A citizen financial-review task force concluded that Upper Arlington is largely doing a good job of managing revenues and services but suggested that privatizing or sharing some services could be more efficient.
After it returns from summer recess later this month, Upper Arlington City Council is expected to delve into a series of recommendations proposed by the task force it had appointed in March to examine city finances, budgeting and services.
The initiative was a follow-up to a different task force put together by council in 2014 that, among other things, proposed raising the local income-tax rate from 2% to 2.5%.
The new task force met eight times between April 4 and July 2 and presented its recommendations to council July 8. It didn't propose any new tax increases but did offer ideas for more efficient spending and planning.
Ann Gabriel is the chairwoman. Other members are Jamie Crane, Colin Gawel, Greg Guy, Ukeme Awakessien Jeter, Tim Keen, Matthew J. Kirby, Matthew Rule and Kaz Unalan, according to documents on the city's website.
Privatizing, sharing services
Among them was a recommendation to seek further opportunities for privatizing services and collaborating with other entities to provide them.
"Back-office functions where employees do not work face to face with the public are prime candidates for privatization and/or shared services," the task force report said.
It pointed to the city's information technology, human resources and fleet maintenance divisions as areas where money might be saved by outscourcing the work.
"In particular with IT, the one thing we talked about is every day the IT environment is rapidly, rapidly changing and third parties, that's their job," Gabriel said. "They have the resources to monitor the changes. That may be something to consider."
The task force recommended the city hire a consultant to evaluate its current "service-delivery processes and available privatization and shared options."
Another area where the task force thinks the city might benefit financially while enhancing its expense planning relates to equipment.
Upper Arlington officials create a 10-year plan for capital projects, such as improving roads, sewers and gutters, but the task force found there is no similar process for evaluating the equipment used to maintain or repair infrastructure.
"The city cannot easily assess the funds required for new or replacement capital equipment in any given year," the report stated. "A multiyear planning and budgeting process for capital equipment that mirrors the capital improvement program may be helpful in determining anticipated cash needs for capital equipment by year.
"Also, without a consolidated picture of capital equipment from an operations perspective, it may be difficult for the city to determine if the overall capital equipment plan is cost-effective or (to) identify opportunities where cross-department use of capital assets may be appropriate."
The task force proposed having a third party examine capital equipment needs, determine the useful lives of the equipment and provide guidance for how it should be maintained.
The task force pointed to a 2017 community survey conducted by the city and said most residents are pleased with the level of services they receive.
To further gauge public opinion and assess how well the city serves its constituents, the task force recommended conducting a similar survey of the business community, to see if its needs are being met.
It also recommended initiatives to enhance Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation Department services, including the creation of an online portal that would allow residents to check the availability of or reserve athletics fields or other facilities.
The task force also found the Upper Arlington Senior Center is "not a competitive amenity and, in its current tired physical condition, is not reflective of the high standards of our community."
"We understand that the city will be conducting a feasibility study to assess a community center, which would address both the need for an intergenerational indoor recreation facility as well as the need to update/replace the Senior Center," the report stated. "In the interim, we suggest the city, schools and library work together to better utilize existing space within the city.
"While we understand that the city, schools and library are separate government entities, we suggest that further cooperation in sharing space would be beneficial to the citizens of Upper Arlington. In particular, there is great need for indoor space during winter months, especially gym space, for youth activities. Some leagues and teams are going outside the city to rent space for these activities. Rental of indoor space could become a revenue stream or at least cover incremental operating costs."
Overall, the report concluded, Upper Arlington is doing a good job of managing funds and infrastructure.
It noted the city maintains the highest credit rating possible from municipal bond-rating agencies, but it said officials might benefit from spending more operating dollars for capital projects instead of borrowing to pay for them.
"We thought maybe the city might want to consider more cash for the financing of the capital improvements, either to reduce future issuances (of debt) or maybe spread out the time between issuances," Gabriel said.
Council did not discuss the report during its July 8 meeting. Members are expected to analyze the task force's findings and possible strategies for moving forward after it reconvenes. No date has been set for the follow-up discussions.
Council's next conference session is scheduled Aug. 19 and the next regular meeting is slated for Aug. 26.