Local governments are trying innovative ways — from the city of Dayton exploring 37 separate new ideas and Kettering studying combining two centers — to provide services at lower costs.
Government innovation is such a focus now that the state is paying local governments to do it. Twenty Dayton area jurisdictions applied for Local Government Innovation Fund money in the past two years, and 10 of them received grants or loans totaling $1.83 million. The grants will help governments study how to combine or streamline services, and the loans will help them actually put those plans into action.
Local leaders say they know not everything they try will work, but given declines in property tax revenue, state grants and estate tax, money-saving efforts are important.
“I have yet to run into a case where it’s easy to change a longstanding government practice,” said Beavercreek Twp. Fire Chief David VandenBos. “I’ve been in the fire service for 22 years, and changing government, especially on a major project, is extremely difficult because there are so many stakeholders involved.”
Beavercreek Twp. Fire was the lead agency on the largest state innovation award that a local jurisdiction has received the past two years — a $465,000 loan to help multiple Greene County police and fire departments switch radio systems.
The current radio system used by many Greene County agencies is outdated and will not be supported by the manufacturer after 2018, with some pieces already hard to get.
Rather than create their own new system, VandenBos said county first responders studied whether they could link in to the state’s Multi-Agency Radio Communications System.
“We have a need and the state has a resource,” VandenBos said. “We let the state bear the burden of the computer infrastructure costs (up to $6 million).”
Before the state started paying jurisdictions to collaborate via the Local Government Innovation Fund, the city of Dayton was already looking for creative ways to streamline services and cut costs.
In July 2011, days after state budget cuts were confirmed, City Manager Tim Riordan issued his “Partition” report with 37 suggestions for changing city procedures.
“Everybody knew that we had to do some things,” Riordan said. “I said to all of them, this is what I’m proposing. This is a Democracy, argue back. And people did.”
Riordan reviewed the report with the Dayton Daily News last week, concluding that the city had completely implemented 14 of the ideas, partially done 13 more, and said no to 10 suggestions.
Eliminating a senior citizen property tax credit saved the city about $400,000 per year and renegotiating streetlight contracts will save millions over several years. Among the “partial successes” Riordan cited were reviewing city property tax liabilities and streamlining the municipal court system. In each case, the city found savings, but not at the level Riordan hoped for.
And Riordan joked that some ideas were shot down immediately. He wanted to save money by increasing recycling, so he suggested collecting recyclables weekly and trash only every other week, at least in colder months. Riordan said he “got creamed” for that idea, with rebukes from the health department and people calling him “the maggot manager.”
“When we got this huge cut of $9 million from the state, there were a lot of sacred cows,” Riordan said. “We got through some of them, and some got thrown back at me.”
Resident Don Tomlinson said he’s glad governments are looking at innovative ideas, but questions why it wasn’t done before.
“Isn’t that why we pay them taxes?” Tomlinson said.
Dayton Fire Chief Herbert Redden said his industry has changed dramatically.
Forced to cut budgets, and unable to hire firefighters because of a federal lawsuit, the city began hiring civilian paramedics and emergency medical technicians to handle EMS work, and moving most of its dual-trained firefighter/EMTs into more pure firefighting roles.
The civilian EMS workers make lower salaries than their dual-trained counterparts, with Redden estimating the system saves the city close to $2 million per year.
Redden said the key when changing is to involve everyone in the organization – managers, union reps, budgeters and front-line workers who know the day-to-day tasks best.
“If you stick your head in the sand and hope a problem’s going to go away, it’s just going to get worse,” he said.
Kettering City Manager Mark Schweiterman said the Dayton area has structures in place that help jurisdictions stay abreast of new ideas, pointing to the Miami Valley Communications Council.
“There are secrets out there to be found, but mostly on a smaller scale; not the huge ‘A-ha’ moment,” Schwieterman said. “One city just this week said they entered into a new health insurance contract, with a new vendor that had just come into the market, so everybody wanted to hear about that.”
Kettering is one of the local jurisdictions that got a Local Government Innovation grant — $90,000 to study whether the city could pair its need for a new Rosewood Arts Center into the same building as a rebuilt Dayton Metro Library branch on Wilmington Pike. Schwieterman said the grant allows the city to properly examine how such a plan would affect everyone involved.
“That’s what makes government slow. You can’t just mandate change,” he said.
Video: Watch EMS workers in their new positions in Dayton at mydaytondailynews.com
LOCAL GOVERNMENT INNOVATION FUND AWARDS
Local jurisdictions have applied for more than two dozen LGIF awards and have received 10 — seven grants to be used for feasibility studies and three loans to help accomplish projects.
Clark County Commissioners — Relocation of three offices — $47,000 grant
City of Miamisburg — Community wellness center — $67,500 grant
City of Kettering — Combining library and cultural arts center — $90,000 grant
City of Dayton — Fuel-sharing initiative with Dayton Public Schools — $100,000 grant
Butler County Sourcing Office — Integrated Development Budget — $100,000 grant
Southwest Ohio Computer Association — Cloud Computing Center — $70,000 grant
Champaign County — sharing developmental disability services with Shelby County — $90,000 grant
Beavercreek Twp. fire department — multi-jurisdiction radio system migration — $465,000 loan
City of Xenia — multi-jurisdiction radio system migration — $400,000 loan
Source: Ohio Development Services Agency
DAYTON “PARTITION PLAN” CHANGES
City manager Tim Riordan suggested 37 changes to Dayton city procedures in 2011. Some were implemented, some were declined. Here’s a sampling, from Riordan’s recent review:
IMPLEMENTED (or in process)
Reduced fire department overtime by staffing one fewer truck
Renegotiated streetlight contract
Implement VOIP telephone technology
Go completely to direct deposit of paychecks
Increase enforcement of unpaid fines
Standardize job descriptions and requirements
Reallocate DATV funding
Sell unused city buildings
Weekly recycling pickup, every-other-week trash pickup
Turn ambulance service over to hospitals
Assess residents a fee to pay for streetlighting
Merge Human Relations Council staff into other departments
Require universal income tax filing
Rethink how parking is overseen by city government
The Dayton Daily News has reporters covering dozens of communities in a eight-county area, watching how governments spend taxpayer money.