Franklin County is managed by individual department heads who report directly to county commissioners as well as our elected constitutional officers who are required to request their annual budgets from the county commission. Franklin County’s current budget of $52 million supports a population of approximately 10,000, not including state inmates. Small county we may be, but county taxes, to the tune of over $5,000 for every man, woman and child, puts our county budget at the very top rank of county spending per capita in the state.
Absent a county manager, many of the county’s key financial decisions are made by well-meaning but too often financially inexperienced, individuals who perform well on the operational side of their position, but struggle with sophisticated financial decisions and operations that may be above and beyond their everyday duties and skills. Questions that need to be asked and issues that need to be addressed by every department and constitutional officer before they make capital requests or before they submit a budget request are:
What is the economic life of an asset? Every piece of capital equipment should have an asset card associated with it that tracks its history and helps predict future obsolescence.
Does each piece of equipment follow a prescribed preventative maintenance program to maximize its life? Who ensures that standards are met?
Is there a standardized approach to the acquisition of capital equipment through open bidding or does the county leave that up to the individual discretion of constitutionals and department heads?
When financing is involved, does the county have an annual arrangement with a financial institution to acquire equipment for the lowest possible finance cost? Is this arrangement transparent and open to competition?
Under what conditions should leasing of equipment be sought? Leasing is rarely the most economic form of ownership for county government. Exceptions are capital leases with a defined buyout.
Does every county department have a mission statement that clearly states what is expected of that department and its employees so they can budget to that requirement?
Does the county undertake a periodic operational review by a qualified company to look for opportunities for savings and efficiencies that exist in every operational area?
In department and overall county-wide, is there a shared assumption by staff, management and commissioners to attempt to operate within the current year’s budget footprint when they submit their next budget? While not always possible, a stated goal/policy to aggressively attempt to keep costs level.
Is there anyone tasked by county leadership who looks for ways to reduce spending, increase efficiency and provide better services to the citizens?
Is there a countywide personnel policy and compensation program that employees can rely on for day-to-day operations and promotion guidance?
Be wary of “Free Money,” aka grants that are a huge part of our budget. Many grants start you off but don’t sustain that purpose over time. This means that when the grant money runs out, the county frequently continues paying for whatever activity or person that was at first “free.”
County leaders should expect and budget for excess funds not used in a budget year. There must not be a mad rush to expend every dollar to bolster next year’s request.
As we enter this year’s budget cycle, those that request and approve budgets should be cognizant of recent spending increases. In 2012-13, the county budget was approximately $38 million. The most recent budget saw a $14 million increase in spending to the current $52 million. That is a 37 percent increase in five years. That is substantial and hard to justify by our way of thinking when population numbers have not increased and no new services have been introduced. Has the population grown or number of visitors demanding services substantially changed?
After several years of increases in financial spending, it’s time for a pause in the annual “Fleecing of the Lambs.” We the taxpayers and citizens are all, of course, those “Lambs!”
The CCFC is asking the county commission to pledge a “no net increase in millage rate taxes” this year. Ask your representatives if they are willing to take the pledge.
Allan Feifer is president of the Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.