Polar Vortex Continues to Wreak Havoc on Local Government Budgets


Image source: Wikipedia

As mayor pro-tem for Auburn Hills I often receive emails from residents, and recently I received one from a concerned citizen asking why the roads in his neighborhood were so bad and what I was going to do about it.

Most residents don’t understand the difference between a state, county or local road.  They just know that when their tire blows out—they are not happy!


Six Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Budget from the Polar Vortex

Surprises.  We all hate them when it comes to budgets.

Most local units of government have been pulling themselves up by the bootstraps since the impacts of the Great Recession.  But the uncertainty of Mother Nature has thrown many for a frozen loop this year.

How do you budget for snowiest January ever?

Most local units have used 60-70 percent of their road salt half way through the winter, not to mention overtime hours, wear and tear on equipment, water main breaks, and potholes.

And the worst is not over.  Regardless of how much snow we will still get, and no matter how cold it stays, the eventual spring thaw will wreak havoc on the condition of the roads come April showers and May flowers.

So what’s an administrator to do?  Here are six best practices that might make your winter doldrums more palatable.

  1. Monitor your departmental budget monthly to actual expenses so there are no fiscal surprises.
  2. Develop budget recovery plans now, using up to a three-year outlook on where to pull the revenue from.
  3. Communicate with residents before the roads turn to mush.  Let them know that this will be a rough spring when it comes to road conditions, and to use as much caution as possible (and to be patient).
  4. Pool resources (collaborate) with neighboring communities to avoid any overlap in maintenance of lane miles.  If your trucks have to travel over a neighboring community’s road to reach a destination, consider working out a financial arrangement to be able to cover each other’s area and avoid duplication.
  5. If you are not already doing so, consider brine solutions to slow down the consumption of your salt.
  6. Develop an asset management plan so you know ahead of time which roads may be most problematic, and which water mains may be suspect due to age or materials.

At the end of the day, roads and infrastructure maintenance are one of those “must perform” services that any local government has to do regardless of the circumstances.

Munetrix can help you understand where you stand in relation to other local governments’ operating expenditures for your DPW expenditures.  If you see that a peer has a lower operating cost per capita, or other measure, consult with them to find out what they are doing that might help you dial in your services or costs to become more efficient.  We all need to learn from each other, and Munetrix is an enabler in that regard.

Also, use data to tell your story, and make sure you understand what your residents must have, would like to have and could care less about by conducting bi-yearly citizen surveys.  Munetrix can steer you to services that perform these surveys.

In any event, over-communicate and drive the story.

Why? Because nobody likes surprises.

Author: Bob Kittle
Bob Kittle is the President and Co-founder of


Grading Schools: Letters, Colors or Numbers?

According to an Oakland Press’ editorial in the November 10, 2013 Open Forum, Michigan Republican state Rep, Lisa Posthumus Lyons is proposing legislature that would change the color-coded method Michigan currently uses to rate local schools to a single letter grade matching the report card formats used on K-12 education.

In today’s world of tablets and technology, visualization is an effective way to communicate performance management. Michigan’s Governor Snyder has instituted visual dashboard metrics into virtually every department within the state, municipalities and schools notwithstanding.  People understand red = bad and green = good, and gradients in between are somewhere between good and bad, so long as the scale is shown in context to the scoring system.

Munetrix, a fiscal measurement and grading transparency website for local governments and schools, uses this methodology quite effectively.  From a fiscal stability standpoint, the Munetrix scoring methodology translates complicated financial data into a simple, visual snapshot that anybody can understand – even using the “lime green” that Ms. Posthumus Lyons believes will confuse parents.

Grading SchoolsWe use this method because people easily understand simple color-based data representations and we would suggest, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the Michigan Legislature look at successful implementations of standardized metrics and work with data in the way people digest information today: with their eyes.

Besides, when kids go beyond the K-12 education system, letter grades go out the window and are replaced with a 4.0 scale.

Bob Kittle, President & CEO Munetrix


Four subjects we need to focus less on in school

Are we failing the youth of this nation?

No, this is not a POD song tribute… more of a commentary on the education system as a whole. It is my humble opinion that the attempts at making students more “well-rounded” have most definitely had the reverse effect.

The argument for the past 20 or 30 years is that introducing students to a greater variety of topics will increase their ability to get a better job, contribute to society, and/or possibly be a better person.  I do not necessarily disagree with this sentiment. The focus on it has become far too great, much to the detriment of those exposed to it.

Trust me, this isn’t a fun argument to have. You try telling people that their kid should learn LESS. Very few positive reactions, let me tell you. Even so, I believe it is a conversation worth having.


Don’t waste your internship

internshipI’m just going to let it all out and say that it is a hard life for a 20-something intern. We are anxious, broke, and usually lacking experience. We are struggling to find a balance between the stereotypical ‘party every weekend’, social network-addicted college life and that of a working professional.

Student loan payments are just around the corner as we try to pass those last few required courses, all while still trying to impress our bosses and get our mothers to do our laundry just this one last time.

Okay, maybe it’s not that difficult, but it can still present a challenge. For all you interns with piles of creative energy and ideas but no one to share it with, there is hope!


5 things we dislike about government but probably have to live with

A semi-serious take on local government, its shortcomings, and some reasoning behind them.

1) Automatic Call Answering Systems

Why we dislike them

Automatic Call Answering Systems

– The only reason I ever call a government office (or any office, for that matter) is if I can’t find certain information on their website. When I call and am read back information that “can be found on the website” for 2 minutes before being able to select an option, I want to repeatedly kick myself in the shins. Nails on a chalkboard are a sweeter sound than ten menu options.

– God help the employee I eventually speak to after I select the wrong option and have to call back.


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.

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