Monday, March 22, 2010

What would you cut in county budget?

As Mecklenburg County officials try to find ways to cut $95 million out of next year's budget, they've said pretty much all ideas are on the table.

So what would you cut?

Now, before jumping in with your ideas, it's important to know what all the county pays for.

Schools, the jail, parks, libraries, and social services and the health department are just some areas that receive county money. The county also pays for school construction, supports air and water quality initiatives, and gives money to some local non-profits organizations, among other initiatives.

To see exactly how the county spends money, click here to view the 2009-10 budget approved by county commissioners last June. (Warning: the file is 24 mb in size and will take a few minutes to download.)

The budget book is more than 600 pages long, but you can start by checking these pages:

  • Pages 106-123: List of county program and service areas, including whether the county has any flexibility in providing the service and/or its funding level
  • Pages 124-25: Spending for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Central Piedmont Community College
  • Pages 126-128: Money for non-profit and other outside agencies
  • Page 167-206: A department-by-department breakdown of services and spending


As part of our budget coverage this spring, the Observer wants to know your ideas on which county departments and services should get top-billing for funding, and what areas you think should be cut.

Send us your ideas by leaving a comment below, or click here to e-mail county government reporter April Bethea.

Update, 11:30 a.m. March 24: Thank you everyone for your ideas. We're hoping to spend the coming weeks analyzing the feasibility and/or likelihood of what has been suggested. -- April B

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

Avoid duplication of services. Mecklenburg Sentencing Services is a waste of money. With structured sentencing, judges are limited in their discretion in what type of sentence a defendant can received. Why spend money on an agency which conducts pressentence investigations, when the judges are mandated by law as to which type of sentence they can order. Further, adult probation/parole officers have the responsibility to conduct presentence investigations when needed/ordered by the court. Why spend money on an agency to do a job that taxpayers already pay probation officers to do?

Rather than close libraries completely, stagger days/times open.

Eliminate county employees driving county cars that do not need county cars, or raise their costs in driving the cars. For example, why do several, high ranking members of the sheriff's office have take home cars (such as the director of the workrelease program)? These people do not respond to incidents in the middle of the night, weekends, etc. Why do they need a take come car?

Anonymous said...

Why give grants for Latino diversity project?

Why should someone driving a BMW be allowed to receive free lunch for their kids. Breakfasts also. We all know why. The stuff is free and no one enforces the law. Most people lie about this. Tens of thousands of kids get lunches who should not them. I know people making $100K+ whose kids get free lunch.

Pre-K is just a baby sitting service. Cut it out. After 50 years of this nonsense kids are actually worse off. Parents are enable to be irresponsible. Also we don't need kindergarten.

City manager has hired lots of his church cronies. Fire them all.

All county and city employees should have pay cut at least 10%. They should not be immune to recession.

Cut out the pension system where people can become millionaires. Private companies don't off these perks anymore.

Larry said...

Since we built most of these toys for the big banks we could get them to take all our City and County debt and finance it at say 4 percent.

They would fund this using all our savings accounts, we in Charlotte Mecklenburg have with them, earning us only one percent or less at present.

The Banks will still make money and can write off some of this debt for community development if they are in it with us.

And imagine the solid loans they would acquire.

Larry said...

Since we built most of these toys for the big banks we could get them to take all our City and County debt and finance it at say 4 percent.

They would fund this using all our savings accounts, we in Charlotte Mecklenburg have with them, earning us only one percent or less at present.

The Banks will still make money and can write off some of this debt for community development if they are in it with us.

And imagine the solid loans they would acquire.

Anonymous said...

Cat buses that don't cut their engines off while sitting for an hour at certain stops. At least 1 I know of CPCC Cato campus.

JAT said...

Library money is in the same spending category — wholly discretionary — as these line items:

* BUSINESS INVESTMENT GRANT……………………4.35m.
* CHARLOTTE REGIONAL PARTNERSHIP…………..149K
* CIAA TOURNAMENT………………………………….200K
* ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT………………………….124K
* Minority Contractor Program………………………..138K
* NEXTEL NASCAR ALLSTAR EVENT…………………..62K
* CENTRALINA COUNCIL OF GOVTS………………..254K
* ASC – Cultural Diversity Grant……………………..428K
* NCCJ – EMPOWERED YOUTH INITIATIVE…………..98K
* MI CASA SU CASA – YOUTH IN ACTION……………19K
* LATIN AMERICAN COALITION………………………..95K
* CHAR-MECK HISTORIC PRESERVATION……………86K
* Lake Marine Commissions…………………………….68K

In addition, the county spends some $1.2m. on DSS transport services, part of the sprawling DSS operation. Some spending is mandated here, but the county’s own priority ranking system gives it a “5″ compared to library funding of a “4.” If we jump up the priority rankings in the wholly discretionary ladder, we find some pretty questionable higher seeds:

* MI CASA SU CASA-PARENTING CLASSES……….19K
* ASSOCIATION DUES…………………………………293K
* CONTRACTED LOBBYING……………………………195K
* 311 CALL CENTER…………………………………….2.1m.
* DEPT. PUBLIC INFORMATION……………………….655K
* TV PRODUCTION………………………………………..93K
* WTVI-PUBLIC SQUARE……………………………….790K
* CHA PILOT MATCH…………………………………….450K

Also understand that DSS paid these amounts to vendors last year, a ton of money that needs to be audited:

* $2,302,372 for Crown Cab Co.
* $2,249,903 for AA Prestige Taxi Service
* $434,015 for Southeast Transportation
*$343,542 for Taxi Shuttle Express
*$294,089 for Charlotte Checker Cab Co.
* $260,295 for A-1 Wheelchair Transport
* $254,255 for Dunstan Transportation
* $200,688 for Elite Transportation and Courier
* $179,793 for American Wheel Chair Transportation

Bottomline, there is, was, and SHOULD be $2m. sitting around to keep the libraries open.

Anonymous said...

I applaud the Observer for making the budget available in an accessible way (as accessible as such a document can be) to the citizens.

I also think it's worthy for all citizens to read this budget and get to understand where money goes.

I do, however, think that most people do not have the abilities to understand what they are reading and believe just because they see a line item description like CIAA tournament that this would be an easy 200K to save.

Sure, and what about the several tens of millions that tournament brought in in spending?

I look forward to reading some commenter ideas but will take them all with a grain of salt as it's far easier to throw darts at line items then to read and understand them as well as their ancillary costs and benefits.

As for the actual topic on hand my suggestion is the consolidation of service functions (human resources, IT, etc) for county organizations.

I think that alone will save money both short and long term.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of office workers that can be cut. Let's look at middle management and higher jobs, as well as IT project leaders. Some of those salaries are very high. Those jobs are never cut, and instead they cut people who are directly delivering services, such as teachers.

Where we should not cut: anyone who is on the front lines, actually delivering services: teachers, policemen, firemen.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:41 makes some exellent points...one cannot simply go through the budget in a vacuum and take out expenses one either doesn't philosophicaly agree with, or fully understand. Its not that easy. And by the way, the Obsever didn't make the budget accessible, the County did...its been on their website for years.

And JAT, Business Investment Grants are not discretionary, they are contractual obligations, not to mention that they are guaranteed to more than covered by the taxes paid by the recipients.

Anonymous said...

Lay off every second supervisor, every second Middle Manager, and cut HR in half. These are the types, both in public and private industry, that do the least and cost the most. Leave the front line folks, the case managers, teachers, etc., alone - they usually don't make crap no how.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment. I work for the county, there are too many managers, what do they do?? Really someone needs to look at that before we lay off teachers.

Anonymous said...

There is no need to continue with Mecklenburg Area Mental Health Services and Programs because much of the services are being shifted to the private sector and what remains does not require a myriad of AMH managers to run. This would save the tax payers a whole lot of money. Just review the salaries of management at Area Mental Health and ask yourself what do these people do? Recent RIF at AREA MENTAL HEALTH involved letting go all of the case managers from adolescents and adult MH but not one manager was let go. This does not make any sense. There is too much duplication at AMH MECK COUNTY in management.

Ed said...

It would be nice to see this crisis start a real push toward combining the city and county government. Do we really need a city council and a county board of commissioners?

Interested said...

This contains some of the best most thought out public comments I have seen in any of these blogs. Maybe they work, maybe they don't but it's alot better than some of the emotional dribble we see.

Anonymous 11:03 is interesting. Must have some experience in this area and maybe we should listen.

I also agree with anonymous 6:41.


Suggest consolidating city / county support services such as IT, HR, Finance, Property Maint., etc. Also, a consolidation of physical facilities would allow a reduction in such itms as interest expenses, utilities, property, etc.

Interested said...

I just want to say that this is the best blog I have read on the observer. Some very good idea's which may or may not work but are worth listening to.

Anonymous 11:03 must have some experience in this and maybe we should listen.

Also agree with ananymous 6:41.

Suggest combining staff functions between city and county. Ex: HR, IT, Property management, Finance, etc. Additionally, it seems as thought a sharing of physical facilities could save some money. When Charlotte consumes so much of the county, could not the county rent time or space from city property?

Daryl said...

I would start with cutting the county advertising budget to $0. For months now the county has been running ads on radio and other media to convince us that they have good employees doing a good job. It is wrong for the county to be spending my money to convince me that they are spending my money well.

Master Of Nothing said...

CMS is knowingly breaking the State law by allowing more than 32 students per class (projected 38-44)when the budget only funds for 27 per class. We can find the money to turn this problem around. Shift those management position salaries from County to more teachers. Can we not ask the Panthers for help with the middle school sports? And yes banks, where are our bailout dollars, we need them back!

Robert said...

The International City/County Management Association - (ICMA)

How can you successfully involve citizens in making budget decisions—especially when really tough choices on service delivery have to be made?

Discover how Washoe County, Nevada, launched two citizen-involved processes around budgeting—one to establish criteria that were used to prioritize services, and one to establish budget policies.

Washoe County just rolled out a budget sustainability plan to close a $25 million structural deficit for next year. The county’s citizen-involved budgeting process was instrumental in gaining the community and political support needed to make tough budget cuts.

The process was implemented by;

Discover:

1. How to begin this process, from selecting who will be on the committee to getting board approval.

2. How the citizen-involved process can help you balance the dominant voices so that decisions have broad support.

3. The controversy over the scoring of criteria and the challenges this created to implement the process.

4. Why citizen priorities are an important piece of the data—but they aren’t everything.

5. How to make the efforts sustainable—and not just a one-time deal.

6. What data you will need and why it’s important.

7. How to successfully implement the good guidance your citizens give you in your local government.

The “very constructive and vital process” linked to such strategies as performance measurement, citizen surveys, and strategic planning.

The State of North Carolina and the City of Charlotte need to follow the guidelines, policies and procedures recommended by the ICMA.

Anonymous said...

An immediate consolidation of service functions with the City of Charlotte human resources, IT, Facilities). Followed by a reduction of the massive HR Department, which is like 60-70 folk (I'm aware its shrinking on June 30th) to about 30-35. Then reduce the top managers salaries since they will no longer manage 60-70 folk, and pay them what their role should earn managing 30-35.

That alone would keep the libraries open. Then as times get better, resist the urge to ramp up these staff sizes again.

therestofthestory said...

This link http://bit.ly/9vpNpN will give you the prioritization worksheet (6 or 7 pages) that gives you some idea of what the county commission worksheet is they are working from. One of the earlier posters noted many things on the last 2 pages (assumed to be the lower priorities). One thing is clear, even with this, you see the opportunity that more definition is needed to "surgically" cut the "cancers" and not use a "baseball bat" that gets the important organs. The worse thing from what I know about the school system budget is all sorts of programs are being funded but there are not measures of effectiveness or success. Additionally you need to understand the differences in constitutional obligation versus the extra things done that someone thought was "good" or "kool" or "noble" sometime back.

We all see there is a large deficit in accountability with many school and DSS programs as well as other county operations I am sure.

Robert said...

Local governments across this country are looking at their work processes to determine what jobs can be consolidated due to technology improvements or lack of work load.

FINDINGS
Most local governments have about 10 departments (Police, Fire, Parks & Recs, Courts, Code Enforcement/Community Development, Finance, Public Works, HR and IT).

Across this country local governments have to comply with state and federal laws as well as deal with a work force made up of older workers (45-65 yrs old) who do not have the skills required to compete in today's office environment (technology and collaboration). It's time to make the tough choices required to fix this problem.

RECOMMENDATIONS
Close entire departments.
1. Code Enforcement/Community Development

2. Finance

3. IT

Consolidate departments.
1. Police & Fire

SUMMARY
By closing departments the City can save millions of dollars and improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of City servcies to it's citizens.

Anonymous said...

Bank paid back all the bailout money and the government made big money on the interest payments. The banks are this city's lifeblood, so everytime you slur the banks, you slur Charlotte. That's just the way it is.

Anthony Foxx's top city priority is spending $4.5 million on an engineering study to see if Charlotte would be willing to spend an additional $12 million on a street car from Johnson C. Smith to Eastland Mall. And, of course, $75,000 for a communications "aide." The county's main priority is keeping libraries open and teachers in the school. Why is the city so "flush" and the county so "broke." Should county commissioners head to DC to meet with Obama like Foxx and Smuggie Mitchell just did? Why cut anything. Why not go see Obama?

Finally, do we know how much the library system spend on an inane "organizational management study" by the Galilee Agency? Was this just a cash handoff or what? A good manager trims his staff and takes care of the money in good times waiting on the bad times. I don't think we still have the "bad times" mentality.

Anonymous said...

I hope to God the amounts spent by DSS on cab fare are not true. Millions on cabs?? For what? When did transportation by cab become a taxpayer supported "right"??!!
Please explain this waste.

Anonymous said...

The library's staff have recommended canceling the 401K match for employees. I need a 401K. Can I work for the library if you guys save it? Can somebody tell me where Harry Jones goes to church...I want to go there so I can get a county job too.

Anonymous said...

If the County would pay me $5 million a year, I honestly would start a cab service and get everybody to their shopping and to their doctor. This service is so much more important than schools or the library.

Anonymous said...

DISBAND THE SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT MOTORCYCLE UNIT. IT IS FOR SHOW AND SERVES NO LEGITIMATE PURPOSE.

LET WBT RADIO PAY FOR THE UNIT. THEY PROVIDE ESCORTS FOR WBT MORE THAN ANYTHING.

KIND OF HARD TO SERVE WARRANTS ON A CYCLE.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Ed. City-county consolidation is long overdue. Can anyone really make a case that there is a need for both of these separate governments?

Anonymous said...

* $2,302,372 for Crown Cab Co.
* $2,249,903 for AA Prestige Taxi Service

Is this correct?

Jennifer said...

I certainly hope the cab amounts for DSS are a typo. That would average out to almost $12,500 per day in cab fares. Surely those numbers have to be wrong...

Anonymous said...

Have the churches pay property taxes too!

Mike said...

Great blog. All good points. I agree that some reductions in the County operating budget are necessary and should be made. However, reductions of 50% to parks and libraries in next fiscal year(3 months away) would be devastating to our community.

The manager's office has stated that an increase of .01 on the per $100 property tax rate would generate approximately $10 million in new revenues. I am ready and willing for a .04 or .05 per $100. That would cost me around $100 a year/ $9 a month for my $200,000 house. A pittance really, I spend that much on a sub sandwich for lunch any day of the week. That level of tax increase would reportedly to generate $50 million in revenues. If they want to do right by citizens, set it up to be moth-balled in 5 years once we hopefully bounce back.

Then the County can spread the remaining reductions across all Departments and not just gut some of our most valued but "discretionary" services.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Guess what? No matter how this turns out, that dirty liar, that cheat, that scumbag Harry Jones will STILL be County Manager.

Anonymous said...

The amounts spent by DSS on Cabs leads me to believe that either Harry Jones or DSS Director Mary Wilson has a stake in those Companies.

Anonymous said...

Cut the HR Dept by cutting the quantity of "senior managers" then "managers". Wake Co. has like 25 TOTAL HR staff that includes THREE managers TOTAL. They have ONE HR Director + 1 Manager of Recruiting and Employee Relations + 1 Benefits and Compensation manager... with all staff reporting to these 3 one way or another.

We have 5 "senior managers" (HR Director, Sr. HR Manager of Total Compensation, Sr. HR of Employee Relations, Sr. Manager of Projects, Sr. Manager of Training) costing over $500k ANNUALLY in my tax $ in salary + benefits. To service the same basic size of popuation that Wake Co. does.

Solution:
Pay the HR director a salary closer to the $100k made by his peer in Wake Co. (a $25k reduction), then give him TWO direct reports instead of FOUR, and pay them what Wake Co. pays their TWO direct reports.

Anonymous said...

Eliminate all General Managers that report ot Harry. Have all department heads report to Harry, as is the case in the rest of the USA. If Harry can't manage them all, we got the wrong county manager.

This alone eliminates $1 mill per year in benefits and salary and perks.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone verify those cab expenses to those two companies?

JAT said...

To any and all Anons asking for more info on those cab payments by DSS:

As Rick Moranis said in Ghostbusters, "Yes, have some."

It is all there in the PDF, straight from DSS.

Seriously, how else did you think DSS spends so much money?

Anonymous said...

That's easy. Stop funding the arts. People always come before things.

Anonymous said...

Harry, you're DSS is spending $5 million on cabs to transport folks in the manner in which they have become accustomed. I was wondering how those cab companies were staying in business because they are awful! Hey, I'll start a cab company and charge you $500,000 less next year than you've been paying. Just guarantee me the work and I'll get the business up and running. I'll use new cars, too. For $4.5 million, I can afford a fleet of cars, insurance and the gas, I promise you that. Which church to I have to attend?

Anonymous said...

How could I have been so blind...there's gold in them there hills! I didn't do bizness with the city or the county! I didn't know that I could have gotten a great job at DSS with full benefits if I had just become Harry's friend....what am I thinking? I could have become Harry's friend and gotten Charles Brown to spend some huge amount in management "restructuring." When you think about giving money to the Library system, please read this:
http://www.plcmc.lib.nc.us/About_Us/in_the_news/releaseDetails.asp?id=245

A sock monkey could have done a better job of management of our tax money....but let's throw some coin to our friends, shall we?

Anonymous said...

Ain't it funny how the average citizen can look at the budget and immediately identify areas to cut, but those in charge cannot make these simple choices? I'm guessing that Charlotte needs some new folks running the shop, that know how to make common sense decisions and have the courage to see them through. It sure doesn't look like the current crew has those skills!

Anonymous said...

Also understand that DSS paid these amounts to vendors last year, a ton of money that needs to be audited:

* $2,302,372 for Crown Cab Co.
* $2,249,903 for AA Prestige Taxi Service
* $434,015 for Southeast Transportation
*$343,542 for Taxi Shuttle Express
*$294,089 for Charlotte Checker Cab Co.
* $260,295 for A-1 Wheelchair Transport
* $254,255 for Dunstan Transportation
* $200,688 for Elite Transportation and Courier
* $179,793 for American Wheel Chair Transportation

Read more: http://obspapertrail.blogspot.com/2010/03/what-would-you-cut-in-county-budget.html#ixzz0j35hYbL1

Woe Nellie !!! That's almost $18,000 PER DAY. Someone's pocket is getting lined

debie said...

What good is the North Caroilna Education Lottery if it's not helping out the Education part. I say GET RID OF THE LOTTERY because it's doing more harm than good anyway.

therestofthestory said...

Debie, the county commission uses what lottery money the state sends us to pay against the debt of building our schools. We get about enough each year to pay for aboout 2/3 of a school. However this year, Bev took some of the money for the state budget and then directed another batch for some special programs for at risk kids. But because Mecklenburg County is considered a "prosperous" county by the state's formula, we get shortchanged lottery money just like we do road money.

Anonymous said...

Most of the news comments and press releases discuss how services will be cut however, nothing has been said about cutting the overhead FAT in the organization. I think there needs to be an examination of where the money is being spent and cut duplication of overhead, management services that are not broad based. Just moving to the city in the last 6 months, I've noticed it appears as though there are more school buses than city buses. Do children walk to school here? How much money is being spent on busing? Are we busing in the most efficient way possible? I propose a re-examination of busing and public transportation in total. Public transportation is not as accessible here as it is in cities with a much smaller population. Hard assets like buses with heavy operating costs along with FAT overhead management need to be examined carefully. The current economic situation provides us a great opportunity to re-evaluate the efficiency of every organization. I suspect that service levels can be maintained at a higher level if the focus is in actively managing overhead rather than cutting grass roots level services. The taxes in this county are extremely high and the county needs a wake up call because the taxpayers cannot continue to support gross inefficiency that has crept in over the good economic years that have now passed. Every family now has to consider the same issue of efficient and effective management of scarce resources. The county should finally wake up and do the same.

Anonymous said...

Problem with the "education lottery" is that it was sold as a way to get more money for education, but when it passed, the state immediately dipped into the money budgeted for education, because they figured the lottery would make up the difference. So the amount for education stayed virtually the same, while politicians had millions more to waste on pet projects. How's that pier doing at Nag's Head, Bev?

Anonymous said...

Start by eliminating all funding to nonprofits. Its our money so donations should be determined by our criteria, not govts.

Anonymous said...

The Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Citizen Advocacy Group was created to provide you with the tools necessary to inform audiences about the value of Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation.
http://bit.ly/bHq6EL

All this screaming about libraries and CMS, yet P&R gets no love?

Anonymous said...

My husband works for Park and Rec and it makes me so mad to think about the fact that Harry Jones received his big fat $38,000 BONUS on top of his salary. Thanks Harry. I think we should start trimming the fat there.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, start by skimming the SCUM from the top, Harry Jones, his lackey Hyoung Yi, that fat slob Brown at the library, etc.

Anonymous said...

This budget is ridiculous.

1. Non-profit funding needs to be cut or reduced drastically. Why continue to give so much money to non-profits like Communities In Schools when the school system is laying off teachers, AND DSS is laying of REAL social workers. It really is a shame.

2. What is the State Justice Services? Let judges do their job, let courts do their job, let the police do their job and stop trying to intervene.

This budget shows nothing other than the fact that this county has some crazy priorities. I am ready to exercise my right to vote!

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous @ 1:15. Get rid of middle managers and general managers. It's time for the county manager to have his hands on every single department in this county. Middle management is such a waste of money and time. Time to save the jobs of people that actually do the work and get rid of bureaucrats and people in symbolic positions simply delegating.

Web Design Company said...

Nice information, many thanks to the author. It is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. Thanks again and good luck! Web Design Company