By Glenn E. Aho
Auburn City Manager
Local government is able to do things right. The question is, “Is it able to do things right repeatedly?” A one-time, flash-in-the-pan success is easy. But to repeatedly be successful is difficult. To be successful repeatedly, a local government needs to be managed; as conditions change, how the local government is managed needs to change. In Auburn’s case, new management systems are being put into place to get repeated successes intended upon meeting the public’s expectation of financial and operational accountability.
The way Auburn had been managed was service-oriented: as the public requested services to be extended or expanded, so too did the cost of providing those services. That system worked as long as the economy continued to grow. As the economy declined, no longer could Auburn be managed in the same service-oriented manner, which only added costs to the budget.
Even more challenging is that the managerial skill sets necessary to extend or expand services are not the same skill sets necessary to reduce, reverse or retract services in a declining economy. This means that staff has had to learn new managerial skills.
Today, the managerial skill sets being developed in Auburn include finances, evaluating, supervising, planning, organizing, cost control, etc. Our endeavor has been to retrain our senior management with these necessary skills. These are the skills required to manage in tough economic times.
Without developing these news skills, there is no possible way to meet public expectations by simply continuing as “business as usual.” No longer can local government simply add more money or manpower to the budget. We must now carefully manage what money we do collect and continue to introduce financial concepts.
Though not everyone likes the changes Auburn has made in response to the call to reduce the property tax burden, few if any could argue that Auburn hasn’t listened. Auburn is probably one of few—if not the only—municipalities that could make a list of things now done differently in response to the TABOR initiatives, etc.
I challenge the readers of this report to ask of their local government what has changed in the day-to-day operation of their municipality in response to the public’s call to reduce the property tax burden.
For some, the changes Auburn must go through are not occurring fast enough. For others, the changes appear as breakneck speed. The private sector often makes drastic changes overnight as a means of business survival. Changes in local government take much longer because there is no sense of “business survival,” only what is politically tolerable. That means local government may never have the opportunity to be managed as a business: in business, tough and unpopular decisions need to be made daily.
Why don’t municipalities initiate change? Because it’s too easy to always do what you’ve always done.
APD Begins Move to Auburn Hall. The Auburn Police Department is on schedule with its move to Auburn Hall. Police Chief Phil Crowell reported that staff will begin moving to APD’s new home during the first week of March. Detectives, school resource officers and administration will be the first to move to the third floor at Auburn Hall. The officers will not move to Auburn Hall until June.
The consolidation of city departments will significantly reduce the city’s facility overhead and make full use of Auburn Hall, which has been underutilized for years. The consolidation did require modest renovations and some laminate furniture purchased from Overstock.com and Affordable Office Solutions, aka “The Barn.”
Funding for the move was made possible by the City Council’s approval of reallocating funds initially slated to upgrade the HVAC system at 1 Minot Avenue. Chief Crowell said the project is on budget.
Once the move is final, on-duty police vehicles will park in the Auburn Hall courtyard, and all others will be in the first level of the parking garage. There will be no affect to the existing winter-relief parking.
The consolidation project reduces the city’s overhead by $60,000 annually from 1 Minot Avenue utility costs, such as heat and electricity, and eliminates the need for another $250,000 in building upgrades that would be required within the next five years if the Auburn Police remained on Minot Avenue. By fully utilizing Auburn Hall, taxpayers will not be paying to heat or cool vacant space either.
EnerGov Citizen Access. Of the two implementation phases of EnerGov, it is the second phase now being implemented that will produce the biggest “splash.” With programs such as Citizen’s Access and Business Licensing, residents will have greater access to Auburn Hall, regardless of what time or day of the week it is. Here are a few things our residents can expect:
EnerGov Citizen Access gives residents access to information at Auburn Hall without having to access staff, depending upon what level of transparency is finally decided upon. For example, restaurant inspection results are public records, though few request to review such records. With Citizen’s Access, this type of information could be easily obtainable online. Citizen’s Access will also provide community development and regulatory services to contractors or even weekend warriors.
EnerGov Business Licensing and Permitting will automate all business licensing so that applications can be made online, paid online and tracked online until final license issuance. Building permits will be the same, thus saving both the city and local contractor’s money.
EnerGov MobileGov essentially brings Auburn Hall to the construction site for the contractor, who is always concerned that time is money. From the field, city staff will be able to schedule inspections, re-inspections, view past permit data, print inspection results, as well as conduct nearly every other administrative function now being conducted at Auburn Hall.
Automating nearly every business licensing and permitting process in the city is not an easy task, especially since we’re also simultaneously attempting codification too. It’s understandable why the City Council may be wondering, “Where’s the beef?” when they haven’t seen any final results.
Our achievements thus far have been the automation process, which has all been internal work—work that standardizes processes. Implementing EnerGov is like the exact opposite of building a house. When a contractor builds a house, progress on the inside is difficult to see from the outside once the walls are erected, roof built and windows and siding installed. If EnerGov was a house, it was built from the inside out.
Engine 2 is Out of Service. The City Council may need to discuss what to do with Engine 2 sooner than later. Engine 2 is a 1999 American LaFrance with a 1,500 gallon-per-minute Hale pump and a 1,000-gallon water tank. It’s a primary responding vehicle in the New Auburn, Danville and South Auburn areas. The fire apparatus is racking up the maintenance costs, and with continued pump and electrical failures, among other things, it’s becoming unreliable on the fire ground.
Traditionally, fire trucks used to last 20 years; as they continue to become more computerized, they are lasting fewer and fewer years. The City Council may be asked for its advice, in terms of simply investing more money into repairs, purchasing a used or demo truck, or a new truck.
Fire Chief Low said he believed Lewiston recently purchased a new stock truck for about $450,000 and that a demo truck might cost $350,000; however, those options have not been fully explored. Ideally, we would identify why Engine 2 continues to have problems, like last year when it caught on fire.
Currently, Engine 2 is out of service. Chief Low said Engine 2 will not receive any further repairs until we have a plan in place, which includes getting some feedback from the City Council. He said that a reserve truck, which is nearly 25-years-old, will be put into service to replace Engine 2; it’s simply a quick-fix solution, not a long-term solution.
Under normal circumstances, it is the reserve truck that’s put into service when other apparatus are receiving preventive maintenance. As the reserve truck is no longer available in that capacity, the city will be down a truck during those times of preventive maintenance. Chief Low will work with the City of Lewiston, which would most likely be on stand-by during those times.
A quick review of the maintenance costs for Engine 2, year-to-date, suggests that over $14,800 has been expended. Is that a lot? A further review of fire and public works equipment suggests that although the fire equipment costs more, maintenance as a percentage of original costs is less for fire equipment than public works equipment.
When compared to just other fire equipment, the amount of maintenance expended on Engine 2 is a lot. The average maintenance cost for fire equipment is about $22,600.
Similar to the Auburn Public Works, the Auburn Fire Department personnel will be logging their vehicle usage when equipment leaves the stations for calls, community service or other details. The information will be tracked. Crews will notify the communications center when they are out of the vehicle, their location, the reason and when they are back on the road again. With the data that’s collected, it’s anticipated there may be ways and means to identify savings.
Ingersoll Arena Revenues Have Climbed. Since being open yearround, business has been good at the Ingersoll Arena. It’s been so good that since Fiscal Year 2008, annual revenues have climbed from $192,440 to $425,373 in Fiscal Year 2010.
The climb is certainly welcomed, but the revenue growth must be coupled with an equal amount of growth in our business practices, so to speak. Put another way, it’s becoming a larger business—a cash business, at that—and we want to insure our business practices are suitable for the amount of growth we’re experiencing.
For the second time in as many years, the city has hired a CPA to lend assistance; after all, if the city is to be managed as a business, we periodically need business advice. This time Austin Associates has been hired to evaluate and prepare a report—a financial to-do list—for staff to implement.
The specific areas that Austin will initially evaluate include: inventory controls; legal disclaimers; gross profit reporting; cash control systems; performance measures; financial documenting and reporting; and finally, collections and payment methods.
One day the city will want a strong business plan to support an expansion of the facility. Putting in place today what business practices are necessary to prepare for the future should yield a good investment.