Sunday, July 24, 2011

Government Costs

There is an editorial in today's Detroit Free Press about community services.  More and more communities are having difficulty providing traditional services when they see their tax revenue falling. 

Communities can rely on tax revenue for services or have a pay-for-service option.  Usually, police and fire services are payed for with tax dollars.  Water is always an 'enterprise fund'  (fund that provides goods or services to the public for a fee that makes the entity self-supporting) where the users pay based on their use of the system. 

When I was Treasurer, I always looked for ways to save money in my office.  One of the first things I did was ask the Oakland County Treasurer to take over the collection of delinquent personal property taxes.  It just was not worth my time and that of another office person to try to collect the money. 

Then I convinced the Assessor to transfer the personal property assessing to the County.  It was cheaper than having someone in house trained to do it.  And West Bloomfield does not have a huge business community to deal with.  Yet now the West Bloomfield Board has reversed this decision.  And they are also looking at taking over assessing for other communities.  Why?  They should be sending their assessing to the County if we are really looking at consolidation of services.

Originally we were collecting payments for trash collection in my office.  When a new contract was negotiated with BFI, I suggested that we have them collect payments.  Way cheaper than having someone in house and then having to collect from dead-beats and deal with complaints.  And now one less employee.

Then I decided that we needed to find a more economical way to handle tax and water bill payments.  I had two staff people leaving the department and the time was right.  I could eliminate the positions if I contracted with our bank to handle the payments by a 'lock-box'.

Our residents were supplied with envelopes pre-addressed to the bank's lock-box and new OCR bills.  The cost of the service was WAY less than I was paying for two employees who spent a great deal of time just opening the mail.  Imagine that about 15,000 or more customers mailed in their payments for taxes twice a year, plus the payments made every month by 5,000 water customers (who were billed on three different quarterly cycles).

Later in my career my Deputy retired and the Board cut a position from my office.  (Don't you just love politics?  The Supervisor wanted to know just how much work could someone 77 years old be doing?  Plenty.)  So, I had to reorganize the office and reassign her job duties to other staff.

I've always felt that communities, especially Townships, should only be providing the services that are statutorily required unless the citizens vote for special millages for added services.  Statutorily, Townships are required to hold elections, assess property (not necessarily in house) and collect all revenues due to the Township.  And yes, even though the payment is sent to a bank, we are still collecting it.

All communities should do a cost-benefit analysis of services provided.  Communities who tried to provide more in the past are now finding that they have to do far less with what is available.  Government cannot fulfill all of our wants.  Only our needs.

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