Government by the dashboard light

By John Matuszak

The Herald-Palladium, St. Joseph, Mich.


Sept. 29–ST. JOSEPH — The city’s new performance “dashboard” is a sort of GPS charting the direction the community is taking.

It’s also helping top off the city’s economic tank, which has been siphoned by declining state aid.

The performance dashboard and a citizens’ guide to city finances were posted on St. Joseph’s website this week. This is part of the state’s Economic Vitality Incentive program for cities and counties that have lost statutory revenue sharing dollars.

By complying with the requirements, St. Joseph could recoup $194,000 in state funding, City Manager Frank Walsh said.

In addition to the performance dashboard, the city will have to make progress toward consolidating operations and reining in employee compensation, Walsh said.

The performance dashboard includes 22 benchmarks in the areas of fiscal stability, economic strength, public safety and quality of life. Each benchmark includes information from the past two fiscal years and is accompanied by an arrow that shows whether the city is improving, declining or staying the same in that area.

The dashboard will be updated annually.

Fiscal stability categories include annual general fund expenditures per capita ($718 in FY 2009 vs. $777 in FY 2010), number of full-time employees (103 in FY 2009 vs. 99 in FY 2010) and taxable property values ($408 million vs. $427 million).

The economic strength category shows that the number of vacant downtown storefronts declined from six in 2009 to four in 2010, the number of building permits issued dropped from 827 to 762, and investment in new construction fell from $31 million to $15.6 million.

Almost all categories in public safety, from the number of violent and property crimes to calls for police and fire assistance, fell in 2010.

Under the quality of life heading, the investment in recreational facilities increased from $1.2 million in 2009 to $4.2 million in 2010, and the number of library borrowers increased to 48,277.

The citizens’ guide to city finances charts revenues, expenditures and other financial information.

Assistant City Director Derek Perry unveiled the performance dashboard to city commissioners Monday, before putting it on the website.

Commissioner Mary Goff said she hopes the people in Lansing look at the numbers and not just the little arrows.

One arrow might indicate a drop in construction in St. Joseph, but “God bless any new construction,” Goff said. “Any new construction is a positive, no matter how much.”

City Finance Director Deb Koroch, who helped put together the dashboard, agreed that some of the benchmarks are “subjective.”

“Just as long as the state doesn’t just look at the arrows, and that they read this,” Goff said.

The next mandate St. Joseph will have to meet will be in consolidating government operations, both internally and externally, Walsh said. That deadline is Jan. 1.

For St. Joseph that will involve discussions about its safety services, Walsh said. By consolidating police and fire services, Walsh estimated that the city could save more than $500,000 a year.

The area of employee compensation takes in retiree health care costs, pension contributions and employee health care costs.

The state wants cities to adopt plans in which employees contribute 20 percent to their health coverage, Walsh said. In St. Joseph employees pay in 10 percent.

Cities have until May 1 to have a plan in place in this category, Walsh said.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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