Buffalo's CitiStat system shows encouraging signs of improved financial tracking. After years of trying to find money between the sofa cushions, City Hall is using computers to target money it's owed.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown and his staff are employing an efficiency system to find deadbeats who owe millions of dollars in unpaid taxes and fees. The administration deserves credit for this use of CitiStat, a new accountability system.
News reporter Brian Meyer recently reported that outstanding demolition fees total $12.8 million, and there were uncollected fees of $904,000 for boarding up properties.
The city is cash-strapped, and cannot afford to miss a penny. It seems common sense to say that any entity that is owed money should collect it, but to do that there have to be procedures in place. It was through CitiStat that officials were able to figure out whether the money owed actually was being remitted.
That tracking then led to an administration-mandated meeting for senior-level department heads to discuss a unified collection process. That process is a far better approach than the current piecemeal system of 16 divisions having some input in billings or collections.
CitiStat, in this case, provided insight into a situation that few managers either were aware of, or paid much attention to, in the past. It also allows the city to make more efficient use of a work force that has been decimated over the past few years because of layoffs and cutbacks.
Whether any of those cutbacks could have been avoided if revenues had been enhanced through the earlier implementation and sufficient use of this program is anyone's guess, but it wouldn't have hurt.
It may be unrealistic to conceive of saving large sums of money through CitiStat, but officials are in no position to ignore such opportunities to make the function of government more efficient. Recovering money owed is a form of efficiency, and that's where the program will make a difference for Buffalo.