Cook: Budget tracking lagging

Cook: Budget tracking lagging

July 9th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

It's been almost a year and City Hall still cannot produce any official report on the $7 million spent on its budgeting for outcomes pilot program.

For the life of me, I can't understand why. And it's driving me nuts. I want to use my Sam Kinison voice.

Last year, Mayor Andy Berke set aside $7 million for a test run at budgeting for outcomes, a process that measures the effectiveness of funded programs. Things that work get funded. Things that don't, don't. You establish a low-water mark of measurements, and then track your progress from there.

So last year's initial $7 million pilot was "the first major step" in the process, then-Chief Operating Officer Andrew Kean told the City Council last August.

See? The. First. Major. Step. They took the $7 million and combined it with a document that lists 17 of City Hall's top goals. Like decreasing the dropout rate. Or violent crime. Increasing the number of kids ready for kindergarten.

So all year long, I'm assuming that City Hall is recording, collating and measuring where the $7 million was spent in order to unveil a report at the end of this First-Major-Step-year.

Nobody's expecting them to bat 1.000. Just fill out the lineup card.

Because that's what you'd do, right?

Is there any responsible business owner out there who would not document -- intensely, with great minutiae -- the week-by-week successes and failures of a $7 million pilot program?

"Every dollar must be justified," reads the introduction to this year's budget.

See? Every dollar.

So what about this $7 million?

I've asked, and asked, for some official summary. Back in the fall. Three times this spring. I feel like Jerry Maguire: Show us the money!

In May, I sat with the mayor and Deputy Chief Operating Officer Brent Goldberg. Both nodded, and seemed to understand my request.

"I hear you," the mayor said. "We're trying to get there."

Now, City Hall is devoting every penny of its newest $215 million budget to BFO ... but still hasn't officially announced the outcome of the $7 million pilot?

Maybe I'm wrong about all this. I'm certainly no businessman, and after watching the council unanimously pass the new budget without much debate about this $7 million summary, I feel like some boy in a folk tale: Umm, I think the mayor's BFO pilot has no clothes.

Then, at 4:37 Tuesday afternoon, the dawn broke.

And I got an email.

And it contained a working draft of all that I'd been asking for. (Thank you, Lacie Stone.)

All $7 million is accounted for.

• $60,000 spent on a federal prosecutor

• $2,888,000 to hire 40 new police officers

• A half-mil on the affordable housing project; another $465k on mobile technology for the fire department

• $872,000 on youth development, specifically the CAP Initiative

• A quarter-mil on transportation enhancement initiatives, like Workman Road and 1400 Market St.

• $1.1 million on something called electronic content management; $300k spent on new property tax software and $200k spent on a neighborhood traffic management program

• $35,000 on an internship program; $16,000 automating an accounts payable system

• $200,000 on a facilities efficiency pilot

• $108,000 on a traffic signal systems engineer

• $170,000 to the Transportation Design Division

It's a working document, a rough draft, so it's not the most comprehensive. Certainly not ready for prime time. I was told it was first created last fall, and updated regularly.

Some of the funded initiatives are immediately measurable -- like the CAP Initiative -- and some won't produce fruit for years.

Some of the measurable outcomes paired with each initiative are sturdy -- like the mobile technology to help the firefighters reduce response time -- but others are questionable, like ... new property tax software?

At least three of the measurements are marked as "TBD."

To be determined.

Now, I guess that's how I feel too.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.