Insights & Analysis


Who cares about local government anymore?

Sunday, I watched the Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers baseball game from the stands. Yes, I am still upset about what happened in the 7th inning.

Still, attending a summer time ballgame is one of my favorite things to do, even when the mercury flirts with triple digits. I have two unwavering game day traditions:

1) eat a ton of delicious food beforehand, and

2) keep a scorecard

Slow’s BBQ

There were two people eating this, I promise

I will assume most of you understand the first tradition (I went to Slow’s BBQ and nearly had to be rolled into the stadium). For those that are unsure about the second, a scorecard is a way to keep track of important stats from an individual game. You record outs, hits, walks, RBI’s, etc. for each player/team. It is a fun way to keep your attention on the game and away from the pointless Instagram photos that you still browse through for some reason.


Economic Development 101

Economic Development 101Not everybody has the wherewithal to urbanize their community into a livable and walkable landscape – but there are other things that can be done to promote Economic Development. Making sure that people researching your area is one that offers the best ROI. It costs almost nothing to do – yet is the starting point for someone who may be looking at your community for relocation consideration.

What are people looking for when they zero in on potential place to move?

-Safe environment
-Good schools
-Great neighborhoods
-Open spaces
-Access to highways and airports
-Solid infrastructure
-Stable community with sound leadership

Make sure you position yourself in the best light possible and a good dashboard is a great way to start. If your having problems with nuisance crimes, show your plan to better that situation. If your school district is struggling, identify collaborations you are conducting with them to help them through the tough times. If your economic factors are showing declines, identify the targets you are setting to address the issues, develop a plan, measure progress and broadcast your successes. Finally, manage and use the media to your benefit – don’t let the media manage you.

Telling or selling your story helps focus the eye of the beholder – and using data is the best way to do that. Make sure you don’t turn off any potential investor prior to them reaching out to you. Streamline your processes; create a development friendly environment; find ways to say “yes” instead of “no” – or at least give alternatives.

You never know who may be researching your community on an flight in from another state or country. Be open, positive, consistent and proactive. Your brand is you, so make the best of it.


New data shows mixed results for Michigan schools

We’ve recently added the 2012 fiscal data from the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) to our database. The results are, well… mixed.

IndicatorScoreMaster_zps492ca054According to our rating system, the fiscal indicator score, school districts under a condition of fiscal stress doubled from 6% in 2011 to 12% in 2012. In Michigan, 376 districts had a worse score than the prior year, 56 districts had an improved score, and 114 districts remained the same.

As part of the debate over the governor’s 2014 proposed budget, our state legislators are grappling with the ‘school funding’ issue. Regardless of what happens in Lansing, it is critical for school administrators to “know their data” when it comes time for the hard decisions that may change the course of a fiscally stressed district.

To give some perspective on these numbers, Michigan municipalities have begun to see their fiscal scores trend positively. Why the opposite direction? A major factor is the differences between municipal and school funding. We’ll talk in depth about these differences in our next blog!


A Pleasant Surprise

I may have snuck a few for myself

I may have snuck a few for myself

I took up residence at our table, near the back of the room. Flanked by thirty pounds of bagels and cream cheese on my right, a CRM software company on my left – our famous bowl of “Michigan Mints” firmly planted at the front of the table – I settled in for the long haul.

Honestly, there are times when attending a conference makes going to the dentist seem like Disney World. I suppose I’ve simply reached the point where many of them blend together, seeming to consistently lack dynamic content. It’s not necessarily a knock on conferences, just a truth made apparent by the number of faces buried in smart phones. There is always hope, though.

Today, Munetrix is at the Local Government Summit on Efficiency Creation & Cost Saving Conference in Lansing, MI. The main subject matter has to do with shared services and collaboration. This is a great conference for us, as we are absolutely relevant to the topic (Buzz is a presenter), as well as the state, which needs local governments and schools to reimagine the way they operate.


Don’t mess with Google, they’ll disable your life, er… account

Don’t mess with GoogleA Tuesday morning meeting can turn into a Tuesday morning nightmare in about three seconds, flat.  It started with an innocent mistake – Bob wanted to join a video conference that our Lead Developer, Lami, and I were in.  Before he could join, Bob was prompted to activate his Google+ account.

Simple enough… just fill out a few fields that Google most likely already knows about you (Google is basically Skynet, right?) and you’re in.  Now, whether it was an oversight or Bob trying to ‘stick it to the man’, we may never know, but his birthday was entered incorrectly. The information he entered told Google that he was younger than 13, their age requirement for the United States.  When he submitted, he was immediately slapped with a warning that he ‘did not meet the age requirement and that his account had been disabled’. What? Ok, let’s just clear this little mishap…


Website Redesign

Website redesignA website can make or break your company. If your company is a website, the stakes are even higher.

Recently we published some minor changes to our site. When I say minor, I don’t mean the workload. Changing even a few pages on a site takes hours upon hours of brainstorming, designing, coding,testing, finger-crossing, and implementing. Though the process is often time consuming, if you do the redesign well, the investment will be worth it.

For our ‘minor’ redesign, we added some clearer messaging/imagery on the homepage, gave you more information on the company, and made the pathway to your community’s data a little easier to follow. I’ll let you discover the rest.

If you are curious about website redesign, here is a quick list of some things to consider:

1) Figure out why you want to redesign
If you can pin down the reason why you need to make changes, you’ll know exactly where to focus your efforts


Ann Arbor makes the right call on city-run golf courses

“Ann Arbor’s two city-run golf courses have lost a combined $2.25million over the past five years, requiring a sizable subsidy from the city’s general fund. The city’s plan to resolve the deficit is to eliminate the golf course enterprise fund at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year and transfer golf operations to the general fund starting July 1. That means the golf budget will be included as part of the city’s nearly $80 million general fund budget that pays for core services like police and fire protection.”  -Ryan Stanton,

Golf courses can be problematic for local units of government as they typically require subsidies from other government funds to operate in the black and are ripe for state mandated “Deficit Elimination Plans”– which is kind of like being in the penalty box.


Should governments be run like a business? Four points to consider

Is it realistic to think governments can run like businesses? There are many opinions – some say yes, many say no way! But is there a common ground somewhere in the middle?

1) The Ability to Scale

This is perhaps the first thing to debate: how governments and businesses differ in their ability to scale. If a manufacturing company sees demand for their product drop, they can almost immediately cut production capacity by slowing down the supply of incoming material, cut manufacturing hours or shifts, and even shutter plants. Government, on the other hand, is a services provider to their customers (the taxpayers), that must continue to provide a fixed level of services to a fixed geographic area with a fixed number of people no matter what the revenue stream. Obviously there are some ways to adjust, but lower revenue does not change the demand for services. Governments cannot make linear decisions on direct labor cost reductions like a manufacturing company can. Inherently, government will be slower to respond (or scale) to revenue reductions, but respond they must! In either case, raising prices (or taxes) is not a popular option for either sector.


Data’s future: cloud(y) but clear

Remember dancing to your favorite 45s,cruising to an 8-track tape or popping a cassette into the stereo? Seemslike a long time ago, doesn’t it?

That is because these all representtechnologies of the past. Even the once-mighty compact disc appearsheaded for extinction. One recent survey indicated more people are now streamingmusic rather than buying it.

Records, tapes and even CDs are just datastorage systems by other names – they’re just like file folders, zip drives andhard drives. All are yesterday’s news. Each system has its virtues, buteach has the same major limitation – each can only contain a limited amount ofdata and can only be accessed in one particular setting.

Not so with the expanding internet and cloudcomputing.


Every number has a meaning with Munetrix

MunetrixIt’s all in the numbers and the simpler they are – the easier they are to understand. That is why Munetrix uses a single digit number as a barometer to gauge the financial health – or stress – of local governments and school districts.

We use Michigan’s single digit Fiscal Scoring System, augmented by our color-coded highlights. It makes for an eye catching display that is easy to understand. Financially healthy jurisdictions tend to have a smaller number, highlighted in green, while their stressed counterparts tend to have a larger number, highlighted in red.

This methodology allows for quick identification of those who may be taking a turn for the worse, highlighted in blue, while giving them enough time to avoid a problem. These data representations are a tool to help jurisdictions make educated, fact-based decisions about their finances. They also give a clear, concise financial picture to government officials and the people they serve.

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