The Pros and Cons to City Outsourcing

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Municipal governments are in the outsourcing business for a number of reasons. Most cities contract out city work to save money, improve work quality, and bring in the expertise needed to get the job done. Sounds great, but is it?

"Outsourcing in my opinion goes too far when you loose control of it locally and obviously you want to retain as much of that as you can at county or city level," said Burleson County sheriff Dale Stroud.

The work responsibility may fall on the shoulders of a private contractor, but it's up to the city to maintain a system of checks and balances.

"You loose some of the day by day operational control so you have to weigh all those factors together and do what you think is best for the citizen," said College Station city manager Tom Brymer.

If successful, the money saved could be huge. Bryan saved roughly $40,000 this year when it outsourced janitorial service for city facilities. Bryan Parks and Rec Director David Schmitz said having a large selection of contractors to choose from can determine whether a city saves.

"A lot of it depends upon competition and we're blessed with a lot of companies that do grounds maintenance so that has kept the price down for us," said Schmitz.

But, outsourcing isn't always the best.

"You always run the risk of upsetting employees, all of a sudden the idea is oh gee, am I going to have a job tomorrow," said Bryan city manager Mary Kaye Moore.

When cities enter into a contract, the workers who did the work in-house are typically laid off. However, city managers say in some cases employees are reassigned or hired by the private contractor because they already have the required knowledge to do the job.

Somerville Mayor Barbara Pederson agrees and said even more important is outsourcing to companies within the city.

"The thing I think you want to avoid is getting into a position where you are not employing your citizens in your local area. We really try to hire from within anytime that we can because jobs are hard, it's a small rural community," said Pederson.

Outsourcing is not the answer for everything. But, city officials say when used, it's the result of extensive research to provide the best services for the city, its employees, and its citizens.