Our staff has reviewed overhead staffing and spending in six large California counties and is working with five Midwestern counties on this same issue. The goal is to become more efficient and cost-effective by isolating high and low performers and learning their lessons. We compare functions that occur both in central administrative units and in direct service departments. We compare staff-to-supervisor ratios between offices in the city or county and between departments and their peers in other cities or counties.
A large Florida city found that building permit fees did not reimburse the cost of services. It had us set rates to correct this, but also, streamline several complex building permits. The industry was more accepting of price increases accompanied by improved service. We also devised a method to fund a new permit management system and got industry support for it.
User Fees and Charges
For several Florida local governments, designed new permit structures at client request, some of which billed based on project valuation and some on Building Code occupancy types. We also integrated for the first time in several of these places the related costs of efforts in departments of Planning, Environment, Fire, and Public Works.
For the tax agency of a Western state, we developed findings on the cost of all types of tax processing, including the differential between manual and electronic tax return processing. The legislature had resisted mandating electronic filing for fear of imposing on those with limited computer proficiency, but the I.R.S. precedent for electronic filing and the clear cost advantage to electronic returns processing helped the agency to build a case to the legislative budget committee.
Cost Sharing Methods
A large Midwestern city wanted to review whether the cost sharing methodology in its airport use agreement was being applied correctly. This led to a review of how the city was being reimbursed by all of its enterprise funds. We developed recommendations that were implemented and have resulted in increased reimbursements of approximately $500 million.
Two medium-size Midwestern counties shared an animal control crematorium. One funded the construction and provided service to the other for a fee. Seeking an independent view of how to charge, we developed billing rates.
A medium-size Midwestern county provided E911 dispatching service to 50 municipalities and special districts for a fee. Initially, the county received only $5,000 of annual reimbursement for the service. Beginning in 1996 and every few years thereafter, we reviewed the service levels and costs, developing billing rates for the call center.
A large East Coast city had a dispute with its airport operator over a revenue-sharing formula. The operator reduced the annual rent paid to the host city by 90 percent and claimed that it was consistent with the lease agreement. We showed that industry standards, as reflected in textbooks and Federal regulations did not support the operator’s reclassification of expenses, leading to a favorable settlement for the city.
A highway contractor was accused of improper billing, which a state transportation agency claimed to be fraud. As advisors to the contractor’s attorney, we reconstructed billing records to show not only overbilling, but also, an offsetting amount of under billing, which defeated the fraud charges.
A medium-size Midwestern county was taken to arbitration by a union that challenged staffing levels for the jail. The county’s attorney retained us to advise on how to respond to the union’s challenge.
For a medium-size Illinois county, we suggested a merger of city and county public health departments, which the client implemented. Later, we developed billing rates for the services charged to the public by the combined organization. In a subsequent engagement, we developed a floor plan for the combined agency, separating units that required privacy for HIPAA reasons and placing together units that needed to interact.
For a medium-size Wisconsin county, we reviewed the effectiveness of a Department of Planning & Development and then developed a plan to merge it into the Department of Public Works. This took advantage of certain shared resources (information technology and engineering) and reduced the cost of the combined operation.
For a medium-size Illinois city, we discovered that it operated four separate fleet management garages. This caused several wasteful practices, including: 1) One of the four garages paid mechanics twice what other mechanics earned. 2) Redundant fleet management software applications, 3) Redundant parts operations and 4) Redundant managers.