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Study finds city already runs lean

POULSBO — The way the city does business could be tightened and streamlined for better efficiency, the preliminary findings of the city’s process study said this week.

But specific recommendations for change will need further study, council members decided.

At a special Sept. 24 meeting, the Poulsbo City Council was presented with the findings and recommendations of its first-ever “Work Flow Process Study.” The $47,000 study, a department-by-department look at the city to identify possible time and money savings, took place from June to August.

Steve Miller of Seattle’s Miller & Miller Consulting Services said overall, he found Poulsbo to be in good shape.

“In terms of risk, cost and benefit issues, we didn’t find any major areas,” Miller said. “There are certain process changes that would facilitate more efficiency but overall I’d like to say it’s a positive assessment.”

Miller’s general recommendations boiled down to: Let management manage; distinguish between information flow and approval; expect an acceptable level of errors in efficient processes; and simplify.

These four themes ran through his list of specific recommendations, which included:

•Cut down the number of steps, paperwork and people involved with purchasing and payment activities

•Eliminate several redundant steps in time keeping and payroll

•Consolidate activities and create a central source of input for all three systems involved with citations and infractions

•Streamline monthly billing cycle and cumbersome account maintenance processes with utility billing. Look at possibility of bi-monthly utility billing

•Create new information system capabilities and increase usage of Web sites

•Streamline budgeting process

•Determine if transfer of ownership of library is possible

Whether or not to implement any of Miller’s recommendations is up to city staff and the city council.

Mayor Donna Jean Bruce said some new activities have already been implemented in response to some more minor suggestions in the document, however, decisions on the majority are still to come. The Poulsbo City Council has scheduled a workshop to further discuss the study in October. Councilwoman Kathryn Quade and Councilman Jim Henry were absent from the Sept. 24 meeting and members also want both to be able to weigh in on the issue.

Budgeting was one of the major areas Miller focused on Wednesday when presenting his findings. He said the basic premise of letting management manage could be put to better use in areas like budgeting and purchasing. For example, the council’s Finance Administration Committee currently audits disbursements before they are made, a cumbersome process that can hold up payments.

“If you want, you can get a report,” Miller suggested to council members.

“Steve said at our committee meeting that if we hire the right people to manage, they’ll be able to manage their budgets or they’ll be out of a job,” added Mayor Donna Jean Bruce.

Of course, changing council’s oversight of budget expenditures would take some getting used to, council members said. Councilwoman Jackie Aitchison said she likes the current audit process.

“The council is ultimately responsible for where the money goes,” she commented. “When I served on the Finance Administration Committee and had to do an audit every six weeks and, you know, it was a good balance and check system... How do you still make sure there’s still those balances and checks?”

But others felt the process could be more streamlined, while still allowing the council to know what money was being spent.

Councilmen Mike Regis and Ed Stern both commented that if the council committed itself to letting managers manage, then eliminating the audits was the least that could be done.

“We’ve been receiving high accolades from the appropriate entities, we’ve progressed, we’re staying current,” Regis commented on Poulsbo’s Finance Department’s qualifications.

“I was on the Finance Audit committee doing audits every six weeks and I was not aware that I was holding up payments,” added Councilman Dale Rudolph. “If I’d known that, I would have said, ‘What the heck am I doing this for when I’m the least knowledgeable person and there are five people’s signatures there before mine?’”

Probably the most controversial recommendation, Miller admitted, was going from monthly to bimonthly utility bills. He said most jurisdictions currently bill for utilities every other month, however, the system was not without its potential problems.

“You’re basically doing twice the work as every other jurisdiction because you’re billing every month and taking payments every month,” Miller said. “But you’d have to really coordinate your cash flow and you’d have to think about your customers — some will like it, some won’t... You’d have a lot more shut offs and delinquencies because each bill would be larger.”

Aitchison agreed, saying she felt a change like that would need a lot more discussion by council members and the public.

“I appreciate the comment on the rate payers,” Aitchison said. “Before we make any decision, I think we need to hear from the rate payers whether this would be too great a hardship.”

Copies of the process study are available for check out at City Hall. For more information, call (360) 779-3901.

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