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Bob Kittle

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Education, News

Michigan Education Finance Study

I was reading the just released Augenblick, Palaich & Associates (APA) report titled, Michigan Education Finance Study, commissioned to them by the Michigan Department of Treasury.   The report suggests that there is inadequacy in funding to Michigan Public Schools.

Really?

My first thought was, “We needed to pay $399,000 of taxpayer money to have somebody from Colorado tell us this in a 224 page report?” That’s $1,781 per page!  This subject has been researched and talked about for years.

So I sent a note to my longtime friend, Eric Lupher, Executive Director of the Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan, a non-profit, non-partisan, 100-year-old think tank, probably the best think tank there is, and I asked him for his opinion.

The reply I received was so special I have to share it with you. As you know, Munetrix tries to put complicated government “things” into a context anybody can understand, and Eric just trumped us with his simplicity to my question about the APA report.

“Think of it (the APA Report) like getting a diagnosis for your car.  You know it isn’t working right. It’s making a strange noise, but you don’t know what’s causing the noise.  You’ve just paid the mechanic certified in automotive technology to figure out the root of the problem.  Now, we as a state have to decide whether we want to pay to get the problem fixed or if we can live with the annoying noise the system is making.  The system functions, but not in an optim148785_503602589682411_301510673_nal way.  We know that more money, better directed, can improve the performance.  But that costs money.  Are we content to eat out a few less times each week?  To live without cable for a while?

You could have trusted your neighbor (someone inside the state) to diagnose the problem, but your wife would dismiss the diagnosis because the neighbor isn’t certified and probably has preconceived notions about the problem.  So you go to an outsider, APA in this case, for the diagnosis.”

Capiche?

Eric Lupher, Executive Director – Citizens Research Council of Michigan

Mr. Lupher – I couldn’t have gotten this one any better than that. I, and anyone else who reads this, thank you for your succinct, analogous explanation.

Bob Kittle, President & CEO, Munetrix LLC

Opinion

Why do virtual academies get the same per-student funding as traditional brick and mortar schools?

Along with my business partner, Buzz Brown, I spend a great deal of time each day mired in Michigan local government and school district data and often ask myself questions about the information the data provides. For example, on the hot-button topic of school funding, the state provides equal state reimbursement for students who attend a virtual school, versus a traditional K12 or charter school.  Why?  Is this trend filling the coffers of for-profit virtual schools while draining much needed funds from traditional schools?

Municipal, News, Opinion

Can Open Checkbooks Promote Transparency In Local Governments and Prevent Theft?

The recent news in the Oakland Press about the City of Oak Park’s former clerk siphoning $433,000 out of the city’s coffers over a 2-year period made me think … would a higher level of transparency by the city have been able to thwart such an incident?

Within the Munetrix toolbox is a Dynamic Check Register that takes the transparency discussion to the next level.  Local governments have the ability to export their vendor accounts payable files directly from their accounting software into a publicly accessible, searchable database.  Some refer to this as “Open Checkbook” but it by itself is only a fraction what it takes to truly be transparent.

Municipal, News, Opinion

Police: Tough and Smart

As Mayor Pro-tem for the City of Auburn Hills, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to address the men and women in uniform at the Annual Police Department Awards Banquet Dinner.  Below are my my remarks.  

I’m honored to have the opportunity to share in this important function with you and your families tonight. I’ll work to keep my comments to a minimum.  When I tried to think up words that best describe my view of what it means to be a police officer, I came up with the following list:

  • Hard Working
  • Smart
  • Caringpolice-hat
  • Transparent
  • Ethical
  • Dedicated

I’m sure I missed a couple, but I’ll take a couple minutes to share how I correlate each of those to your public servitude.

News

Data, or Information

The digital age has made an abundance of data available to “consumers” but it begs the question, “What information does it provide us?”

I recently sat through a presentation on Traffic Crash Results for a local government.  As part of the presentation, there was a comparison of two neighboring communities, one with 22,600 crashes and the other with 22,100 (data). I didn’t know if the lower number was better, or not.

What was missing was the ability to put the numbers into context. How many residents did each local government serve? What was the number of lane miles or geographic square miles each had. And what was the cost associated with this segment of the public safety budget patrolling these assets (data).

Fiscal Health, Municipal, News, Opinion

Local Government Early Warning Indicators

There is no shortage of articles and white papers addressing the topic of “Local Government Early Warning Indicators.” However, very few offer a concise methodology to address the issue; and most don’t draw any meaningful recommendations to address the dynamics local governments face in today’s new normal.

According to an Alison Wiltshire paper, Developing Early Warning Systems: A Checklist, there are four elements of a people-centered Early Warning System. Why people-centered? Because the average person must be able to grasp the concepts of the message heeded. Mathematicians, researchers and academics are not the ones who will be dealing with a fiscal calamity as it unfolds. The concept of “early” indicates that one would want to understand the issue well in advance in order to act proactively.

News

Is anyone in Michigan going to miss EVIP?

Michigan_state_capitolIn Michigan, the ill fated revenue sharing initiative known as the Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP), a “Carrot and a stick” approach to passing down state revenue sharing dollars to local units of government is dead – – or is it?

The 2015 Approved Appropriations Bill tells a little bit of a different story.

Yes – EVIP by name (the phrase and acronym) is gone!!  Hooray!

The requirement started off as a novel idea, but the execution, and eventual audit ‘nit-picking’ turned it into a downer!

Category 2 (Shared Services) and Category 3 (Compensation and Unfunded Liabilities) are COMPLETELY DEAD and nowhere to be found in the Appropriations Bill this year.

Opinion

The Job of a Public Official: Making the Tough Choices

imagesWe commend those who are willing to serve their public institutions, because being an elected official is sure fraught with it challenges. As Mayor Pro-Tem for the City of Auburn Hills, Michigan, I see it first-hand.

Why? Because making tough choices is often not very popular.  But if decisions are made for the right reasons, using the appropriate data and analysis, it is the job of the policymakers, as fiduciaries for their communities, to do what is in the best interest of the city (or school or library or ??), always with respect to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.

The village board in Holly, Michigan recently voted to use the county sheriff for emergency 911 dispatch – which will save the village considerable money, provide outstanding service, and reduce the burden of having to fund periodic capital equipment upgrades.

In return for their analysis and courage to make a tough decision, the board is now facing recall petitions from angry residents who for some reason do not feel the board made the right decision. The recall petition was denied last week on a technicality.

News

Sharing Information and Equipment Can Reduce Local Cost Burdens

200px-Supply-demand-right-shift-demand.svgJust when you thought it was safe to come outside…

So now that the winter is over and many local units are planning to spend precious resources on fixing roads, the realities of basic economic principles are going to come into play and cost us even more.

There are only so many road contractors and asphalt plants—and the abundance of major road projects are going to put a damper on unplanned but direly needed repairs.

Here’s why: remember that economics 101 class?  When the demand curve shifts to the right and supply is fixed, price goes up.

We suspect that there will be at least a 20 percent increase in the cost of road projects based on this dynamic.  Even on jobs that were previously quoted, unless a contract has been executed, those quotes will most likely not stand.

So it may be time to look at some best practices, which may be found in the Munetrix Government Collaboration & Best Practices database.

News

Munetrix: The Swiss Army Knife for Local Government Management

swissarmy2Munetrix has transformed itself from a transparency data-warehouse to a comprehensive Software-as-a-Service Platform in 2013.

We have launched a host of new features available to all users with level 3 access

BudgetBuilder

The BudgetBuilder tool is designed to provide a quick method of creating a top-down budget or forecast for multi-year budgeting. Users can quickly test a variety of revenue, cost and service assumptions to see where they will take a city’s or school district’s financial position in the future. Predictions are supported with easy-to-understand graphics, because, as we all know, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. BudgetBuilder is great for allowing municipalities and school districts to build a fiscal roadmap, with up to five scenarios per year that enable administrators to test the implications of assumptions. The tool is great for internal or public participatory budgeting workshops, clearly displaying the outcomes of assumptions graphically and instantaneously.

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