Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thoughts on Fiscal Responsibility & "Smart, Citizen-Focused Government"

Earlier this afternoon, Julian Taliaferro and I held a news conference to unveil a series of proposals to instill more transparency, innovation and fiscal responsibility in budgetary decision-making by City Hall. Below, FYI, are the draft talking points from that event (though they're not an exact transcript of our remarks as delivered).

UPDATE: See the complete video of our news conference (courtesy Charlottesville Tomorrow) here:


Talking Points on Taliaferro/Norris Media Event re: Fiscal Responsibility/“Smart, Citizen-Focused Government” -- 11/13/07 DRAFT

* We ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and over our first year in office we've seen a number of things which have led us to believe that there’s more the City can be doing to assure residents that their tax dollars are being well-spent and that City Hall is indeed operating in a “Smart, Citizen-Focused” manner.

* Next week City Council will be kicking off the process of putting together our FY2009 City budget and today we are proposing a series of reforms that we hope will be incorporated in that process.

1. Greater Emphasis on Performance/Outcomes in City Spending

> In our budget we talk a lot about inputs (how much money we’re dedicating toward different needs) but we don’t do a good job of letting taxpayers know what they’re getting for all their money (i.e. outcomes) and how well our various City agencies are performing, especially compared to other municipalities. We need to do more benchmarking with other municipalities – for example, by doing a simple head count to compare the number of employees in various functions with other cities.

> We are encouraged by recent efforts by City staff to incorporate performance measurement/management in the City budget development process. Through its participation in the ICMA Center for Performance Measurement, the City is learning from localities like Prince William County and Fairfax County who are ahead of the curve when it comes to the performance measurement process. For the first time this year, City staff have asked departments to provide data related to performance measures when making their funding requests, and additional information on goals and accomplishments (outcomes) is going to be provided to the public in this year’s budget document. The City is also exploring the idea of developing strategic business plans for each of our departments, linked to Council’s Strategic Vision/Plan. All of these efforts are to be applauded.

2. Increased Transparency in Budgetary Decision-Making

> All major new expenditures must be fully vetted in public

> Information on the status, funding streams and anticipated outcomes of all major City projects needs to be made available to the public in an accessible way (via the City’s website and in print form for those who request it)

> The Sister City Program, in particular, needs more clarity, focus and structure, and greater community buy-in. We look forward to the recommendations of our Sister City Committee as to how these goals can be accomplished, based on best practices in other communities. Private dollars should be raised to defray travel costs of our Sister City delegations.

> Likewise, there needs to be more of an open, deliberative process by which decisions are made regarding expenditures for Public Art.

3. Dedicated Focus on Cost Savings & Innovation in City Governance

> At the outset of each year’s budget development process, before the City Manager proposes his budget for the succeeding year, Council should hold a public hearing & work session focused solely on opportunities for cost savings and reductions in the current size and scope of City government.

> We propose to increase innovation and cost-effectiveness in City operations by (1) reviving the spirit of Waldo Jaquith’s “Ten for Ten” proposal (from 2003) -- http://waldo.jaquith.org/blog/2003/07/ten-for-ten -- by setting aside a pot of money to fund small initiatives that can improve our community in significant ways, and/or result in significant cost savings through smarter municipal operations /partnerships; and (2) expanding our rewards program for City employees who suggest smarter and more cost-efficient ways of delivering public services.

> City government and City schools should redouble their efforts to save substantial amounts of taxpayer dollars (and help the environment) through energy conservation/energy efficiency measures in municipal buildings and operations.

> For both City government and the City schools, a plan needs to be developed for shifting more funds and staffing from Central office/administration to front-line positions. We’re pleased to report that the City Manager has led the way in this regard by deciding NOT to re-fill one of the two Assistant City Manager positions that are currently vacant; after initially proposing to use funds from one of these positions to create a new high-level Customer Service Director position, he will instead be tasking existing staff with developing strategies for improving customer service at City Hall.

4. Making Strategic Investments in City Infrastructure to Save Dollars in the Long-Term

> In recent decades, City has been penny-wise and pound-foolish in deferring maintenance and badly-needed upgrades to our City infrastructure in order to save dollars in the short-term. That needs to end. As a result of this practice, we are facing tremendous capital costs: sewers, pools, water capacity, municipal building upgrades, transportation improvements, etc. Many of these costs are directly related to our ability to manage growth in the County and absorb an increasing level of cut-through traffic by County commuters. Right now, 50% of our County Revenue-Sharing funds are dedicated to capital costs and we propose to increase that to 75% in the years ahead so we can get a better handle on the transportation improvements that are necessary to protect our neighborhoods and promote increased use of transit, walking and bicycling.

> Under-investment in affordable housing has contributed to a critical situation wherein many of the working people who make this City function are having to move 20, 30, or 40+ miles away to find housing they can afford (thus clogging our roadways and contributing to suburban sprawl). Having an adequate stock of affordable housing is an essential component of a City’s capital and social infrastructure. We need to create a dedicated and substantial source of annual funding for affordable housing to help address this problem.

5. Returning Surplus Property Tax Dollars to the Citizens

> Once again this year, we anticipate the City will realize a sizeable budgetary surplus from the prior fiscal year. We strongly prefer to have a year-end surplus than a year-end deficit (as Albemarle County experienced this year), and we support the current policy of dedicating a substantial portion of one-time surplus dollars to capital/infrastructure needs. However, for that portion of the surplus that results from higher-than-projected property tax collections, we propose that the City explore giving those dollars back to the citizens through a direct cash rebate to allow citizens to use those dollars as they see fit.


Lonnie said...

Waldo's community grant suggestion from the ten for ten, reminds me alot of one of the ideas being floating this year for Charlottesville Earth Week. We'll be having a trail race and the person or organization that submits the best community environmental initiative gets the proceeds from the entry fees as a grant for their project. The winning idea will be decided by a vote at the earth week fair.

I'd love to see the city do some kind of community grant process on a larger scale.

Anonymous said...

My house was assessed at a tax rate 50,000 more than what I bought it for, only two months after I bought it. I missed out on the appeal. While a small refund wouldn't be much, it would help.

Victoria said...

This is great-- thanks Dave!

My special hope is that the transparency you mentioned will go way beyond the budget and extend to every facet of the city government. It would be a wonderful thing if Council were to make the choice to insist that there be a new standard of openness, honesty, and bravery from city government.

We already get enough obfuscating from our federal government-- we don't need get more of it at home too. I think we can be much better than that.