COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE
Local Government Resource Management
Overview of staff’s past and current efforts to effectively manage County resources and Board direction regarding an external evaluation of the County’s resource management
Tucker, Foley, Davis, Bowman
LEGAL REVIEW: Yes
May 7, 2008
ACTION: X INFORMATION:
The mission of the Albemarle County local government is “to enhance the well-being and quality of life for all citizens through the provision of the highest level of public service consistent with the prudent use of public funds.” In addition to the guidance provided through the County’s mission statement, staff also aims to operate according to the principles of a High Performance Organization (HPO). Since 2005, the County has used the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence to frame the County’s HPO efforts. HPO’s focus on thinking and acting strategically, continuous quality improvement, innovation and aligning processes, people and resources to achieve sustainable results. Because continuous improvement is an important principle in this approach, staff recognizes that additional opportunities exist to improve the County’s operations beyond current efforts. As part of striving to fulfill the County’s mission and to continue being a HPO, the County regularly scrutinizes its processes, operations and organization, as is outlined in this executive summary. Staff views an external review of how local government utilizes its resources to be consistent with the County’s continuing focus on improvement and performance.
Mission: “To enhance the well-being and quality of life for all citizens through the provision of the highest level of public service consistent with the prudent use of public funds.”
This item is before the Board to inform it of the County’s past and current efforts to effectively manage County resources and to receive direction from the Board as to whether and, if so, how the County should proceed with an external evaluation of the County’s resource management. In considering this decision and the potential purpose and scope of an external review, if any, it is important to be aware of the County’s current ongoing review and improvement efforts.
Financial Planning Processes: The County evaluates itself through several existing processes, among the most visible of which are the financial planning processes that collectively shape the County’s future and guide the development of the annual budget: the Strategic Plan, the Five-Year Financial Plan, the Capital Improvements Program and the department and community agency request processes. In the preparation of these plans and the annual budget for Board consideration, staff utilize a plethora of information including Board policy and direction, the citizen survey, and progress towards achieving Strategic Plan and departmental objectives. Staff also analyze current practices and requests using additional data including departmental performance indicators, historical trends, and benchmarks with comparable jurisdictions. For a more detailed overview of each of these processes, please see Attachment A – Financial Processes
Overview. To see how Albemarle compares to other localities in comparative expenditures, please see Attachment B – Comparative Expenditures.
Administrative Continuous Improvement Initiatives: In addition to these financial planning processes, as a standard practice, the County aims to examine its operations through numerous continuous improvement initiatives. Notable examples include the 2004 consolidation of the County’s planning, zoning, engineering and inspection departments into one single department to better serve citizens and the current Access Albemarle project that will improve the local government and school division’s key business systems and processes. The County has also implemented a number of administrative policies to establish uniformity in shared procedures across departments, including policies for fleet management, energy management and workers’ compensation. Individual departments have also strived for and have been recognized for organizational performance such as the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, both of which have earned accreditation from the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission. Additionally, the Emergency Communications Center has earned national accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), making it one of 50 communication centers in the country to achieve this recognition.
Partnerships: The County aims to efficiently and effectively provide services through numerous partnerships, most notably with the school division and other localities. The County’s collaboration with the school division exceeds that of most localities, including the uncommon structure of shared Finance and Human Resources departments. Please see Attachment C for a comprehensive list of local government – school division collaboration efforts. The County also partners extensively with its neighboring localities in participating in and funding a range of joint agencies and authorities. Efforts are also made to examine expansion of regional partnerships, such as the 2007 Regional Fire Rescue Study and the current Regional Transit Authority Plan study conducted through the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).
Five-Year Financial Plan: In 2007, the Five-Year Financial Plan process was significantly expanded to include a greater focus on Board approval of priority goals and assumptions that drive the budget, more extensive review of expenditure assumptions and Board approval, for the first time, of a balanced five-year financial plan. This process takes place in the fall just prior to development of the annual budget.
Program Service Review: An annual process that began in 2007 is the Program and Service Review which as part of the County’s Five-Year Financial Plan, challenges departments to review all programs and services and identify potential reductions including whether services could be delivered through alternative means and what operational efficiencies could be achieved to reduce costs. Departments also considered the impact of any reductions on customers / citizens, future expenditures and revenues, and the timing of any proposed reduction. This ongoing process resulted in approximately $790,000 in reductions in the FY09 budget. See Attachment D – Program and Service Review Summary for further details on this process and its results to date. As part of staff’s future work in this area, additional items submitted by departments will be identified and studied and staff will place an additional emphasis on benchmarking with and identifying the best practices of comparable communities or industries.
Budget Process Review Committee: In order to examine the previously discussed financial planning processes with a different perspective, a committee has been established, by the County Executive, to suggest potential areas for improvement and is expected to complete its work during the summer of 2008.
The Baldrige Self-Assessment Process: The County’s Social Services, Human Resources, Community Development, General Services departments and the Emergency Communications Center are presently undertaking comprehensive self-assessments using the Baldrige National Quality Program’s Criteria for Performance Excellence, a program that promotes strategy-driven performance, innovation and provides national management standards. The Baldrige National Quality Program was established in 1987 and is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The criteria, initially developed for U.S. businesses, were revised in 2007 to incorporate the special requirements of government agencies. These are the same performance criteria that the Department of Social Services utilized to frame its performance improvement efforts and was the basis of the Virginia Senate Productivity Quality Award that the department received in 2007.
The goal of this process is to conduct an intensive operational analysis in order to develop and implement a plan for increasing performance and improving results. In the course of these self-assessments, departments examine seven areas of their operations: 1) Strategic Planning; 2) Leadership; 3) Customer and Market Focus; 4) Measurement, Analysis and Knowledge Management; 5) Workforce Focus; 6) Process Management; and 7) Results. Upon completion of an assessment, an improvement plan for the department is prepared and implemented. This process will be repeated for departments on an annual or bi-annual basis as it is systematically expanded organization-wide.
While the aforementioned efforts to evaluate the organizations’ processes have and are expected to continue to yield results, staff recognizes that an external entity scrutinizing these same processes could provide additional benefits. Though staff benchmark with other localities in the course of its own reviews, an external entity could provide additional insight and expertise based on the best practices of other jurisdictions or industries. An external entity’s evaluation would also likely bring additional credibility to the efforts of County staff by scrutinizing operations with a perspective from outside of the organization in order to validate or improve staff’s efforts.
Should the Board desire to conduct and fund an external evaluation of the County government, the purpose of such an evaluation first must be clarified. The Board’s intended purpose may also guide how an external evaluation is to be completed. Staff will work to ensure the review’s purpose, scope and process are aligned with staff’s ongoing efforts. Based on staff’s discussions with others that have conducted external evaluations, such a review could be conducted in one of two ways depending on the Board’s intended purpose and outcome: 1) a one-time general overview of all County operations or 2) an ongoing review process that specifically examines individual functional areas or departments. Regardless of which approach the Board selects, if any, staff plans to continue the Program and Service Review, departmental self-assessments based on Baldrige criteria, continuously review departmental operations on an annual basis and identify areas for evaluating further improvements.
1) A one-time general overview of all County operations: Such a one-time study would closely resemble the school division’s 2007 Resource Utilization Study by broadly examining how the County utilizes its dollars, people and facilities to achieve results. This type of review would best capture improvements or savings associated with inter-departmental processes and costs. However, because of the broad nature of this study and the County’s wide range of provided services, this type of review will likely not examine detailed department specific processes, though it may assist in identifying departments that could benefit the most from an external evaluation conducted exclusively within a department or function. Finally, it is worth noting such a study is unlikely to be completed as quickly as the school division's review, again due to the County’s more diverse mission and group of departments.
2) An ongoing review process focused on individual functional areas or departments: As an alternative, the Board could utilize an approach similar to what certain localities in Northern Virginia have recently begun where a few departments are selected each year for a more detailed external review. Only a few departments per year are reviewed due to the studies’ more complex and unique scopes of work and to allow for the management capacity required to implement each study’s recommendations. To accommodate this, studies are staggered over time. While this study would not provide an informative review of inter-departmental processes and costs, it better addresses improvements in departments’ specialized day-to-day operations.
In considering a study’s purpose or how it should be completed, it is important to note that in staff’s review of other external evaluations, none were conducted where “efficiency” was the sole purpose. While “efficiency” certainly is examined, it is not done in isolation of management practices and effectiveness, both of which are critical components of being a good organization.
If the Board seeks to evaluate local government’s operations with a broader perspective similar to what was completed for the school division, then a one-time external evaluation of the entire organization may be appropriate. Upon completion of this initial overview, the Board could then initiate department specific evaluations or rely on current processes in place, such as the Program/Service Review and Baldrige Self-Assessment process. However, if the Board would prefer a more detailed examination of specific functions and is comfortable with the staggered timeline necessary to evaluate individual functions, then it may be more appropriate to begin any external reviews with department specific studies.
Staff’s ongoing work in the aforementioned internal processes will continue and is not anticipated to have an additional budget impact. The budget impact of an external study will ultimately be driven by the alternative, if any, the Board chooses and the project’s scope of work. For perspective, the County school division’s Resource Utilization Study was completed at a one-time cost of approximately $96,000, though it is notable that a local government study may have a more expansive scope and therefore cost due to the greater range of services provided. The cost of a department-specific study is difficult to quantify based upon departments’ greatly varying functions and sizes that would significantly influence a study’s scope of work. For example, the City of Alexandria recently completed a study of its fleet management at a cost of $60,000 and a study of its Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities Department at a cost of $119,000.
Staff has presented its ongoing administrative efforts to evaluate the County government’s efficiency and effectiveness as an organization. These efforts will continue to be undertaken and modified as necessary to deliver and document results. Beyond these efforts, staff requests direction on whether the Board desires to conduct and fund an external review of the County local government.
Staff recommends the Board contract with an external entity that would utilize a broad organization-wide approach to evaluate the County’s resource management. An external review could provide insight into staff’s ongoing efforts, identify additional areas for improvements with a perspective from outside the organization and would support the principles of a HPO. A broad organization-wide approach will not preclude any department specific evaluations, whether done through current processes or through an external review, but rather compliment them. If the Board does desire to eventually conduct reviews for individual functional areas, a broad study may help identify those areas where initial studies could be directed to derive the greatest benefits.
If the Board chooses to proceed with a study, staff will prepare a scope of work for the Board’s consideration at a future meeting.
Attachment A – Financial Processes Overview
Attachment B – Comparative Per Capita Expenditures
Attachment C – Local Government – School Division Partnerships
Attachment D – Program and Service Review Summary
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