Oneida County to examine efficiency
Curbing spending by consolidating services, equipment and staffing was the focus of a study done by an efficiency team that was presented to Oneida County supervisors at their regular monthly meeting held last Tuesday.
The team was made up of Lynn Grube, information technology director; Curt Krouze, building and grounds director; John Potters, former county coordinator; Mike Romportl, land information director; Margie Sorenson, finance director; and John Sweeney, chief deputy in the sheriff’s department. (Potters resigned from his duties as county coordinator at the end of August, and is no longer on the this team.)
The team also worked in conjunction with an ad-hoc committee on consolidation of departments, a theme that was evident throughout the meeting.
“This team reviewed models from other counties that had evaluated and ranked their county’s services and programs,” explained Romportl, who presented the final report to the board. “Oneida County’s program rankings were based on program questionnaires, budgets, reviews of department information documents and interviews with department heads. Individual county departments were also asked to rank their own programs as part of this process.”
There was a scoring system the team used to rate services and programs the county implements. Some of those scoring points included whether a program was mandated, core or exclusive; if it supported the safety of the general public; if it supported the health of the general public; if it supported other programs; what a department head considered a low, medium or high priority program and a number of other factors.
“It should be noted that just because a program is ranked high doesn’t mean it is immune to changes or cuts,” said Romportl. “Likewise a low ranking program would not automatically be eliminated. There are many factors that must be considered before changing a program or service such as whether it is mandated, if it pays for itself, if it can be absorbed by another program or department or if there are alternative funding sources. And there are political decisions that come into play.”
Out of a possible maximum total of 875 points, the highest service ranked in the report was the 911 center with a score of 614 and a budgeted 2010 expense of $928,075. Second place, with a score of 578, was patrol and response to crime with a 2010 budgeted expense of $2,157,092. Road maintenance came in third with a ranking of 568 and a 2010 budget of $1.531,923. Other high ranking programs included highway construction with a cost of $1,040,434; county jail operation with an expense of $2,652,257; and criminal investigations with a cost of 628,738. While some of these programs only cost the county, others brought in revenue offsetting their effect on the total budget. For instance while the county jail operation cost $2,652,257 to run, it brought in a little over $1.4 million last year.
There were 256 areas rated between mandated, core, exclusive and desirable including 138 programs rated in the mandated category, 61 in the core group, 14 in the exclusive category and 43 in the desirable category. “Mandated programs are ones that are required by statute,” said Romportl. “Exclusive programs are those that only the county can provide and core programs have to be done. Desirable services are those that are nice to have.”
Another portion of the report listed an “equipment menu” of items each department has that could be shared with other departments. Items such as office equipment, vehicles such as trucks and snowmobiles and heavy equipment topped the list. “It’s nice to have this in writing,” said Ted Cushing, board chairman. “This way we can see what we have.”
Cushing was also very impressed with the report. “This can be considered a living document,” he said. “It is a way to see where we are spending and it is something we owe our constituents. Now that we have this initial report we can use it to update every six months as things happen.”
While this report was a way for county supervisors to see in black and white if any programs or positions could be consolidated or eliminated, they got a firsthand report on employee consolidation from Randy Anderson, the highway commissioner for Clark and Jackson counties. “I’m not here to talk you into anything, but just to let you know that it can work,” Anderson told supervisors.
It was Cushing’s idea to have Anderson give a presentation on how one highway commissioner can oversee two counties. This idea was in light of the fact that Oneida County’s highway commissioner Nick Sholtes will be retiring the first of the year and that Vilas county’s commissioner has already retired, leaving that post vacant so far. “We have an opportunity here to look at perhaps consolidating this position,” said Cushing. “It is an idea that I think should at least be explored.”
Anderson explained that technology was the leading factor in him being able to oversee the maintenance and construction of roads in Jackson and Clark counties which are located in the west central part of the state. “Cell phones play a big part in the success of this,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to be at a desk all day long.”
“What do you think your biggest challenge has been with this consolidation?” asked Supervisor Billy Fried. For Anderson that concern was employees. “Once this was put into play I had to get to know all about the employees in Jackson County,” he said. “That was probably my biggest challenge.”
But he also enumerated the cost savings. “There is a financial benefit for doing this,” he said. “For one, each county splits the cost of one commissioner as far as wages and benefits go and another is counties can purchase equipment together. And you can also consolidate manpower when projects need to get done.”
Supervisor Tom Rudolph thought the retirement of two highway commissioners, in two counties butting together was opportune. “I look at this as a very good opportunity to explore this,” he said. “It is a very timely thing to do right now. The biggest thing right off the bat is the money saved in personnel.”
Cushing agreed. “With opportunities like this we have to do our due diligence or it’s not fair to the people we represent,” he said. “We have to have an open mind and take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.”
In other business the board:
• Approve raising marriage licenses from $60 to $75. Waiver fees will be raised from $10 to $15. An estimated $3,615 would be the increase in estimated revenue.
• Heard a report from Dave Bast, director of the Koinonia Residential Treatment Facility, on leasing the facility to a private vendor.
• Heard a short report from Karl Jennrich about the progress the county is making to conform to the Department of Natural Resources shore land revision rules referred to as NR115. One change has been that the date to conform to NR115 has been pushed back from January of 2012 to Feb. 2014.