The number of credit cards held by municipal employees has dropped about30% as the amount of charges being billed has fallen even more, according to a recent city report.
For the first quarter of 2012-13, the number of so-called procurement cards held by city employees was down to 191, compared to 277 last year, the report shows.
Meanwhile, employees racked up $1.9 million in charges in fiscal year 2011-12 — or about half of what was billed in 2009.
And if charges don't stray far from the $373,540 spent between July and September, Glendale is on track to get a smaller overall credit card bill at year's end.
“That's the goal. We want to make sure that we're buying only that which we need at the very lowest price,” said City Manager Scott Ochoa.
Credit card holders range from department heads to lower-level workers. While office supplies and hardware goods are frequent charges, so are food purchases at grocery stores and meals at restaurants, according to a review of thousands of credit card charges between July 2009 and April 2011.
For example, former City Manager Jim Starbird charged $230.29 — $23.80 of it on flat water — in July 2009 after lunching with Americana at Brand developer Rick Caruso and three others at Trattoria Amici, a fine dining restaurant.
In December 2009, Public Works Director Steve Zurn spent $204.17 on a holiday lunch featuring pecan crusted catfish and glasses of merlot at the Cheesecake Factory for Traffic and Parking Commission members.
In March 2011, Libraries Director Cindy Cleary spent $148.97 over two days of lunch-time Arnold Palmers and salads at BJ's Restaurant, each noted as budget meetings in city records.
City officials are allowed to use their credit cards for food when it's part of the normal course of business, but there is no organization-wide policy on paying for food. Rather, that's done department-by-department and based on individual budgets.
And business lunches are the exception, not the rule, said Asst. City Manager Yasmin Beers.
The bigger issues with credit cards arise when employees purchase products that may already be in storage or buy items or services piecemeal, rather than in bulk at a cheaper price.
City officials used their credit cards the most at vendors such as the Home Depot, Amazon.com, Southwest Airlines and Smart & Final in 2010, according to a city report.
Despite the Cheesecake Factory charge, Zurn tends to be one of the most conservative executives when it comes to credit card use.
In public works, only 10 top level managers get cards.
And one of the first things Zurn did as the utility's new general manager was take away 55 credit cards, reducing the pool to just 12. That's about half the city's most recent drop in the total number of cards. Some of the decrease can also be attributed to several early retirements this year, officials said.
While fewer cards may make it more difficult for lower level employees to make a purchase, larger scale financial management is Zurn's main concern as Glendale Water & Power struggles to become fiscally stable.
“I'm sure it's a little less convenient, but that's not my main concern,” he said.
An October 2011 internal audit called for regular reviews of credit card use. But even before the audit, there had been an effort to minimize the number of open cards, Beers said.
The city has been tightening its belt lately, cutting $15.4 million from the budget this year and $18 million the year before, and that shows in City Hall's spending patterns. The hope is that with less credit card use, excess expenditures will decrease.
But it's too soon to tell if less plastic will make a long-lasting difference, said Mayor Frank Quintero.
“We're still too early in the process, but I do think it will lead to additional cost savings,” he said.