Thursday, July 10, 2008

Budget, round one

Yesterday, we had our first hearing with the City Council on our proposed budget since Mayor Chris Beutler released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2008-2009 last week. We had 45 minutes to discuss our $34 million expense budget--the largest general fund tax budget among the City departments. Our hearing followed the fire department.

Following the Mayor's format of an outcome-based budget, I presented the department's goals related to the City's outcomes, our methods for achieving those goals, and the indicators we intend to use to gauge whether we are meeting those goals. There were lots of questions from Council members, most at the meeting, some in email (paraphrased as best I can):

"How are we doing on the size of the department compared to the population?"
"Why are you comparing our crime rate to other cities'?"
"Do we really need to replace police cars at 80,000 miles?"
"What's going on with fuel usage?"
"What included in the line item 'contractual' ?
"Why is an administrative assistant to the Mayor in the police budget?"
"Describe the 25 computers on page 9."
"Could overtime for UNL football games be avoided by subcontracting with private security?"
We addressed all of these thoroughly. I don't envy City Council members, part-timers trying to understand the operations and finances of a far-flung enterprise like municipal government.

It's getting to be something of an expectation among the council members that I will have a color graph related to every question imaginable. I had two accordian files with handouts related to the questions I had anticipated. There were 12 copies of each, carefully arranged in folders labelled for fast access with short titles like "OVERTIME" and "FUEL."

Councilman Ken Svoboda, however, asked a question about our workforce. Ken knows that it's been our goal to maintain a ratio of at least one civilian support staff for each four police officers. He wanted to know how we were doing on the ratio, suspecting that we hadn't been able to maintain it, since some civilian support positions have been cut from several recent budgets I have submitted. "I'm sure you have a graph," he said. I knew that we had slipped under 25% (it's 23.98% to be precise), but I had no stacked-bar chart to show the trend. Everyone was a little surprised, in a humorous sort of way, that I had been caught graph-less.

Regular readers of The Chief's Corner have probably figured out that I'm pretty comfortable using data to produce simple, informative charts and graphs. I used several of the same graphs that I have posted in the blog previously. One of our indicators is maintaining a 75% positive response to the question asked on our Quality Service Audit: "How safe and secure do you feel in the neighborhood where you live?" Councilman John Spatz asked if there was anyway those data could be broken down by geographic area. I hadn't brought that with me, but after we finished up, I printed a dozen copies and dashed them over for hand delivery as the meeting was breaking up around 6:00 PM. Hopefully my reputation was restored.

The Mayor's proposed budget fully funds the police department at our current service level. There are no vacated positions or service cuts. We are one of only a few agencies so fortunate. In a second lean budget year, with the City trying to balance a $6 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year, that's a strong statement. We are clearly prioritized among the diverse City services, and I think our reputation for strong fiscal control is rewarded during the budget cycle.


Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know the entire cost of the School Resource Officer program. With the budget of LPS being around $300 million (~9 times the size of your $34 mill LPD budget), I'll bet LPS could easily fund 100% of that SRO program. However, it might mean that they'd have to can a few "essential" paper-pushers, like six-figure lobbyists, psychologists, "grief counselors", and other such fluff. The SRO program is a must-have, but I think that LPS should pickup the entire tab out of their bloated and constantly growing budget.

Anonymous said...

Here's some stats to graph that the Council will surely ask about in round two.

Don't do drugs.

Anonymous said...

you know 2:o2, this pirate stuff is getting pretty childish.

anonymous 2:o2 said...

No 4:42, THIS is childish pirate stuff.

Spay and neuter your pets.

Tom Casady said...


Prepare for sticker shock.

Police officers are expensive. It's not jst salary, benefits, and equipment. It's car, fuel, mileage, and the pro-rated cost of all the support services: buildings, rent, leases, support staff, training, even me. You could say that 1/317th of my salary is attributable to each officer.

That's exactly how a plumbing company would calculate it's hourly rate: (total cost of running this business / total hours of service delivered) + profit = hourly rate.

So, you could divide our $34 million budget by 317. No need to add the profit in our business.

Anonymous said...

Too bad we don't get our monies worth!

Anonymous said...

Let's use a different formula...take the $34 million and divide by 365...then divide by 248,000 (estimated population of Lincoln) and you come up with a cost for the entire police department of less than $.40 a day per person.

Since Lincoln's budget is based more on sales tax than property tax, and not all of that is collected from Lincoln residents, the cost to a Lincoln resident is even less. I'd say that a resident of Lincoln gets a pretty good deal for their money.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite familiar with burdened costs, cost accounting, etc. I had guessed that an LPD officer costs roughly 100K per annum, and I also say that Lincoln gets a hell of a lot of bang for the buck from each one. That's what I mean - if LPS could get rid of those pricey non-teaching desk jockeys, they could easily pile up enough extra cash to fund the whole SRO program, around 2 mill isn't it (rough guess)? LPS could probably scrape that out from under their fingernails. That would leave you with roughly 2 mill per year for a dozen more officers and so forth. LPS derives a lot of benefit from the SRO program, and they ought to pony up for the full tab

Ed359 said...

Maybe it is police chiefs who are expensive.

You could say that we would have three more police officers for your salary. Yet when compared to even a not so major corporation your compensation is negligible.

Sure police protection in Lincoln costs. What is does not cost is as much as police protection in Omaha costs. What is does not cost is as much as police protection in Des Moines costs. What it does not cost is as much as police protection in Topeka costs. What it does not cost is as much as police protection in Loveland costs. What it does not cost is what police protection in almost any other city in Nebraska costs. Sticker shock my butt! The citizens of Lincoln get more for their money, from their POLICE OFFICERS, for less money than any other citizens of any other city any where in middle America!

Anonymous said...

Good cops aren't expensive they're priceless.


Tom Casady said...


I'm not sure, but I think you may have mistaken my response to the first commenter (9:14) as a complaint about the high cost of police. It's not. I'm just pointing out that we are an expensive resource, and that LPS gets a pretty good deal with the rate of $30,533 each per year. We essentially comp the support and overhead, and divide the annual cost by the 180 days school is in session.

You could do the same thing with teachers, preachers, doctors, and mechanics and you'd find that they are all quite pricey compared to the hourly pay rate. It costs a lot more than salary to put someone at the head of the classroom or under the transmission.

You're certainly right, we are indeed a remarkable bargain. Here's one of the handouts I gave the City Council this week, from the Benchmark Chief's data exchange.

Tom Casady said...


It would be more like $1.07 million, and you'll get no argument from me. LPS looks at it differently, of course. Their professional staff is on contract for (I think) 180 days. They consider an SRO as a 180 day employee. Unlike a school, I can't give police officers a month off at Christmas and three months in the summer--it's a year-round commitment for us, although we certainly benefit from the extra officers to assign on the street in the summer.

The current formula settled upon in negotiations last year is (direct cost of a mid-range officer + an amount for personal equipment and auto expenses / 365) x 180 days. As you realize, this is not full cost accounting by a long shot. If it were, we'd be including all of our other costs in the calculation, not to mention 1/2,017th of the City's Risk Mangement Division's expenses, 1/2,017th of the Personnel Department's expenses, Mayor's Office, and so forth.

Ultimately, whether SROs come from the Cities budget or the School District's budget doesn't much matter to those who pay the bill. Whether it's the left pocket or the right pocket, it's still your pocket. The question to be considered by the elected officials is whether this is a function the community wants and needs, more than how the costs are divvied up.