Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lather, Select Vendor, Budget That In, Rinse, Repeat

Tomorrow is our budget presentation day, and I'll be reacting live to the county manager statement in the budget kick-off meeting three weeks ago in regard to our voting machine replacement request not being mentioned (let alone being included) in the 2015 budget book.

We have long submitted a narrative and even vendor quotes.  The machines were once in the budget years ago but not included in the Capital Improvement Process (CIP) budget since 2011.

I'm no county budget Einstein but I'm pretty sure in going through the CIP schedules and the debt service schedules of today and past years, any purchase of $12 million in voting machines will cause a tax increase unless there are corresponding cuts.  The county can't absorb a $12 million hit and, I don't think, even a $2 or $3 million annual increase in debt service without a revenue increase.

The specific comment, though, was this, "We're still waiting with great anticipation about what the next generation is going to be advocated for by the Election Commissioner and then we will be able to go ahead and budget that in."

So, apparently, the CIP approach was never the path for us to take.  We simply need to select a system (using a process for which we've outlined) and the funds will be there.

The plan I will explain tomorrow will be to begin pursuing a consultant to manage the proposal process, with the objective of issuing a request for proposal in 2015 for a new system implemented in 2017.

I'm not sure how "budget that in," is going to happen.  It seems easier, to me anyway, to plan for a $12 million expense than to immediately figure out how to pay for it.

I would think vendors, also, would like to know we actually have money budgeted before investing in the time to prepare a proposal.  We now have a five-year-old quote that got the machines in the budget for two years before the county manager took them out.

Earlier this week, I was at an MIT/CalTech Future of the Polling Process conference with many of the industry's brightest minds.  Johnson County was fortunate to have a seat at the table among such prestigious practitioners, academics, and industry thought-leaders.  There are a handful of communities going through the process of determining a next-generation system, and much work needs to be done before such a system is live.

My objectives from the constant pounding of the budget issues right now are simple:
  1. Ensure our voters' needs are protected and future-proofed.
  2. Provide more than adequate planning time for the Board of County Commissioners to prepare to pay for this system.
  3. Keep Johnson County at the innovative forefront that our voters, taxpayers, and community leaders expect and deserve when it comes to elections.
I kind of think I'm just doing my job here.  If I don't fight for these things, who will?

I know, to a degree, I've become a bit of a one-trick pony on the blog right now regarding the budget and voting machines, but this is a major part of our annual fight for resources and a very time-consuming process at that.  The purpose of the blog is to highlight things behind the scenes and this is one scene, if shortened or put to bed, would by itself free up resources at our office.

Here's hoping tomorrow goes well.