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'Performance' system could cost more than it's worth

I would like to offer another perspective on a proposal to develop county budget productivity measurements, as commented on in a recent News editorial, "Fund county budget reform."

I served as a member of the County Charter Revision Commission for three months last winter. Although I resigned from the commission upon my appointment to the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, I participated in the committee until it completed its work in April.

As a member of the commission, I proposed several reforms that included tightening the use of reserve or surplus funds, strengthening budget reporting and restricting use of legislative members' items. A performance measurement system was discussed during our meetings. I pointed out:
County budgets for many years have included hundreds of performance measurement indicators in all county departments.
A performance measurement system as envisioned by its sponsor would be very heavy in details and would take a major effort to establish and to maintain. It would be like the county imposing a financial mandate on itself.

Proponents now suggest that a consultant be hired to create the system and they guess that the cost would be $500,000. The county would probably need to add up to three staff to annually maintain the system. The cost, over the next four years, would be about $1.3 million for the consultant and staff.

A budget performance system would have significant value only if the work that the system produced was used. County budgeting is a highly charged political activity. Until we can tame that, the value of performance measurements is limited.

It has been suggested that the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority provide an "efficiency grant" to fund the cost of the consultant. The law creating the authority requires that such grants be provided for recognition of "recurring savings" from an initiative. At this point, we do not have a detailed fiscal proposal for such a grant. Nor do we have an analysis of how the "recurring savings" can be achieved. I can be convinced of such a benefit, but not from what I have seen and heard thus far.

Finally, I have suggested that consideration of a new performance measurement system be deferred until 2008 to give the next county administration a chance to determine how it plans to proceed with reforms of the county budget system.

This is not a criticism of the current administration but rather a bow to reality, respecting those who will need to work with any implemented reforms for years to come. The County Legislature could simply pass a local law deferring implementation for a year.

Additional county fiscal reforms are certainly needed, but they, too, must be measured by the value they produce versus the cost to produce them. As a member of the control board, that is a responsibility I take very seriously.

Kenneth C. Kruly is a member of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority and a former Erie County budget director.

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