Just how many people does it take to run a city like Boston? That, it seems, depends on whom you ask. In light of a projected city deficit next year of $40 million, some people are saying the city needs to make broad-based cuts in personnel. In the past several months, reports by two agencies have recommended cutting the city payroll by 850 to 1,000 positions - cuts representing 7 to 8 percent of the work force.
During that time, however, the city has been adding to its work force. During a budget crisis in 1981, Boston cut between 2,500 and 3,000 employees from its payroll over a period of about six months. But since that time, 1,700 jobs have slipped back onto the payroll, bringing the total to 12,584 (exclusive of the school department).
City officials claim this increase has been necessary to restore services to appropriate levels. Thomas Francis Jr., Boston's personnel supervisor, says those drastic personnel cuts resulted in ''a dirty city.'' People were not satisfied with the services they were receiving, he says.
According to Mr. Francis, determining this elusive ''appropriate level of services'' is the key to solving the city's personnel riddle.
According to others, however, Boston must make personnel cuts, and could make significant cuts without sacrificing city services. This was the conclusion of a report released recently by the Boston Finance Commission. The FinCom is a state watchdog agency that is, interestingly enough, funded by the city.
Jeffrey W. Conley, executive director of the FinCom, says there's a ''drastic need'' for the city to reduce expenditures. Boston's single biggest cost, he says, is personnel. While the city needs to provide services, he says, it is just as important that it live within its means.
The Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a private watchdog agency, came to the same conclusion in July. The BMRB suggested that 850 workers be cut through early-retirement incentives and attrition.
The FinCom, in its report, went even further. It recommended that 1,000 city jobs be eliminated, and it identified specifically which ones should go. The savings to the city, according to the report, would be more than $16.5 million.
Mr. Conley says the cuts are not aimed at ''key (major) line departments'' that provide basic services. They are aimed at the middle-management level - positions created in the past dozen years which reportedly do not directly relate to the delivery of services or provide more effective government. The FinCom report suggests closing six departments.
For instance, Conley says, the mayor's office does not need a public relations staff of 16. It could get by on six or seven. And the Office of Policy Management with its 30 employees merely duplicates the work rightfully done by the Administrative Services Department. Conley says that ''if they (the Office of Policy Management) closed their doors tomorrow, we think no one would notice.'' And the city would save more than $650,000.
The commission's report has proved controversial. Conley says his office has received ''lots of calls.'' Some city officials howled, calling the report amateurish and criticizing the method used to formulate it.
The commission based its findings on payroll records. But Mr. Francis, the personnel supervisor, says much more is required to evaluate the needs of individual departments adequately. He says organizational structure and work loads, as well as payroll records, need to be taken into account. It's a long and involved process, he says.
Conley still stands by the report, but if he were to issue it today, he might make a few changes, he says. It has accomplished its primary purpose of focusing attention on the need to specify where personnel cuts should be made, he says. And, he adds, such cuts must be made now. We can't wait until July, when the fiscal crunch hits, Conley says.
The FinCom report also notes a large pay disparity among city employees. The city collector-treasurer and the city auditor each earn $40,000 annually. The commission states that these positions are two of the most important in the city. Why then are the executive assistant for veterans' affairs, the deputy commissioner for parks and recreation, and the workman's compensation agent all paid more?
The FinCom has identified many cases throughout City Hall of the same type of inequity.
All of this now winds up in the lap of the city's mayor-elect, Raymond L. Flynn. As he selects staff members during the next couple of months, it is important that he make intelligent decisions about personnel cuts and equitable pay scales. During the campaign, he indicated he was amenable to these ideas, and said he would consider cutting as many as 700 jobs from the city payroll.
Neither the Boston Municipal Research Bureau nor the Finance Commission specifically mention the subject of patronage in their reports. It has become clear that the city cannot afford even one do-nothing job. Nor can it afford to pay any employee more than the job is worth.
No one likes the thought of turning people out of their jobs. But the notion that it is the government's role to create jobs is falling by the roadside as the necessary for budget cutting grows.
It is important that Mayor-elect Flynn run a lean, efficient organization. He must retain the essential jobs - those providing necessary city services such as fire and police protection and garbage collection. Nonessential jobs - both low- and high-level - must be dropped.
This will not be an easy job. But in light of the $40 million deficit projected for the city in fiscal 1985, it is one that must be done.