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Richmond City Council Members Propose $200,000 'Savings And Efficiency' Study

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As Richmond City Council debates a proposed 2020 budget with two tax increases, some council members want to study whether city government is using its money efficiently.

Kim Gray and Kristen Larson, who represent the second and fourth districts respectively, have introduced a budget amendment that would provide the City Council Chief of Staff with $200,000 for a “savings and efficiency” study. The two say the money would be used to contract with a third-party consultant. 

Larson said the study will pay for itself by identifying cost savings in city operations and would also help address some of the public's concerns about government waste.

“I’ve heard from my residents a lot on this proposed real estate tax increase, and folks really want to know that we are spending their dollars efficiently at city hall,” she said.

In an email to her constituents, Larson said the efforts to include the study in the new budget, which goes into effect July 1, was prompted by a 7.5 percent property tax increase being proposed by Mayor Levar Stoney.

This wouldn’t be the first time an outside group took a deep dive into the city’s operations to find savings. One of Stoney’s first actions in office was to contract with VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs to conduct a performance review in 2017. The study found “inefficiencies in fiscal management and reporting, inflexible recruitment and retention practices, cumbersome procurement policies and the absence of cutting-edge, integrated information technology.” The review led the Stoney administration to create a “roadmap for organizational change” and start using a performance-based budgeting system.

The city also has an 11-person City Auditor’s Office which evaluates select departments every year. The auditor inspects departments for legal compliance and the performance of staff and contractors.

Council Member Michael Jones said on Monday that he was concerned the proposed “efficiency study” would be duplicating efforts.

“I don’t think we can do enough to look at process improvement. The question is: ‘How do we go about doing it,” he said.

But Gray argued that an audit from the outside could be more independent and in-depth than what was provided in either the VCU study or the city auditors reports.

“When we look at our numbers versus our counterparts in comparable cities and municipalities, we are spending a lot more per capita on police, on schools, on every single operation with the exception of parks,” Gray said. “It’s important for us to reexamine what we’re doing on a regular basis and really take time to say ‘Hey, there's a better way to do this.’”

Both Gray and Larson suggested the study could compliment the auditing work already being undertaken. Monday’s vote on whether to include an efficiency study in the final list of budget amendments was postponed to Monday, April 1 when council hears from City Auditor Lou Lassiter.

A spokesperson for Mayor Stoney said his administration is continuing to work on organizational and financial efficiencies highlighted by VCU and the city auditor, and is looking forward to sharing their progress with City Council. 

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