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Department Head Budget memo[1], Gloucester, VA
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Department Head Budget memo[1], Gloucester, VA

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An internal letter written to department heads in Gloucester, VA government by one of the Board of Supervisors. Used in a news story on Gloucester, Virginia Links and News website. …

An internal letter written to department heads in Gloucester, VA government by one of the Board of Supervisors. Used in a news story on Gloucester, Virginia Links and News website.
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  • 1. Mar  16,  2014   To:    County  Administrator,  Constitutional  Officers,    Department  Heads   From:    John  Meyer,  Supervisor  At-­‐Large     Subject:    Upcoming  Budget  Deliberations     We  are  now  entering  that  critical,  and  somewhat  frenzied  period  of  the  year  where  next  year’s  budget  is   deliberated  and  each  department  has  the  opportunity  to  advocate  for  its  interests.    This  year,  with  the   changeover  of  3  of  the  Board  of  Supervisors  (BOS)  and  with  4  members  having  only  2  years  of   experience,  there  may  be  more  than  the  usual  angst  concerning  what  will  be  occurring  over  the  next   month.    We  thought  it  might  be  helpful  to  outline  our  vision  for  this  deliberative  process,  and  offer  some   suggestions  as  to  how  to  help  us  make  the  best  decisions  possible.   The  first  thing  that  we  ask  you  to  do  is  to  adjust  your  frame  of  reference.    Your  natural  reference  point  is   your  department,  and  you  submit  the  budget  that  best  enables  your  department  to  carry  out  its   mission.    And  you  believe  that  what  is  good  for  your  department  is  good  for  the  County.    However,  the   Board  of  Supervisors  has  a  County-­‐wide  perspective,  one  that  must  weigh  the  priorities  of  your   department  versus  the  priorities  of  other  departments  –  and  assesses  the  cost  versus  benefit  of  all   County  services.    When  we  take  hard-­‐earned  dollars  out  of  the  hands  of  each  of  our  citizens,  we  have  to   make  sure  that  what  we  return  to  them  in  services  is  well  worth  the  expense.    If  you  can,  try  to  step   back  from  your  departmental  frame  of  reference  and  take  on  the  County-­‐wide  perspective.    If  you  do   that,  you’ll  be  better  able  to  better  understand  the  BOS  thinking,  and  align  your  arguments  better  to   support  that  thinking.   Contrary  to  some  perceptions,  we  are  not  intent  on  cutting  the  budget.    However,  the  recent  election   has  made  it  clear  that  the  people  (that  we  work  for)  have  no  appetite  for  increased  taxes  or  additional   borrowing.    Since  revenues  will  still  be  going  up  this  year,  this  means  the  FY15  year  budget  will  be  larger   than  the  FY14  budget.    However,  with  the  increased  benefits  costs  mandated  by  the  State,  and  the   increased  debt  servicing  associated  with  the  new  Page  Middle  School,  you  will  likely  find  that  your   department  has  little  opportunity  for  growth.       Ms.  Garton  has  put  together  a  strong  strawman  budget,  one  that  will  be  similar,  but  not    identical  to  the   final  budget  we  will  be  signing  at  the  end  of  April.    Now  is  the  time  to  roll  up  your  sleeves  and  be   prepared  to  discuss  all  aspects  of  your  budget.    The  first  phase  of  the  deliberative  process  will  be  looking   for  areas  to  cut  spending.    This  investigative  look  will  serve  the  dual  benefit  of  identifying  and   eliminating  excessive  or  unnecessary  spending,  and  of  freeing  funds  up  to  meet  more  critical  needs.     Throughout  this  initial  process,  you  will  feel  pressure  to  explain  in  depth  the  need  for  programs  that  may   seem  intuitive  to  you.    Understand  that  you  are  not  being  singled  out,  that  other  department  heads  will   be  going  through  the  same  process  and  will  feel  the  same  way  you  do.    Also  recognize  that  we  don’t  
  • 2. understand  your  department  the  nearly  as  well  as  you  do.    But  we  do  need  to  understand  it  well  enough   to  make  decisions  about  your  funding.    So  how  can  you  help  in  this  process?   1. Make  sure  you  can  articulate  your  department’s  mission  –  all  of  it.    And  your  mission  should  be   expressed  in  terms  of  how  it  benefits  the  people  of  the  County.    If  you  can  quantify  that  benefit,   as  well  as  address  it  in  qualitative  terms,  you  advocacy  will  be  that  much  stronger.   2. Prioritize  your  functions.    What  do  you  do  that  the  County  absolutely  has  to  have  done  –   without  which  the  County  cannot  function?    (Some  departments  may  very  well  not  have   anything  that  fits  in  this  category).    At  the  next  level,  what  functions  are  needed  to  maintain  or   significantly  improve  the  quality  of  life  of  the  citizens?    Are  there  functions  that  you  have  that   won’t  show  immediate  benefit,  but  will  provide  a  key  investment  in  the  County’s  future  and  will   significantly  impact  tomorrow’s  quality  of  life?    And  finally,  do  you  provide  services  that  may  not   be  essential,  but  add  that  little  extra  to  the  “land  of  life  worth  living”  and  really  don’t  cost  that   much?   3. We  can  assume  that  all  of  the  absolutely  critical  functions  are  being  accomplished  already  -­‐  if   one  of  those  is  being  threatened  due  to  a  lack  of  resources,  sing  out.    But,  at  the  next  level  can   you  quantify  the  resources  needed  to  support  the  above  functions?      For  example,  the  Sheriff  is   currently  able  to  maintain  law  and  order  in  this  County,  but  can  we  expect  a  reduction  in  crime   if  the  number  of  deputies  is  increased?    If  so,  how?    And  can  you  estimate  by  how  much?    What   if  the  number  of  deputies  was  reduced,  what  would  you  expect?    Often,  these  answers  cannot   be  quantified  and  all  you  can  do  is  provide  qualitative  assessments,  but  quantifiable,  supported   data  will  make  for  the  best  answers.   4. Don’t  be  defensive  –  we’re  not  after  you  or  your  department,  we’re  after  understanding.    Don’t   be  emotional  –  we  need  to  know  what  the  underlying  facts  are,  not  how  you  feel  about  them.     Please  be  straightforward  and  honest  with  us  -­‐  otherwise  you  could  impact  your  credibility.    If   you  don’t  know  the  answer,  say  so,  and  send  us  an  explanatory  e-­‐mail  when  you  do  find  out  the   answer.    If  you  feel  we  misinterpreted  something,  write  us  and  tell  us.    Finally,  try  to  be  succinct   –  you  don’t  want  to  make  the  error  of  overestimating  a  Supervisor’s  attention  span.         It  may  not  seem  like  we’re  on  your  side  when  we’re  peppering  you  with  questions,  but  we’re  only  trying   to  find  out  as  much  about  your  needs  as  possible,  and  we  don’t  have  much  time.    We  will  approach  your   budget  from  different  directions,  but  you  know  -­‐  and  we  know  -­‐  you  are    trying  to  do  what’s  best  for  our   citizens.       And  we  respect  you  for  that.   Let’s  get  to  work!  

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