SYRACUSE -- City staff will soon add a full-time attorney and a full-time engineer.
The city council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to fund the additions to staff on a full-time basis in a session highlighted by contentious debate and a question of whether lame duck council members should be voting on the matter.
The move is expected to save the city money over outsourcing those services, while providing more access to both jobs, according to City Manager Robert Rice.
Rice described it as getting 40 hours of work for the same cost of getting 10-15 hours of work in the current setup.
Councilmen Alan Clark and Matt Ocana, who each lost their bid for re-election in November, joined Councilman Doug Peterson in supporting the measure, while Councilmen Matthew Kimmel and Larry Shingleton opposed it.
Kimmel wanted to table the matter, suggesting council members-elect Karianne Lisonbee and Craig Johnson were opposed to the measure and voters had weighed in on the growth of government during the recent election. His suggestion brought sharp criticism from Mayor Jamie Nagle about negotiating on public issues outside of council chambers, while Clark said he had no intention of skirting his responsibility until the new council members are sworn into office in January.
"I'm still a councilman. My vote still counts. You can't take that away from me," Clark said.
Nagle suggested city officials hired Rice to run the city and to find efficiencies and he was doing just that. She said the recent election did not change that.
"People did not vote on hiring a city attorney or engineer," Nagle said.
Shingleton and Nagle shared words too, with the councilman suggesting he did not like the way the mayor was ramrodding issues through. Nagle said the hiring question had been on the agenda for the last two council meetings and the information being discussed was not new.
After the meeting, Lisonbee distanced herself from Kimmel's assessment that she was opposed to the hiring. She provided an email she sent to council members and the mayor before the meeting, saying the matter needed more study. She urged caution in rushing to create the positions, with only a few meetings left in the calendar year before a new council is formed.
"These are new decisions that would bind the legislative body unduly," she wrote.
The city's current fiscal year budget includes $252,000 in funding for legal and engineering services and Rice said in the highest cost projection scenario, the city could spend that much with the new full-time additions and get 40 hours of work.
He does not think it will cost that much, however, to hire mid-range personnel to the new posts. He said hiring a new public works director with an engineering degree along with a full-time engineer will further augment the city's ability to address engineering issues.
Kimmel said he was not eager to hire new staff, based on projections of what it might cost the city.
"It would be a misnomer to say we are growing government," Rice said of the move.
Clark, who works as an accounting consultant, said there comes a time when outsourcing becomes too expensive and it is wiser to hire full-timers.
"It's time to bring it in-house. It's a win-win on both counts," Clark said.
Peterson said the numbers suggest hiring two new full-timers makes sense, but he worried the city was potentially losing access to specific skills offered by the diversity of outsourcing companies. He still supported the move.
"As the numbers show, it saves us money. If the numbers are wrong down the road, we can change it," Peterson said of the decision.