Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Looking for $ Under Every Rock

Today, the Commissioners took a number of steps to deal with continuing budget problems. We're working across party lines to find every and any source of savings that makes sense. Citizens are demanding that we do more with less, and that is exactly what we are working to do.

As part of that effort, I presented three issues that, together, could potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even more:

1. Take-home vehicles (potential savings: $100,000s)

Ohio law is very clear. No automobile owned, hired or leased by the County can be used “for any purpose other than the transaction of official business.” O.R.C. 307.43.

Take-home vehicles can be a useful and appropriate tool, particularly in law enforcement or other services that require immediate County response directly from an employee’s home. But without clear and appropriate policies and controls, take-home vehicles and their associated costs (insurance, fuel, etc.) can also become an unnecessary drain on the County’s budget, totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The County has 121 take-home vehicles, across seven departments (out of 905 total vehicles).

The Motion I presented calls on the Administration to review and report back to the County Commission on the use of these vehicles, and the policies and controls of each department to ensure that we are keeping costs down while adhering to the Ohio guidelines.

Link to the motion:

2. Overtime (potential savings: $100,000s to millions)

If well-managed, the use of overtime can provide an appropriate tool to deliver services—and no doubt overtime costs will mount in an environment of hiring freezes. If poorly managed, however, overtime can lead to excessive spending and inefficient service delivery.

The 2008 Overtime Budget for Hamilton County’s General Fund budget is $4.1M. Any meaningful improvements in overtime management could help us grapple with our 2009 budget challenge, and save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Motion calls on the Administration to review and report back to the County Commission on the use of overtime by department, and recommend policies and controls to ensure that we are using overtime only when appropriate.

Link to the motion:

3. County Parking (potential savings: $10,000s to $100,000s)

County-owned personal parking spaces are, collectively, a valuable asset that, in the private sector, generate real value. This asset doesn’t belong to individual officials, but to the County and taxpayers. At this difficult budget time, where the County is assessing the value and use of all of its assets, the County should do the same with this asset.

The “system” today appears to be scattered and inconsistent. While some County employees, generally those who make lower salaries, appear to be responsible to pay for their personal parking spaces, other County employees, many at the higher salary levels, receive a personal parking space for free.

The Motion asks the Administration to do an inventory of all County-controlled parking spots, review and report back on the breakdown of what rates are being paid by whom, and explore various options on how to ensure a fair and equitable system. The bottom line: those employees who currently pay for personal parking should not have to pay more. But the County should review if it is fair and wise that higher paid officials in particular benefit from this valuable asset for free.

Link to the motion:

Overall, my hope is that all these issues will lead to significant savings, and increase confidence among taxpayers that we are spending prescious dollars on THEIR priorities. More to come. In the meantime, continue to send your ideas . . . . .


Anonymous said...

In your review of take home vehicles - does that include those in other elected offices like the sheriff's? I know that some employees at JFS and the health dept are required to have their own vehicles wherein they are reimbursed for mileage. A county car is not an option. I think all county provided vehicles should be switched over to the mileage reimbursement method - providing a car and all the costs associated for someone who is "on call" to travel 8 miles is over the top.

As for parking, I think it would be really hard to take away free parking for those who have it. I think an alternative would be more diplomatic - for instance, all reduced and free parking will be maintained (after being equalized maybe) if, and only if, that parking space is used to transport 3 or more other county employees. This way, the benefit is still there, but it is up to the driver if that benefit also benefits the taxpayer. If they don't want to pay parking, car poole, otherwise pay market rates.

Also, can you find out who, why and at what cost Deters sent 2, two - employees to Florida to break the news about the coroner issue? THis seems completely ridiculous. You may not have authority on the issue (but you do approve "travel" right?)We not only incurred a cost - these employees certainly weren't productive as employees.

Anonymous said...

Will you stand up to the sheriff on this vehicle issue? He seems to win every battle with the commission.

On are right, if you cut staff, as you are doing, overtime is going up. Make sure you are not making blanket policies that will put you in a lurch.

As for parking, didn't I read where you were losing money on the county owned Parkhaus because you couldn't keep it filled? Why not offer employees free parking there? Let's face it, you can't take free parking away in this day and age...there is little incentive to work for the county anymore as it is. Lower salaries, poor health care are going to lose people as is.

Plus, wouldn't you be cutting your own throat in some cases? If JFS pays for staff parking spaces in the garage and it goes to the general fund...if you take those spaces away, those people will go to cheaper private lots and the money will come away from the general fund. Think ahead.

David Pepper said...

Good comments on the parking. There are clearly a number of concerns to balance, and my hope is that this process will allow us to do that. The goal is definitely NOT to pile more burdens onto already hard pressed employees.

Anonymous said...


How about offering employees pre-tax transit passes. A no cost benefit... can aid with your parking issue and could help with our region's air quality.

Mark Miller said...

Last year sometime I remember a discussion during one of the budget hearings when some 4H folks weighed-in on the future of the fairgrounds. Now another fair has come and gone, and the long term attendence trend seems to be on the wane rather than on the rise.

Any chance the county could sell the real estate for commercial or industrial development? Doing so could improve our tax base, cut existing financial losses, and boost the fair simultaneously.

See Cinplify for related discussion.

David Pepper said...

Good question, Mark.

It's something we're looking into right now, along with the Fair board. We're searching for a rural fair site, and exploring what we could do with the current property that would provide an economic and quality of life boost to the community (and hopefully new $ to the county).

More to come.

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