Cracking Down on County Challenges

Counties have long experienced pain points in managing volatile funding sources, but recently new technology has emerged to help them more effectively manage these priorities.
David Jones, OpenGov | July 17, 2019 AT 9:00 AM

While all forms of government face common challenges like providing services as effectively as possible and dealing with volatile funding sources, counties are confronted with a host of unique challenges, including pressures from state mandates, maintaining and operating the prison system, and funding hospitals, medical clinics, and even public school systems. Counties have long experienced these pain points, but recently new technology has emerged to help counties more effectively manage these priorities in one integrated platform.

The Cost of State Mandates

According to a survey conducted by the Office of Performance Evaluations under the State of Idaho, “insufficient revenue was the most consistently reported cause of [state] mandate problems.” Unfunded state mandates impede counties’ governance because they further complicate the already difficult tasks of cutting costs and increasing revenues. For instance, a state mandate that limits the amount of property tax counties can place on their residents can have an immense effect upon a county’s revenue, since property tax is one of the key sources of monetary income for counties. County officials must have the ability to see the impact of such mandates on the current budget so they can plan accordingly for the residual effects.

This is where modern performance management tools, like OpenGov's Performance Management Reporting solution, can have a massive positive impact. OpenGov’s cloud software consolidates the large, complex sets of financial data into one place, allowing you to monitor revenue and spending, analyze performance, and explore data from your entire organization. Having all of this data in one place empowers you to make more informed, insightful, and efficient decisions to ensure that you are getting everything out of the funds that you have. Modern SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) tools also let you create and adjust inputs in your budget structure, giving you the insight into how your revenue and costs would differ based on your decisions. This outcome-based decision-making gives counties the awareness to know how financials will be affected when state mandates are implemented.

Budgeting Under Increasing Demands

In addition to underfunded mandates, counties must deal with ever-increasing demands on programs that they already cover, like overcrowded and underfunded prison systems, which put an enormous strain on the budget process. Prison management is increasingly becoming more difficult and costly due to the growing rate of opioid users in the country, which compounds the pressure that is placed on public systems like prisons and hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was six times higher than it was in 1999 (CDC, 2018). As the rate of opioid users rises, so does the need for prison healthcare programs for incarcerated individuals and the number of people in hospital care. County officials are tasked with the increasing demands of these programs, while new mandates and challenges continue to arise.

Furthermore, counties are charged with dedicating a large chunk of their budget to public schools. For counties in Maryland, roughly half of their budget goes directly to funding the school systems throughout the state. These expanding demands are not being met with an equivalent increase in available funds, so counties must find other ways to meet the challenge. The answer, then, must lie in a county’s ability to maximize the performance of every dollar spent.

Own the Conversation

Nearly as critical to the actual allocation of funds and delivering on those mandates is the ability to effectively communicate your results to internal and external stakeholders. Proactive communication of key performance metrics is crucial to creating productive discussions with all of the entities that counties are beholden to, like the State and county residents. Modern software can allow county leaders to connect performance data to the necessary context to tell the story of how your county is rising to meet its challenges and make the case for what the county may need in the future.

Understanding that these issues are deeply rooted in the budget process, advanced cloud budgeting solutions offer the tools necessary to alleviate these problems. The leader in cloud budgeting and performance platforms, The OpenGov Cloud™, provides the ability for county officials and budget directors to streamline and transform their end-to-end budgeting process, seamlessly tie budget dollars to key organizational initiatives, and draw actionable insights that maximize performance outcomes.

For example, Janet Dutcher, the Financial Director of Mono County, CA, recently implemented OpenGov’s budgeting and performance solution. She immediately realized impressive savings, simply by gaining better visibility into her budgeting process. OpenGov’s solution consolidated the many workbooks and spreadsheets that Mono County was using to track their budget, and the centralized view enabled Janet to reallocate over $2M, money that had previously been funding programs that did not need it. See Janet tell the full story in her own words here. This is just one instance among many of how budgeting through OpenGov’s platform saves time, money, and alleviates the unique pressures that counties face every day.

What's Next?

For more information on how OpenGov addresses and provides answers to county-specific challenges, Listen to this on-demand webinar featuring Robin Campbell, Assistant County Manager and Budget Director for Thurston County, WA, Ken Fritz, County Administrator for Winona County, MN and former CIO at Harford County, Ted Pibil who have used technology to streamline their budgeting and created a powerful performance management program.