State Sen. David Argall (R-29) hosted a 'Municipal Innovations Program,' for local government leaders and municipal employees Thursday evening at the Tamaqua Community Center.
The program called, "Embracing Innovation and Financial Responsibility in the New Economy" was presented by Ronald G. Wagenmann, Manager of Upper Merion Township, Montgomery County, who illustrated various technologies, management styles and financing methods that can improve public works and make communities more efficient and productive. In recent years, Wagenmann a graduate of Harvard University and Penn State University, has proven successful cost-saving methods by implementing them into his local government and providing a savings to his township of about $3.5 million.
Some things Wagenmann talked about involved past economic climate and cycling impact on local government, pointing out a "Perfect Financial Storm" which involves an economic downturn nationally, 12 percent decline in business privilege tax revenue from 2008 to 2009, and the impact from collectedly bargained contracts. Negotiating financial fixes can be done via staff and board brainstorming and via a board of supervisors' mandate to maintain service levels without raising taxes. Implementation could involve all department head being responsible for trimming 5 percent of their prior year's budget, reducing staff, eliminating redundancy, enacting a hiring freeze, altering maintenance schedules, and even using more green friendly practices.
Wagenmann spoke a lot concerning departmental budgeting and it's purposeful method used by many local governments to determine exactly what it is costing to provide services to the community. Wagenmann also brought up the possible idea of deeper cuts by enacting furlough days involving a temporary leave of absence from employment. He pointed out that his township of Upper Merion uses a four day/10-hour day work week with set adjusted hours to further save on costs. He also discusses better health care options while increasing the benefits to the employees, such as safe driving days, sick leave bonus, gym reimbursement, and smoking and weight control programs.
Common sense cuts include replacing old light bulbs, eliminating winter maintenance, installing programmable thermostats, revising leaf collection schedule, and re-examining all staff positions and services to reduce redundancy, and rewriting job descriptions. The uses of sound financial management can also soften to blow by understanding and using the Revenue Stabilization Fund, equipment replacement policy, stronger use of "contracting out services", eliminating banking fees, as well as using piggy-back purchasing, auction bidding, peak shaving, off-site record storage, and better managed postage methods. Wagenmann also pointed out how his township embraced cost-saving methods involving alternative energies such as solar power, new HVAC systems, LED street and building lights, and other green practices. He added that grants for "Green" practices are abundant, such as the DEP Energy Conservation Grant and PA Conservation Works Grant, explaining that green practices can actually generate revenue via leased solar panels and other managed methods.
Wagenmann ended by pointing out the bottom line of encouraging and open and collaborative relationship between employees, department heads, and elected officials can foster an innovative environment. Sound financial practices and "outside the box" thinking helps pull municipalities through difficult financial times, stating current economic conditions provide and opportunity for forward thinking outcomes. Sen. Argall ended his program by pointing out the importance of these proven ideas and how they can possibly save costs if implemented and managed properly.