Better, Faster, Cheaper

The Wrong Way to Keep Cops and Firefighters on the Job

The systems we live under vary from place to place, but no system can change the human impulse to shift problems to someone else. Yet another example of this comes from Dallas, where the Police and Fire Pension System has indefinitely suspended admission to its breathtakingly costly Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) beginning on April 1.

Like most public-safety DROPs, Dallas' version was designed as a recruitment tool and an incentive to keep experienced police officers and firefighters on the job. It allows officers and firefighters who have served for at least 20 years to collect a pension even as they continue to work. Instead of going into employees' pockets, however, the payments are deposited into separate accounts with guaranteed interest rates of 8-10 percent annually that are paid by the pension system. Police officers and firefighters can contribute to DROP for as long as they continue to work. READ MORE

Getting Smart About the Water We Use

Water and wastewater management are among the most challenging issues that local officials across the country must grapple with. It's easy to see why. Costly federal mandates impose a heavy burden on already strapped municipal budgets. Environmental requirements confront half-century-old pipes and facilities, necessitating expensive improvements. Historic drought in the West, particularly in California, forces local leaders to take the lead on managing precious water supplies for drinking, bathing and farming. The results: water bills keep rising.

In this challenging environment, local officials are taking action to minimize water-related costs for their governments and the residents they serve. Some are fashioning creative private-sector partnerships related to leases or contracts for operations and management. Yet whether relying on public or private management, many localities are embracing the solution of wireless "smart" water meter systems to make the measurement of water usage more effective and efficient. READ MORE

Why We Need Teacher Evaluations that Pass the Smell Test

In a letter to his state's education commissioner last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled that he'll push to make it easier to fire low-performing teachers. The move comes after 96 percent of the state's teachers received one of the two highest ratings on new state evaluations and only 1 percent were rated as "ineffective" despite students' lackluster performance on tests and graduation rates.

This month's results from what was supposed to be a tough new teacher evaluation system in Indiana was even harder to take seriously: Less than 0.5 percent of Hoosier teachers -- that's one-half of 1 percent -- were rated as "ineffective." READ MORE

Is This Camden’s Chance for a Comeback?

Bribery, in the form of tax incentives, is hardly the basis of good economic-development policy, but when things get as bad as they have in Camden, N.J., the usual rules go out the window. Time will tell whether state and city official have been skillful enough in applying the lessons learned from previous failures to make the latest efforts to resuscitate the city a success.

Last year the New Jersey Economic Development Authority granted $614 million in tax credits to six projects designed to attract, create or retain 2,000 jobs in Camden. The city can certainly use them. The Campbell's Soup Co. has 1,200 employees in Camden; 1 percent of them -- that's 12 people -- actually live in the city. Out of 77,000 residents, nearly 40 percent, about twice the national average, are below the federal poverty level. And according to FBI data, Camden was the most dangerous city of its size in the country last year. READ MORE

A Streetcar Named Confusion

"Good management requires good information," says Drummond Kahn, director of Portland, Ore.'s Audit Services Division. His agency's recent audit of the city's streetcar system demonstrates why a healthy democracy also relies on good information.

The audit found that 82 percent of the system's trips were on time, not 98 percent as Portland Streetcar had previously reported. It also found that estimated ridership, which the system's operators had previously pegged at 5.6 million for fiscal 2014, was actually more like 4.5 million (though the revised number still represents a 500,000-passenger increase over the previous year). READ MORE