City council retreat: Budget process and performance measures

PEN resident Frances Phipps asked for “a brief report on the priorities discussed and budget themes and any decisions regarding these following the retreat.” The retreat she refers to was a facilitated discussion meeting involving the city council and staff. It was held Thursday evening, January 23, 2014, per the text that was the original content of this posting, which is posted below the line below.

My report:

First, I’ll explain that the outcome of the retreat was *guidance* to the city manager, regarding non-baseline items to include in his proposed city budget. (We did not discuss altering baseline programs and services, by which I mean, for example, police patrols, trash collection, the library, etc.) There were no decisions and no commitments to do anything. The decisions will be made, in public council meetings in March through May, when we consider and enact the city’s FY15 budget.

A second retreat purpose and outcome was improved working relationships among the councilmembers and staff present, City Manager Brian Kenner, Deputy City Manager Suzanne Ludlow, and Management Assistant Emily Cohen. Ellen Kandell facilitated the discussion.

One resident attended, Arthur David Olson.

There were three segments to the meeting, which followed a quick overview of the March-May schedule for developing and enacting the city’s FY15 budget.

Segment #1 was, Which of seven areas would we devote more resources to, if we have an opportunity? Consensus prioritized 4 of 7. In order, they were 1) economic development, 2) fiscal prudence (taxes, pension funding, reserves), 3) environmental quality/sustainability, 4) quality of life. (We discussed what these high-level categories comprise, but we do not have a written definition.) There was no consensus around devoting any available *additional* resources to city services/amenities, public safety, or facilities and infrastructure.

Segment #2 was, What particular projects should we prioritize for discretionary, funds-available, spending in the next fiscal year? Out of 25 items, there was consensus around 5. In order, they were 1) dog park, 2) Web site, 3) sustained/expanded food-waste collection for composting, 4) energy programs, and 5) New Hampshire Avenue Rec Center.

Segment #3 concerned metrics and benchmarking. The city manager provided items that are already measured by city departments. Some councilmembers suggested additional points to measure. I didn’t take notes on them, but staff did and said they’d look into incorporating some into the quarterly departmental reports and into the budget document.

This last exercise was only a first step regarding metrics development, and I would consider benchmarking to be very much a work in progress.

There was consensus around studying other municipalities’ metrics and benchmarks. And I’ll relay a few general principles that I suggested. They were, a) Prioritize measuring things when you can actually use the measurements for improvement, b) solicit satisfaction ratings, c) report on complaints filed and their resolution, and d) report on time-to-respond and time-to-close inquiries and requests.

Finally, we agreed there should be additional, future meetings of this type, perhaps one in a couple of months around the time the proposed budget is released and another in late spring, after we’ve enacted the FY15 budget, to review the experience.

Original text, posted January 23, 2014:

The Takoma Park City Council will have a second “retreat” meeting this evening, January 23, focusing on process and performance measures related to the city budget.

The meeting will take place at that Montgomery College Student Services Center, Room ST301, 7625 Fenton Street, starting at 6:00 p.m. The meeting is open to the public but there will not be any opportunity for public participation. It will not be broadcast or recorded.

The Takoma Park city budget is around $25 million, enacted in the spring of each year for a fiscal year that runs July 1 to June 30. I wanted to supplement the city’s usual e-mail and Web meeting notifications by providing tonight’s agenda for anyone who’s thinking of attending —


6:00 Dinner, welcome, agenda review and ground rules

6:15 Discussion of budget process for 2014

OUTCOME: Council to understand schedule for completion of FY15 budget

6:45 Discussion of budget themes and priorities for FY15 budget

OUTCOME: Consensus on potential FY15 budget themes and budget items

8:15 Discussion of Budget Performance Measures and Benchmarking

OUTCOME: Consensus on budget performance measures

9:15 Wrap up, next steps and adjourn


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