Mendo just can’t do monthly budget reporting. (Or can they?)
Supervisor Ted Williams’s proposal for Mendocino County to adopt bottom-up budgeting (“zero-based budgeting”) was reasonably well received on Tuesday with a muddled decision to have staff discuss it further in November or January or something. Supervisor John McCowen suggested it be tried on the cannabis program first, but after a few giggles, nobody followed up.
After Williams’s novel idea was successfully postponed and workshopped into almost never, Supervisor McCowen reminded his colleagues and staff that departmental metrics and budget tracking is a bit overdue:
McCowen: “… the board has been asking for budget tracking. I think it should be on a monthly basis. Here's the budgeted amount, here's the expenditure to date. Both the total budget for departments and net county cost. Whatever the appropriate breakdown is. We should get relatively real-time information on how the are departments performing against the budget. I think that would be beneficial as well. We have given these directions in the past. I know everyone's busy doing everything they're doing. These are the types of things that I think would put the county in a position to better evaluate everything that we are doing appropriate or could it be done better.”
CEO Angelo: “I agree with you Supervisor McCowen that the Board has been asking for metrics on the departments and budget tracking. And I believe we have it down to every other month.”
Supervisor McCowen was probably going to say that they don’t have it down to anything like that. But the CEO didn’t want to hear that.
Angelo: “Please let me finish Supervisor McCowen. I know that you in particular have asked for monthly. I can tell you that we are working on metrics and Deputy CEO Darcie Antle has been working on the departments. One of the first actions was educating the departments with more budget training within the department than we've had in the past…”
That “training” has been going on for more than a year now. It hasn’t produced anything remotely related to monthly budget reporting. Apparently, the departmental staff is resistant to such training.
Angelo continued: “I believe we will have metrics for this board. I realize it's taken some time to get there. But this is a large bureaucracy that moves very slow. As far as budget tracking, we do that quarterly…”
Mendo does not do budget tracking quarterly. What the CEO is referring to is the quarterly budget review which has little to do with departmental tracking.
Angelo continued: “I know you want that monthly. We are working on trying to get it to you every two months. We can try every month, we can give you figures, they will be approximate, they will not be exact.”
This is pure dithering. Nobody’s asking for “exact” information. And obviously they’re not “working on” anything because they’ve been saying that for the years that McCowen was referring to and the “work” hasn’t produced a single tracking result.
Angelo continued: “At this point in time the IT [computer/info technology] ad hoc knows we are trying to develop efficiencies within our IT systems so we basically have helped our employees do their jobs. So we have a better product for the public and for the board. It's quite possible we will need to upgrade our software again as far as trying to track the budget.”
Now the problem is software? Just a few minutes earlier it was training. Then it was, we are doing it quarterly, then we can do two months, but not one month.
Angelo continued: “Just as an example, for year-end closeout, year-end closeout is not till the end of August where June 30 is the last day of the year of the fiscal year. So when you look at two years to do close out, that means every department, has to get their claims in and everything done.”
Williams: “Not two years.”
Angelo: “Yes. Two months.”
Now it’s the time it takes to do close out? How many lame excuses is the CEO going to trot out? Close out has nothing to do with budget tracking.
Angelo continued: “But to bring in a $300 million budget and manage it every month which is in essence what we do, not to the penny, but when we give information to this Board we want it to be accurate. So we are working on this. I have an inherent belief that we can get this information to this Board as well. We will continue with this. So thank you.”
Oh, the budget is too big to track? Enough with the lame excuses!
Supervisor Williams asked CEO Angelo what her ideal organizational chart would look like. After mentioning a few organizational ideas and options and asking the CEO’s opinion, Supervisor Williams again asked the CEO what her ideal organizational chart would look like and whether it would be different than the current organizational chart.
Angelo: “It would be different. I don't know how different.”
Williams: “Would you be contracting out any services? For example, I would consider…”
Angelo, interrupting: “I feel like I'm at an inquisition. But yes I would absolutely come to this Board for the authority to contract out some services.”
Angelo chortled mirthlessly, playing the victim, as if it’s almost amusing that the poor thing has to suffer a few ordinary questions from the upstart Supervisor who she obviously resents.
Williams continued anyway: “I would like to see what that plan would look like.”
After more silly discussion about how to punt the budget discussion as far out into the future as possible, the Board then voted unanimously to: “Create an agenda item for November 5 regarding zero-based budgeting, putting public priorities on the county budget; host a workshop at the second meeting in January regarding zero-based budgeting; have the IT ad hoc work with the executive office on budget tracking and department metrics; have each supervisor work in conjunction with the executive office for district meetings on budget priorities, including priorities for the county budget.”
But then, a few minutes later the board discussed what Supervisor Dan Gjerde described as the County’s "flexible hiring freeze."
CEO Angelo described how she decides which vacancies are approved for hiring and what factors go into her decision, adding: "Some of the departments believe that if they have budgeted a position then I will automatically give them the approval to fill it. That is not the case. One of the goals of a hiring freeze is not only to look at your departments and look at what you have and how those departments could work more efficiently without one or two positions but also their salary savings. So because a position is budgeted doesn't mean that I'm going to approve filling it. Because that's your savings from a hiring freeze. The numbers are fluid. One of the most difficult areas was touched on earlier today was the actual tracking every month of how much money comes in and how much money we are spending and where we are and what the percentages are for that month for that department. The numbers are fluid. But we believe those numbers are fairly close today as to where we will be at the end of the year…”
CEO Angelo had successfully contradicted herself. On the one hand, she claims she’s doing quarterly budget tracking (partial). Then she says she’s doing budgeting tracking every two months. (Not at all.) Then she says she’s working on monthly budget reporting (not likely). Then monthly reporting is too hard because of the close-out complication. Then it’s because the budget is just too darn big. Then it’s the software, so let’s fob it off on Williams and his software committtee. The CEO probably has at least ten more excuses where those came from.
On the other hand, to make hiring decisions the CEO says she looks at “the actual tracking every month of how much money comes in and how much money we are spending and where we are and what the percentages are for that month for that department.” That’s exactly what the Board wants and which she has gone to such great lengths to avoid!
How long is the Board going to let this kind of incompetence go on? (Don’t answer that.)
We get a kick out of the noise some Supervisors make these days about getting “public input” on the County budget. Earth to Supes: Nobody cares about “the budget.” Least of all Official Mendocino County, judging by the absence of even the most basic budget reporting.
You don’t need “public input” to know that the public wants more money for roads, no cuts in law enforcement and for all other spending to be pertinent to the public welfare. (If elected officials like Supervisor Haschak want to go junketing they can pay for it themselves.)
There’s really very little fiscal room for discretion in the budget. Most of the millions the County spends goes for mandated services either via earmarked federal or state funds or for general fund services with very little opportunity for cash diversion.
First off, nobody’s going to cut anything from the Sheriff or the DA, or roads. Probation? Mandated except for juvenile hall which should be closed for budget reasons but outraged pushback from the judges and the “delinquency community” has so far been more than enough to keep it open for a couple of cool million annually to sequester a dozen or so feral youth.
Substantial cuts in departments funded out of the General Fund would be met with howls of pain and dire predictions from the affected departments that government will screech to a halt without them.
There are several ways to re-allocate some of the discretionary funds, but as soon as anybody even raises the possibility of cutting anything the various stuck pigs rise in outraged oinks of indignation as happened last year when the Library and Museum boards complained about being folded into the Cultural Services Agency.
We’d like to see the Board reduce the subsidy to the local tourist and wine promotional organization and use the money for fire and ambulance services, services which are chronically underfunded and which the public obviously depends on and supports. The Supes could start by moving a modest $90k of the hundreds of thousands of bed tax dollars they hand over to “Visit Mendoicino” to local volunteer ambulance services to make up for the effective cut they made when they reallocated last year the Prop 172 money to include the city ambulance services. After all, tourists are a major burden on local fire and ambulance services. (The “public” has no idea how much money is wasted on tourist promotion.)
But what do you think would happen if someone put a simple and popular proposal like giving just $90k of the promotion money to ambulance services on the Board’s agenda?
Never mind, it’s just a rhetorical question. We all know exactly what would happen. Which tells you all you need to know about “public input” and why nobody bothers with general public input on the budget unless the subject is their own budget.
We could also try asking for public input about whatever general fund dollars are going into the black hole known as Mental Health, but that subject is so grotesquely opaque that nobody would even know where to begin.
The talk about getting “public input” does nothing more than rubberstamp the status quo and postpone any actual changes into the nebulous future when circumstances and issues will have changed and everybody now in authority is gone. It’s the local government equivalent of Big Timber’s effective old strategy of “Talk & Cut” where BT, looking and talking sincere as all heck, went to lots of meetings and soothed the enviros with empty talk about reform of timber practices. The talk went on for years while the outside timber corps cut and run, crippling the local timber industry to the remant work it is today.