Who Owns Your Population Data?

That obnoxious screeching sound is coming from my fingernails going down the chalk board to get your attention.

You must understand the value I place on population data. Just about everything in local government current operations and forecasting is driven by population. Employment population is important, too, but residential population takes the front seat.

I also place great value on the data in your CAFRs, Official Statements for debt issuance and the multitude of expert studies and master plans that lead to decisions for future infrastructure and public facilities.

But here’s my problem. Rarely do I find the same historical numbers in all these documents. The tip off is when I see the same population numbers for multiple years, all rounded to even thousands or hundreds.

Then the difference is forecasted numbers is all over the board, the one I am scratching.

I realize this is a difficult issue and that there are dozens of federal, state and local agencies producing forecasts. And they vary so greatly that the red flag is glaring. I also know that there are pop estimates as of a calendar year, a fiscal year, and the federal numbers are often as of July except for the census as of April. Good grief!

Don’t bring me another problem, Lewis, unless you have a solution!

I do.

Recommendation

  • First, appoint someone in the City to be the official keeper of both historical and future population estimates. Probably the City Planner or the Public Works Department.
  • Reconcile all of your official documents with population and employment history to show the same numbers – and change them!
  • Have your Pop Keeper to be the only official source for future forecasts. Who can be more accurate than the City staffers keeping track of building permit data, utility connections and occupancy rates? Who else can track and see the future coming than those dealing with annexations, zoning, platting,  land use, densities and the remainder of the pipeline?
  • Have your staff delve into forecasting methodologies from your COG and all federal and state agencies. But don’t have them spend much time there. Instead, send your official history and forecasts to them, along with your methodology and implore them to use your numbers.
  • Have an annual review of pop forecasts with a presentation to your govering body AND have them adopt your forecasts.
  • State in your RFPs, Engineering and Consulting agreements that only your official forecasts should be used.
  • Change the organizational vocabulary such that you speak of revenues and expenses as well as workload measures on a per capita basis with the same zeal as a manufacturer talks of those items on a per unit or gallon basis. Dollars may go up. Big deal. That means little in light of the dollars per capita that might even be going down.

In summary, treat the population forecasts as sacred and have every internal and external player use your numbers for consistency and accuracy. Own the data! LFM

 

What is the House Value Needed to “Breakeven” in Your City?

Dear Lewis:

My mayor wants to know the value of a single-family residential home necessary to “breakeven,” meaning for residential to pay its own way?

Dear Colleague:

Thank you for asking me my least favorite question. However, it is an important question, and I will try to answer. But be forewarned, I’m going to give you my shortest answer or at least one you can work through on a cafe napkin. There is a reason.

This is a tough one. The answer has to be understood in the context of mix. If you had nothing but property taxes and nothing but residential, then the answer would be easier. It would be exactly the average value of a single family home available from your appraisal district. I know I can’t satisfy you with that answer that fits into a non-existent world. Yet it is instructive to frame your response starting with a pure single family residential community. Undertanding this one point makes the remainder of the explanation easier to digest.

Yet when the mix of all General Fund revenues is considered, and the tax base internal mix is considered, then the portion paid by the residential class forms the basis for saying the average home value is paying their share – and higher than average value is paying more than their share of their pie with the opposite also being true.

That sounds like circular thinking, but there you have it.

Try Harder, Lewis!

A better way of looking at the cost question is to ignore revenues for a minute and look only at the expenditure side initially.

If you are spending $36 million in the General Fund budget, and you have a population of 50,000, then the services equate to $720 per capita. If you have 3 people per household, then you need $2,160 per household. You can conclude the need for an AVERAGE house value of $540,000 ($2,160 / $0.40 O&M Rate * 100) to carry the costs before other revenues help lower the property tax requirement.

If you have a revenue base that yields 40% from other sources, then you only need an average house value of $324,000 ($540,000 * 60%), net of exemptions.

So, what is your average home value on the tax rolls?

It is $200,000, you say. Hmm! That’s a respectable amount. Let’s dig deeper to understand $540,000 on one end of the spectrum and $200,000 on the other end.

I expected your average home value to be considerably less since we’ve left out a million things, most notably the non-residential tax base. And here’s the deal. Some cities have little and some have much.

Here’s the way I would answer the question with necessary generalities included:

“If City of Fiscal Bliss had only property taxes (and then only a residential tax base) to cover the cost of general government services, it would require an average house value of about $540,000 to cover costs or else a very sizable tax rate increase applied to our average house value of $200,000 currently. Fortunately, we do have a respectable commercial tax that lowers the burden on the homeowner. We also have sales taxes, franchise taxes and some user fees to help lower the property tax burden. Therefore, we conclude that our average house value times our General Fund tax rate of $0.40 per $100 or $800 is our net breakeven cost even though property taxes alone would not cover the true service cost of $2,160 per home.”

Oh my! You aren’t going to like my answer, are you?

As I said, it’s complicated. The clue that this was not an easy question was when the  Mayor said average. That was the signal that the Mayor’s field of view was going to be too narrow. Here is the trap. You want to explain, but the Mayor wants the time, not how a watch is made. So, blurt out $540,000 and then ask if you can explain. I’m pretty sure you will have the Mayor’s attention with the obligatory pregnant pause following your incredulous number.

If you have an average home value of $200,000 in your community, then that should mean you are striving to add house values much greater than the average. It is a fact that the true cost is $2,160 per home, and it is also true that it would take a $540,000 at an O&M Rate of $0.40 per $100 to generate the true cost of service.

But thank goodness you have other revenue sources. Your citizens pay a sizeable amount cost recovery in the form of sales taxes and franchise taxes. You also have direct fees for some services. Otherwise, your average SF value would have to be $540,000 or else your tax rate on an average of $200,000 would have to be $1.08! ($2,160 / $200,000).

Did I just blow your ears back?

But We Paid a High-Priced Consultant for Another Answer

A more elaborate analysis would be necessary to offer much more help here. And while the calculations could get more sophisticated, and the wording much more verbose, I’m not sure the accuracy would be better or the conditional wording more understandable.

Does this help?

Lewis

Understanding The Cost of An Employee

I would like nothing more than to see all employees, municipal and otherwise, paid in accordance with their value to the community as well as to the organization.

However, that would mean many if not most would be paid well above six-figures. Multiple times for many. That’s not just fire and police. That would include teachers. It would also include that water department worker who comes out at 2 am to fix a water main break when it’s 35 degrees outside with the wind blowing 25+ mph. But that’s just me dreaming and being in deep appreciation for those who watch over and take care of my needs. I was raised in a blue-collar home where it was believed and often said how grateful we should be for having a good, steady job.

There is also another view I take. From the finance viewpoint, those levels of pay would probably not be possible. Ever. Actually, that’s not my real hang up. I am guessing that most people reading this blog have never had to make a payroll out of their own pocket. I have. That’s a completely different world when payroll time comes around at an unbelievably quick pace irrespective of the money you’ve made since the past pay date.

Another point I can’t resist making is that if I am going to get things done through other people, I need them to be there. I’ve seen projects take months that should have been done in weeks. The reason is that it might take the expertise or decision-making skills of 4-5 people meeting together. That’s hard to do with vacations (up to 4-5 weeks!) and holidays and other leave. I have thought many times that if we can do without an employee being at work 9-10 weeks a year, we might be able to do without them for 52 weeks. I’m dead serious.

Let’s look at some of the arithmetic.

Fair warning! If you think I’m exaggerating, you are invited to run these numbers for your own employees. I hope you do.

We tend to think of the base salary numbers as the cost of positions. However, depending on your circumstances and offerings, the table below shows how a $50,000 employee may actually cost you and taxpayers $77,689. That’s a 55.38% premium! Worse, most of the salary related costs are not visible to the employee. That’s your fault. Many cities prepare a statement of full costs to hand employees annually. Employees need to know and acknowledge they are aware of the money that is paid out of city bank accounts just for them.

Numerator

Now that we’ve reality-sized the Numerator, let’s look at the Denominator. Local governments are particularly prone to grant more time-off benefits. It doesn’t show up in the budget even though it should in the spirit of full disclosure. Again, let’s pay a $50,000 employee a total of $77,689 and then tell them their work is not all that critical so they can have more leave and paid to not show up. Sounds a little crazy to me.

Most employees are paid for 52 weeks a year and 8 hours per day or 2,080 hours a year. Yet if we were to deduct for 3 weeks of vacation, 2 weeks of sick leave, 2 weeks worth of holidays and then add another 56 hours for everything else (training, TML, start-up and shut-down time, leaving early the eve of a holiday, etc), we can see how this could add up to about 380 hours off, leaving only 1,700 hours of presumed productivity. I generally use 1,800 hours as a benchmark. What is your hours worked by employee?

How can we preach efficiency and effectiveness and rah-rah about productivity with those kind of numbers? Hold off on your answers. I know them all, and some are legitimate and some aren’t.

The reality is that you could easily have a $50k employee that is costing the equivalent of $45.70 per hour.

Denominator

One More Day

I know, you want to break out singing the wonderful song from Les Miserables. Sorry, I can’t let you do that right now. Dang! Now it’s stuck in my head.

In order to dig a little deeper into the impact of giving employees just one more day off, I’ll pitch out my favorite illustration. Let’s say things are tight, and pay raises are flat. We’ve all been there. We offer employees their birthday off or a National Starbucks day off to stave off a palace revolt. Sounds good.

However, again, if we really give a flip about productivity, let’s paint the reality using the City of Dallas just to create a little drama. Even for Dallas, to instantly plop almost 58 new employees on the scene might cause a few tremors in the foundation of City Hall. Yet, that is exactly the productivity loss by the one-day gift. Do the math on your city. It’s about 0.44 employee per 100 you have now.

OneMoreDay

Those 24×7 Year-Round Jobs

Lastly, let’s look at the impact of coverage for 24x7x365 positions usually found in public safety and a few other areas. In general, given holidays and vacations, it takes almost 5 positions to fill a single position 24x7x365.

Councils need to know these numbers. This is why the cost of a fire station isn’t the big deal. It’s what it costs to staff and equip the functions inside. A similar issue is where it takes a crew of 2-3+ to work on a sewer line. You don’t add 1 person only at a time.

24x7x365

Closing Thoughts

These are just the facts. If you are fretting over any of my individual comments or calculations, just chill. Dwell on the direction and thrust of this blog. I’m just wanting to increase the sensitivity to decisions that are costly and that are easy to grant and impossible to take back. It’s a genuine taxpayer inquiry, and you need to acknowledge that you understand the impact of these decisions, many of which aren’t actually discussed aloud in the public forum.

Employees are very, very expensive. The private sector knows this so well that they can’t move to robotics fast enough. If I can spend $77k x 4-5 worker to compare year-round productivity, and then perhaps look at a life span of a machine being 7 years (just playing with numbers), then I could spend $millions and save tens of $millions if the job could be automated.

But the most costly of municipal jobs aren’t conducive to robotics, right?

Hmmm! I’ll bet those were the very words from private sector workers a decade ago.

Here is my guess. If city management had to make payroll out of their own personal pockets, especially with a 2.5% cap on revenue producing opportunities, and maybe even a share of the cost-saving possibilities, we would see spectacular ideas implemented in a matter of a few years. LFM

Getting Taxed Out of Your Home? Prove it!

I find it interesting how anti-tax fanatics can camp on to a mantra and then start repeating it as truth. My fav is “People are getting taxed out of their homes.” The louder you cry it and the more emotional you get about it, the more it is accepted as the gospel, I guess.

I’d like to respond by saying “prove it!” Meaning, I don’t believe you. And if it is true, and you are over 65, then I’ve got a solution to offer. All I ask is that we talk with a little civility and respect on all sides. Well, I’ll match the responder’s tone.

Send me examples of people who are being taxed out of their homes. I will need their address. I will keep names and even the addresses confidential. But make no mistake about it, I will publish my findings.

Fire away.

For the Over-65ers

Meanwhile, I would like to respond to those over 65 this way: the state provides that you may not have to pay property taxes until you sell your home. You will eventually have to pay, and you will have to pay 5% simple interest.

The doubter and naysayer will likely respond incredulously to mean “won’t my estate may someday be in the hole?” Well, let’s examine that notion. To be as accurately as possible, I’m picking a home in my neighborhood so I can tie my calculations to a real tax bill.

The market value of the home is $419,198 (it could be any value). Let’s first address the issue of rising house values. That is the case here as shown below as the house value has increased from $212,883 in 1995 to $419,198. Holy Cow! That’s a 97% increase! Send up an Interceptor!

True. You could focus on that number alone and be mathematically correct if you wanted to be a warp-talker. But you could also compute the compounded growth rate over the 23-year period and learn that the actual annual rate is 2.99%. Gee, I hope the value has grown at least that much in my neighborhood.

MarketValue

So that means my tax bill has almost doubled, right? Not so fast. Never in history has my tax bill been based on the full market value. There have been generous discounts in the form of exemptions. In recent years, the owner turned 65, so the exemptions have grown in number and size. The actual base upon which the tax rates are applied are $332,936 for the City,  $302,597 for the County and about $251,000 for the School District and College District.

What’s more, the actual tax bill has been frozen for all but the City. Forever. Until the homeowner no longer lives there.

Now, let’s examine a scenario where tax bills in general are compared to home values in general. The combined tax rates for all four taxing jurisdictions equals $2.3772 per $100. Another way of understanding that number is to say property taxes equal 2.3772% of the home value. In other words, If a house value grows at 2.99% and the tax bill equals 2.38%, the homeowner may eventually get all City, County, ISD and College District taxes back when the house is sold – and then some.

The price of living in a full-service city, which benefits the homeowner, children and grandchildren, can be viewed in a different light. The emphasis on CAN BE is intentional. I may choose to be grateful for what I have. You may choose to complain. Your call.

Let’s understand the arithmetic by examining a sample:

Deferral

I’m taking my neighborhood example bill and situation and extending 25 years into the future. If the homeowner is 65, then this covers the scenario until the age of 90. One might safely assume the homeowner is no longer living in the homestead before then.

First, one might gasp that a deferred tax bill now about $6,500 annually can extend to just under $8,000 annually (due to the City taxes) in 25 years. You might equally be in disbelief that the home value could increase to $777,170. However, that is what happens when the home value grows at just 2.5% per year.

The exhibit shows the results USING THESE ASSUMPTIONS after 25 years. The deferred taxes totals $179,794.512. The accumulated interest on the deferred taxes equals $112,961.02 for a total of $292,756.14.

If the house were sold at that point for a price of $777,170, and the taxes and accrued interest paid off, there would still be equity in the home of $484,414.

What About Differing Assumptions?

I’m so glad you asked. This is when I go into my Excel teaching mode to show a feature just for this purpose. Let’s say you wanted to see what happens when the home value growth rate goes from 0% to 8% in 1/2% increments. You also wanted to see what happens if the state changed the interest rate to charge 2% to 8% in 1% increments. The interest rate was recently changed from 8% to 5%, so that assumption should be fixed for a number of years. But let’s see the results.

Boss, you just asked for 136 tables like the one above. Are you sure you want to see that many? And your response as a boss should be that you only want to see the results in the bottom line corner: What will be the remaining equity under these scenarios?

This is where a sensitity analysis (Data Table in Excel parlance) comes in. Here’s what you want to know once you understand the model above:

DataTable

As you can see, the net equity stays positive even if the house value growth increases were zero and the interest rate returned to 8%.

Other Issues

While you now have an alternative to offer those over 65 when they complain about taxes, there could be some hiccups. If they have a mortgage and the note holder balks, then this suggestion might not work. I can’t help you there other than to show them this blog.

Also, all of the air might be sucked out of the room by your city finance folks if this idea is suggested from the dias in a council meeting. There is a fear of losing revenue any time exemptions are discussed, and there should be. However, I have two responses. By the very nature of this legal solution, the tax deferrals are temporary. PLUS they pay 5%. If you have any kind of internal reserves to fund these deferrals, then compare 5% to the rate you are currently earning. Make it happen. Alternatively, my guess is that a local bank would be happy to be the financing party. Bottom line: it’s a legitimate concern with a legitimate answer.

There are already complaints that those NOT in need of this avenue of relief are taking advantage of the benefit. Sorry, I can’t help you there, either.

Conclusion

I live in a city where the mayor is way above average in smarts and heads above his peers when citizens come before the council making outlandish comments, mimicking the anti-tax mantras spoken in their ears. These naysayer robots are taken to task quite often and asked to explain in more depth. In other words, PROVE IT!

I am making an offer to my mayor as well as to your mayor and council. When you are bombarded with the “we’re being taxed out of our home,” get their address and send to me. I want to see the numbers, but I may also want to explore deeper. If they have lost their job or have huge medical bills, I want to point out that it’s not their taxes causing grief in their life. I will pray for them, but I won’t let them get away with inflammatory accusations about the cost of providing local government services.

LFM.

Federal Deficits and Debt – What, Me Worry?

It’s been about 12 years since I started writing about this topic. Originally, I was kind of in a panic. I thought we were on the verge of something ugly happening any minute. Since then the problem has only grown worse – much more so. However, my mind has morphed into Clark Gable’s attitude toward Vivien Leigh. Frankly, my dear, Elvis is dead, and I don’t feel so good myself. Okay, my apologies, I stole part of that thought from Lewis Grizzard of the Atlanta Constitution (may he rest in peace), but I just love it!

When I first started following the US Debt and Deficit levels seriously, I was worried about me. Us. Then as time went on, and I knew my generation wouldn’t be able to ever pay it off, I started worrying about my grandchildren. They would have to pay for it. I no longer have that worry. The reason is that their generation and all future generations will never be able to pay off the US debt. And they shouldn’t.

Let me provide an update on my initial worry. The US Debt as of March 21, 2019 was $22,028,692,383,333.10 (https://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current). It has ramped up quickly. The table below provides a glimpse of the speed and magnitude, the two critical metrics that typically predict when a Ponzi scheme is about to explode.

It took years for the US Debt to go from $5 to $6 trillion. Then we pass through the $7 to $9 trillion thresholds averaging 645 days each.  Then it got easy. We zoomed from $9 to $16 trillion in about 239 days each, the lowest being 167 days. From there we got from $16 to $20 trillion in 459 days each.

Sounds like we were “improving,” right? Not so fast, Citizen Oblivious. We leapt to $21 trillion in just 188 days, like a breeze blowing your hair in a convertible. And then for the most recent ceiling, we cross over $22 trillion in 333 days. Not even a year.

DebtDaysThreshold

How much is $22 trillion? There are so many ways to measure. Give me a few tries here. If that number were $1,000 bills, the stack would reach 1,495.7 miles into space. Still hard to see? How about we divide by the number of households as shown in the chart below. $22 trillion equals about $182,201.42 per US household. Staggering, huh? Would you like to write that check today or wait until payday?

Oh, I adjusted the historical dollars per household to today’s dollars just to show it’s well over a 5x jump since a 37-year-old was born. But I’ve got some better perspectives to show you, although your indigestion might get worse.

USDebt

How is the US Government paying interest on all that debt? Here’s where it gets real interesting. The annual interest costs alone (never mind the principal) has grown from $214.15 billion to $523.01 billion since just 1988. That’s bad, but you haven’t seen the worst part. The average interest rate in 1988 was 8.23%. It is now just over 2.40%.

Can you guess now why the Federal Government has been slowly moving debt from longer-term to shorter-term? Can you now see why the Federal Reserve has been artificially lowering short-term debt rates toward zero? Does it make sense now the panic from those in the know if inflation rises and interest rates do the same thing in lockstep? Did you really think all along that CPI numbers were true numbers when the methodology has changed many times over the last couple of decades, always resulting in a lower number?  (https://www.investopedia.com/articles/07/consumerpriceindex.asp)

USInterest

Here’s the best perspective yet. the US Debt is mostly the result of overspending. The chart below resembles a portion of Texas, but it is really the cumulative effect of the actual annual deficits when revenues exceed expenditures. Simple math. Devastating results. Since 1980, when deficits really starting climbing, the US Government has spent $13.808 trillion more than it has taken in. It doesn’t take long to dig a deep hole, does it?

Related, February 2019, the most recent monthly deficit, was $233,978,000. That is by far the largest single month EVER.

Deficits

Okay, here comes the Grand Finale on this topic. This is why the deficit is never going to go away, and why the debt levels will only grow toward Mars. Right now, if the US Government were forced to balance the budget, it would require a 28.07% revenue increase or expenditure cut to stop the bleeding.

Mind you, we would still have $22 million sitting there staring at us like the end of the malfunction scene in RoboCop when the errant machine was finished and sitting there smoking and the guys are yelling “don’t touch him,” speaking of the victim (Citizen Oblivious?). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFvqDaFpXeM)

NeedToBalance

Conclusion

Holy Cow! How did we get here? Every president and every member of the Legislature has led us to this moment. And they are just responding to the Citizen Oblivious. Give it all to me, give it to me right now, and don’t make me pay for it. Hey, I’m in the second class of the Boomer’s.  I’m from the generation of What Me Worry? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_E._Neuman)

I was worried 12 years ago. Dangest thing I’d every seen. I doubt I’ll be here in 12 more years. Party on, Grandkids. We caused it. We knew it. We elected not to do a thing about it and voted in people to do out will, except to make it worse. LFM

 

 

What Does This Troll Have to do with Managerial Problem Solving?

 

Troll

This Troll is located under a bridge in Seattle, Washington several miles from Bill & Melinda Gates’ $68 million home. I saw it on a bus tour on Saturday. It is visited night and day by kids, families and sightseers. How could you resist the invitation to go look for the troll hiding under a bridge? You can see the pedestrian bridges coming down both sides. That’s a full-size VW in his left hand. The hubcap resides in his left eye. There is a road in front of the troll to see it by driving under the bridge.

But this is end the of a story. Let’s work our way back to the beginning. The troll is the product of a neighborhood contest. A group was formed to come up with an artsy idea, and this was the result. A grant was provided to construct this attraction. Great idea, right?

Yet the motivation wasn’t to support the arts. The purpose of this troll was to solve a problem. A very ugly problem. This was the site for nightly drug use at the height of heroin addictions in Seattle. Police detectives were being called to this location almost nightly to deal with overdose problems. If detectives were called, then you know this was a death-related call – the kind that sends a team of people seeking the cause of death and another team seeking the drug dealer or murderer, either the direct or indirect cause of death.

Let’s Enumerate the Team

At the risk of stating the obvious, let’s count off the people who might be involved in just one case like this. I’m sure I’m leaving some group out, but this is from memory.

  1. Police call takers and dispatchers.
  2. Police patrol squad.
  3. Police Detective Investigators.
  4. EMS.
  5. Public Hospital Staff.
  6. City Morgue.
  7. Pauper Burials.
  8. Crime Scene and Crime Lab Personnel.
  9. Jail Facilities and Personnel.
  10. County Criminal Court Facilities & Staffing.
  11. District Criminal Court Judge and Administrative Clerks.
  12. Two Criminal Bailiffs for Court.
  13. Two Criminal Bailiffs for Criminal Transport.
  14. A Court Reporter.
  15. Two Criminal District Attorneys & Investigative Staffs.
  16. Two Court Appointed Defense Attorneys.
  17. The Jury Fees & Lost Time for Jurors.
  18. Expert Testimonies.
  19. Prison Facilities & Personnel for Decades, perhaps.
  20. Probation Officers & Support Staff.

Back when I was the Dallas County Budget Officer in my early career, I priced out the cost of just one trial. It was staggering back then, so I can only image the sticker shock today.

May I remind you that I mentioned the calls for overdoses and murders were routine. And it was just for this one location.

So, what if this wasn’t such an easy place to do drugs? Oh, and did I mention this problem in turn was creating a blighted area well beyond the spot in question as do all neglected areas where crime is left to move in?

That’s what the City in general and this neighborhood in particular wanted to address.

There is always the conventional alternative, and that is to keep adding costs triggered by one murder multiplying into 20 different areas of specialty – all at premium costs. Can you imagine the General Fund budgets for the City and County governments bloating up? Much worse, the money would grow as the problem grew, but not a thing would necessarily be done to solve the problem.

How do you stop that one murder from happening?

Lights, people and traffic motivated to come see an attraction was their answer. An investment instead of an expense. Hey, the protective shelter for Mr. Troll was already there! And imagine this – an art project investment turns into an economic development stimulator as the immediate area was reclaimed without corporate welfare!

Comments & Conclusion

If your first response is that all this did is to move the drug users and dealers to another location, then you have just revealed something about yourself. You are worthless as a problem solver.

Here is what I do know. The tax caps and cuts that are coming are real and will likely be severe, especially as they become cumulative over a period of a few years and then compounded by an economic downturn where real losses cannot be restored politically.

It’s. Going. To. Happen!

Here is a companion comment and a few questions. How many people working for you right now would be hired/re-hired today knowing what you know about them and their productivity right now? For each one of them, what are you doing to train/re-train, mentor, motivate, discipline or terminate? How many of them have 1 year’s of experience 20 times vs 20 years of continued growth in responsibility and contribution?

How many are good people, but they have just become way too expensive as the numerator has climbed with raises and generous benefits while the denominator has diminished with extra holidays, vacation days and sick leave days?

More than once in my career I have had city managers and department heads yelp like they had their legs chopped out from under them from a cutback – only to tell me privately that it was one of the best things that could have happened to make them step up to earn that part of their paycheck that includes making hard decisions they had been hesitating to make.

On The Other Hand

If your first response from the Troll story is that the demand side of your workload has got to be addressed, especially for services that require 24x7x365 coverage, then I apologize for scolding and only wish to provide encouragement.

I don’t like the way things are going with citizens and elected officials caring less about who gets hurt, that there is only one priority – cut taxes. I am working hard to provide analyses to show the fiscal impact for every city, county and school district in Texas. You should have already seen my report.

But you know what? They don’t care about facts. And I hear that nothing sets them off like being threatened with the consequences to public safety. I’ve even heard that one State Senator responds to that threat with “sometimes a few people may have to die.”

Here’s the deal. There are only a dozen or so ways to balance a budget. Improving Productivity is the first and Raising Property Taxes is last. LFM

Budget Balance Options

(I’m writing a more complete blog on these alternatives as soon as I can)

  1. Improve Productivity. $Impact: High.
  2. Defer Needed Spending (kick the can down the road, compounding costs) $Impact: High.
  3. Trim Expenditures. $Impact: Low.
  4. Reduce Program Service Levels. $Impact: Medium.
  5. Eliminate Programs Altogether. $Impact: Usually High.
  6. Don’t Start New Programs Requested by Citizens. $Impact: High.
  7. Refuse Unfunded Mandates. $Impact: Medium to High.
  8. Use One-Time Solutions (i.e. Reduce Reserves). $Impact: Medium.
  9. Shift the Burden (ie. To employees or another government). $Impact: Medium.
  10. Charge New Fees for Service. $Impact: Low to Medium.
  11. Increase Existing Fees for Services. $Impact: Low to Medium.
  12. Raise Property Taxes. $Impact: Medium to High.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do We Wait for Animal Control to Reach a Crisis Before We Act?

Actually, I could have replaced “Animal Control” with a blank since this question applies to hundreds of situations in government.

But today I want to focus on just animal shelters in particular. As most of you know, I read from a few hundred (246 to be exact) Texas newspapers and their suburban editions each day. I look for stories that are of interest to city officials, city managers and mayors in particular.

I have known for decades that few topics consistently make the Top 5 as often as animal control issues. I live in McKinney, a city of 180,000 people, meaning just about that many people have an interest or downright big investment in pets.

In recent years, there is one common topic that pervades the Texas headlines. It is the overcrowding of animal shelters. On most days I can point you to at least 10 stories about animal shelters waiving fees and going to extra lengths to incentivize residents to make a permanent home for a pet in order to keep them from being euthanized, the ugly alternative.

While there are usually two primary ways to deal with challenges like animal control, programming and larger facilities, it is always programming that should be given resources even though that means physical space, too. Spay and neuter efforts are foremost, of course. That goes without saying. And adoption endeavors need a robust and unrelenting dedication from staff and volunteers.

But the facilities need to be sufficient, and that is where I want to place an emphasis with my comments today. My main point is to not be surprised at this need. I rarely go to our animal shelter or any shelter. The reason is simple. Although my wife and I have four pets, I am positive a visit for any reason would result in us adding to our fur family. But the last time I visited the Collin County Animal Shelter, it was organized chaos. I’m sure the pet inventory was over-crowded, but I had to work my way through the people (some bringing pets, some taking one home) and volunteers to talk to the person I went to see.

Here is what I was left wondering, and I think about this every time I read yet another “Code Red” adoption story across the state in my daily readings. Why would we not realize that the companion story to the daily rah-rah about Texas’ hyper-growth in population has the same direct correlation to animal population management?

To know that any city’s population that has grown 5-20% in the last five years, and is likely to be on that same path for many more years – and to not have an animal shelter program and facility expansion in lockstep – is to have one’s head stuck in the sand.

There was a new story in the Amarillo news media this morning. A dog in labor was euthanized. I’m having difficulty even imagining how that could happen. But I do know  there are some basic management principles at play. There is an intake rate and an outflow rate. When the former grows at levels that some would have no problem describing as “massive,” then the inventory (facility) can only expand so far until the outflows have to increase: Pets have to be adopted, shipped to another facility (shifting the burden) or else the animal has to be euthanized put to death.

But those inventory and processing steps – called animal shelter programming and facility capacity – need to be sized commensurate with the population growth. Otherwise, city and county leaders can expect mistakes and regretful decisions from staff and volunteers. To turn one’s back to this problem is irresponsible.

C’mon folks, these animal shelters need some help – and kind-hearted adopters who already have too many pets cannot be the only solution. LFM