44.5.

"Sterling runs its own dispatch center, whereas Dixon utilizes a joint dispatch center with Lee County," Shumard said in an email. "That explains much of the difference."

As for fire departments, Dixon's numbers show it has 17 employees and Sterling 21.

But Shumard noted that Sterling gets money to provide protection for Sterling's rural fire district, while a separate department handles such services for areas around Dixon.

"If you added Dixon Rural with City, we would have a much smaller department," Shumard said.

Police Chief Danny Langloss, who is also the special assistant to the City Council, said Dixon's fire department runs an ambulance, while Sterling's does not.

In its sewer department, Dixon has four employees, while Sterling has five.

"Not sure if their newer plant allows for fewer people than ours, or if they have fewer lift stations to maintain than ours," Langloss said. "Both are possibilities, but obviously our sewer plant runs at the low end of customer costs," noting that Sterling's sewer rates are lower.

Dixon has a 'slim operation'

Burke said he doesn't believe in hiring more people simply to rise to the levels of other cities.

"We've been able to get by with a slim operation," he said. "I'm not in favor of opening the floodgates to hire people right and left."

The test should be, he said, whether the city is able to operate efficiently and provide services to people with its existing staff levels.

He said the city has hired more people in its finance department to help carry out new financial controls.

Sterling and Dixon have similar tax bases and populations. Both are about 15,500 people, but Sterling directly serves more citizens than Dixon, whose population includes 2,400 state prison inmates who infrequently use city services.

Sterling Mayor Skip Lee said a number of factors go into how many employees a city has – for instance, how much of a municipality's services are contracted out to private businesses.

"We have looked carefully at the number of employees we have," the mayor said. "If you follow our employees around for a day, you'll see that they're not watching the traffic go by. They are loyal and hard-working. When you start comparing cities, you really run into apples and oranges and tangerines."

He noted the city laid off three firefighters a few years ago.

"I don't think it negatively affected our fire department," he said, "but it's nice to have a cushion when firefighters are sick."

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