03/13/05 — Wayne department heads learn about zero-based budgeting

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Wayne department heads learn about zero-based budgeting

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on March 13, 2005 2:11 AM

What's here today could be gone tomorrow.

That's what Wayne County department heads are learning during this year's budgeting process as the county implements both zero based budgeting and employee performance standards.

"If you want a job added in your department, prove the case," said County Manager Lee Smith. "And for performance standards, did you meet production levels?"

Though the county doesn't produce a product like private industry, it does produce services which can, and should, be measured, says Smith.

With zero-based budgeting, the county starts as if it has no money in the budget, and then justifies every expenditure.

"It was all so easy a few years ago," Smith said. "Come budget time, you pulled up last year's spreadsheet, talked to your managers, added 5 percent and shipped off next year's budget to the chief financial officer."

Now, he added, you have to look at every buck before you spend it.

Though the process is long, and exhausting, Smith said it was the best way to make sure that the county spends money exactly how and where needed.

"Other counties in the state have performance objectives, but we're the only one that has performance standards," Smith said.

The county's move toward performance standards began in 2003, when articles about problems in the inspection department appeared in the News-Argus.

And after the county settled a lawsuit relating to its inspection practices, the inspection department added another inspection level to the process.

But Smith still wasn't satisfied.

"After that incident, I wanted to know all that was happening and wanted it demonstrated," he said. "One of the problems in the inspections department was that the work wasn't being documented."

Now, he said, that department has certain goals set for them and it will be easier to see whether those goals are being met.

Working with a consultant from the Institute of Government, and department heads, Smith was able to put together performance standards for all areas of county government.

The standards are not only for each department, but also for each and every county employee, including Smith and the commissioners.

"Everyone's performance will be looked at annually," he said. "We're setting goals with each employee and measuring productivity levels."

The commissioners, Smith and each department, will be rated on score cards as to productivity and success in meeting goals.

He said that each department set general goals last year, but this year the goals would be more specific.

"I'm not recommending that employees receive a cost of living raise, but will get a one-time increase if they meet the minimum standards of the job," Smith said. "I hope that they all do meet at least the minimum standards. The appraisals will have to be documented, and not just opinions."

Smith said he wanted to show to the public that county employees weren't just "keeping seats warm" but were working eight hours a day, five days a week.