A Look in the Mirror in Alexandria

A Look in the Mirror in Alexandria

Council examines government processes and costs.

City Council discussed allocating resources toward ensuring an “Accountable, Effective, and Well-Managed Government” at its April 5 budget work session.

This focus area includes City Council, the city manager, and departments related to the city’s internal services. It accounts for 15 percent of the city manager’s proposed operating budget and nine percent of the 10-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP). Its share of FY2018’s operating budget represents an increase of five percent over FY2017 and 18 percent over FY2016.


OMB Director Morgan Routt says his department can cut a position, for a savings of $60,000.

“[Councilman Paul Smedberg] and I looked at opportunities to change the budget process, and [Smedberg] has consistently said that we need to look at moving up some processes in the budget process, maybe to the fall,” said Councilman John Chapman. “This elimination of a position might even be a stronger reason to really consider that.”

It was suggested that the city might adopt a two-year, rather than its current one-year, budget cycle. Even without this change, Smedberg wants more thoroughly to examine departments’ strategic priorities throughout the budget process. “That to me is a much more important discussion to have than just review of things that are highlighted in the full document,” he said.

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson agreed, saying, “I want to get to a place where department heads are coming in outside of the budget season, talking about their strategic direction, so that when we get to the budget, this all aligns to what we already have bought into around their direction.”


The Office of Internal Audit aims at “improving program efficiency; compliance with applicable rules and regulations; and the prevention of fraud, waste and abuse,” according to the budget document.

Chief Internal Auditor Deborah Welch particularly wants to look into five areas: “grant compliance … city billings to insurance companies and to Medicaid … parking garage revenues … the approval paths in the departments for paying their invoice[s] … [and the city’s] new real estate system.”

She also wants “to increase our audit footprint in the departments.” To that end, she requests an additional $118,000 to hire another auditor, who would help the department conduct “spot audits.”

In addition to larger audits, “we would go in and do a 1-2 week audit and then turn around the results quickly to the department head. And the hope is that we can just have continuous improvement in our internal control structure.”

“I think the public wants to see that we’re checking ourselves. … That’s why I certainly support adding additional capacity to be able to do that in your department,” said Wilson. “Dirty laundry and clean. Let’s show the public that we’re holding ourselves to account and be fully transparent about that.” Wilson wants audit updates to City Council 2-4 times per year.


The OPA serves a related function. “We’ve been focusing more and more on internal consulting analyses,” said Chief Performance Officer Greg Useem. “We assist departments in analyzing their own data and developing insights to help them deliver better services.”

“We’ve not undertaken a complete review of a whole department. I think that is … a whole lot to chew off at once. Rather it’s been, what are the specific high priority areas?” said City Manager Mark Jinks. For example, “we’ve got three separate [vehicle] fleet operations all in buildings practically next door to each other — shared buildings in one case. … We’re looking at sick leave usage, because some of our data says our sick leave is higher than the norm.”


The Department of GS manages the city’s property, including its facilities and vehicle fleet.

At 10 percent of the CIP, public buildings are the fourth largest driver of long-term infrastructure costs, behind transportation, sewers, and schools. Facilities maintenance is also the largest driver of GS’s annual operating budget, accounting for 43 percent. For FY2018, the department needs $150,000 above what it originally estimated, said Deputy Director Al Coleman.

Following a review of vehicle usage, GS wants to replace 30 “heavily utilized” vehicles with “underutilized vehicles [from] elsewhere across the fleet,” said Coleman. This asset redistribution will save the city $200,000.

The department will also consider “the most efficient way to do our fleet maintenance and parts, repairs, [jointly] with schools and the city. And whether or not that’s staffing, additional resources, combining contracts, we’re going to look at all different options,” said Coleman. He expects by the end of the month to recommend to the city manager how to proceed.

Additional savings will come from “implementing alternative ride-sharing, Uber- or Lyft-like options” for city employees “to attend meetings … or for other administrative purposes.”


The ITS department wants $550,000 to create four new positions. These new hires would improve the city’s broadband fiber optic network, wireless accessibility in city facilities, cyber security, and usage of the city’s software capabilities, said Director Vanetta Pledger.

“Am I to take that we believe, big picture, that we have an undersized IT department compared to the need in the organization and that we believe, compared to alternate ways to source this capacity [such as contracting], that this is the most efficient and most sustainable way to do that?” asked Wilson.

“Correct,” replied Pledger. “We don’t have enough time to spend time on innovation … because we’re too busy doing the next upgrade, doing the next replacement, procuring the next version of hardware.”

The staffing increases also reflect a long-term investment in IT infrastructure. The city’s IT Plan accounts for eight percent of the FY2018 capital budget and four percent of the total CIP.

Rather than continuing to lease from Comcast, “the city has determined that the construction and operation of its own fiber optic network will lead to long-term savings and increased service capabilities, as well as give the city revenue options with potential private entity leasing agreements,” according to the CIP document. “This will enable the private entity to provide high speed internet connections to city businesses and residents, and as such represents an investment in future long-term positive economic development impact.”


By implementing initiatives to collect delinquent vehicle personal property taxes, the city plans to bring in an estimated $675,000.

The city will use a paid database service to target out-of-state license plate holders. It will also “use an outside collection agency … so staff can be focused on the discovery and helping people understand their obligations for taxes before they become delinquent,” said Director Kendel Taylor. The city does not plan to sell its actual debt, but only to pay the collection agency a service fee.