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  • Writer's pictureBruce Mattare

Government Inefficiency and Higher Property Taxes

Whether it's business or government, there's always organizational inefficiency. The question is, "to what degree?" In government it is almost always more than it should be.

Now that I have a year+ under my belt, it's time to start looking for ways to enhance operational efficiency at our County government. Why? Because it can lower costs and help keep taxes lower. Last week I found a department where I think we can make some big strides: Community Development.

Four out of five online building permit applications (80%) are incomplete, there are no metrics for average turnaround time, monitoring quantity of applications submitted vs. applications completed, turnaround times and quality accounting of revenues.

$1 Million of Your Tax Dollars Again

To put this into perspective, last year we drastically raised Community Development fees drastically, in some cases as much as 40%, to offset the $1 million subsidy property taxpayers were contributing to pay for that department's costs. So what happened?

Looks like we're still $1 million in the red! So, now we're looking at raising fees another 12% across the board to keep property taxpayers from continuing to subsidize a department that is allowed to charge fees commensurate with the cost of operations. But before you get exasperated, don't blame management. Why do I say that?

Because the people who get into specialized fields, like planning, are not businesspeople. They are specialists at planning and reviewing development applications, not establishing and measuring operational metrics.

So I plan on meeting with members of the Community Development team to start developing operational metrics. That way we can start to capture "events" that can be quantified and we can start to understand where within the office operations are hitting choke points or where we can utilize lower paid workers to do more menial jobs and keep the higher paid workers on more technical tasks.

Highly Paid Employees Doing Low Paying Jobs

Would you pay your doctor to staple information packets together? I hope not because his hourly rate far exceeds that of an administrator who can do that. But for some reason high paying employees often end up doing jobs that lower paid employees can and should do. This happens more often than you'd think within an organization and it happens way too much inside your County government.

This inefficiency occurs when people often get the title of managers but don't fully understand what that means when it comes to efficiently managing their staff. What makes it harder is that the people at the top, if they don't recognize it, can't show their managers what to look for. We have not had people at the top in our County government who understand this concept or who have not demanded that we ensure that properly paid employees are doing the jobs commensurate with their pay and delegate lower-pay work to those employees who are paid less.

Are You Going to Raise Fees Again So You Can Lower Them?

I hope so. Because Community Development looks to be subsidized by property taxpayers another $1 million this year to cover operational expenses, we should increase our fees. However, my goal is to establish, monitor and show the team there how using metrics to make decisions can actually lower costs in the long run and develop service levels that meet (or exceed) customer expectations.

One of the things I've noticed as your County Commissioner is that most requests to the Board for money are anecdotally driven and not metric driven. What I mean by that is managers say they need more staff because they are unable to keep up with the demands of the workload. But that's different than establishing metrics for employees/departments, monitoring the workflow and keeping tabs on when there is more work than capacity or seeing if a department is slipping in service levels or turnaround time. Because an elected official or department head says we need more staff is not the same as showing us we need more staff.

I want to emphasize that this is not any individual or group's fault, unless you want to blame those at the very top. Operations, efficiency and organizational metrics is something you only know if you know it. Getting promoted to manager (or Commissioner) does not automatically convey that knowledge.

See Your Commissioners in Action

Below is an interesting discussion among us Commissioners about the fees and the issues facing Community Development. I encourage you to check it out and (in return) I will keep you updated on the progress we make in the coming weeks and months.

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1 Comment

Jason Deegan
Jason Deegan
Jun 24

"Efficiency" is such a critical element of successful organizations. Bruce pinpoints what is sorely lacking in almost all government agencies in the US. We can all accomplish so much more with more efficiency and I applaud both his recognition of its importance and his dedication to fix it.

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