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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, January 07, 2016 10:06 pm

Task force finds ways for county to spur efficiency

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

Capping 10 months of meetings and work, an Allen County task force issued its recommendations Thursday to improve county government.

The report of the Allen County Efficiency and Effectiveness Task Force did not recommend any structural changes in existing county agencies or governing bodies.

Task force members said that was because they heeded the voice of voters, who in November 2014 rejected a referendum to replace the three county commissioners with a county executive and an expanded County Council.

But the task force did urge big countywide changes in two categories: strategic planning and employee evaluations.

Specifically, the report urges institution of an annual planning retreat, during which elected officials and a group of "citizen leaders" will develop overall goals and priorities for the county that could be tied to the budget process.

And, instead of just doing line- ;item budgeting as required by the state of Indiana, department heads should be encouraged to also do zero- ;based budgeting, the report states.

That means each department would start at zero each year and base spending on the identified priorities and goals. Each expenditure would be "assessed and justified" annually instead of just being lowered or raised on a line-item basis.

Further, the report recom­mends annual across-the-board county employee evaluations and the implementation of merit pay. It’s a suggestion that several task force members said Thursday would likely prove controversial and difficult to execute.

Currently, the report says, 80 percent of the budget is spent on personnel. But participation in performance reviews is voluntary, and not all elected officials use them.

The report urges reviews based on "a core set of performance standards (that) can and should be adopted by every department."

It states that "implementing merit pay" should be considered, with such incentives linked to performance reviews and in line with strategic planning.

The money could come from "a small flat percentage" of the county’s budget reserved for that purpose and be provided to managers "based on the quality and progress of their department’s meeting of the Strategic Plan."

Ellen Cutter, director of the IPFW Community Research Institute and facilitator of the task force, said its findings are not binding on any county board of department.

"It’s up to them (county commissioners and County Council) to implement any (of) the recommendations … that they would want and apply to their areas," she said.

The report can be found at www.ipfw.edu/centers/cri/allen-county-task-force.

rsalter@jg.net