Guest Commentary: Interpreting the SEA report

In April the City published a report on Service Efforts and Accomplishments — the SEA Report — updating City Council and the community on the status of performance measures included in the 2009 budget.

Over the next several weeks we will be reviewing and highlighting the information contained in the SEA Report, and explaining why this information is important to us, as residents of the Island and consumers of city services. This article suggests reasonable conclusions based on the performance measures listed for the Finance Department.

Three different publications of the city help to answer the questions of stewardship — the budget outlines the city’s priorities by defining the services and projects funded with public dollars; the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report provides an overview report of how funds were spent; and the SEA Report provides a summary of the effectiveness of the use of these funds.

As the city’s newest director, I am impressed at all of the hard work that the employees of the Finance Department perform to meet the needs and complex financial challenges of this city. The Finance Department develops and monitors the budgets, offers technical support to other City departments, assists the general public and citizen groups with information requests, and makes recommendations to City Council, city manager and advisory committees on financial and budgetary policies.

In addition to procuring millions of dollars in goods and services, preparing employees payroll checks and processing supplier and merchant payments, the Finance Department insures the city’s vehicles and property against theft, casualty and damages and reviews all claims and settlements. The city’s debt rating is reviewed and monitored and bond agency disclosures are made. Idle funds are conservatively invested to ensure a return of principal as well as an optimized return on investments. Utility billing employees read water meters, prepare accurate water and wastewater bills, and collect money owed to the city, all while providing prompt and courteous customer service to the residents and businesses of our community and utility service area.

The performance measures for financial efforts focus primarily on providing accurate and timely information, monitoring and controlling unnecessary expense, and improving collection of revenues and monies owed to the City while providing a friendly atmosphere for our citizens and utility customers to conduct business with us. The following performance measures were contained in the SEA report:

1. Submit the annual audit to the Government Finance Officers Association for peer review and to qualify for the Certificate of Achievement Award for Excellence in Financial Reporting to ensure stewardship by maintaining financial data according to generally accepted governmental accounting and auditing principals. This year, the city is performing an additional project audit in addition to the standard fiscal year report. Generally this step provides reasonable assurance that the audit results are accurately presented in a readable and usable format. The Finance Department has received an award every year since 2002.

2. Process accounts payable invoices within 30 days. Accurate and timely payments help maintain the city’s credit and avoid wasted expense of late fees and penalties.

3. Monitor worker’s compensation claims with a duration over 13 weeks. The city’s focus on providing a safe work environment for employees is reflected by the small number of worker’s compensation claims and how quickly employees are able to return to work. While worker’s compensation incidents are an unfortunate occurrence, they are also an opportunity to review work habits and our environment for efficiencies and effectiveness of safety programs.

4. Deposit non-utility bill payments received by the Finance Department within one business day. Timely deposit of non-utility revenues, such as building permits and state shared fees, minimizes the time funds are idle which improves cash flow and optimizes interest earnings.

5. Increase percentage of customers paying via auto draft (ACH) to 30 percent. Automatic drafting of utility payments allows customers to keep control of the safe withdrawal from their bank account and saves time and postage. The city withdraws funds on the last billing due date, usually the 10th or 25th of the month, which eliminates late payments and lost mail. Funds are deposited electronically which reduces data entry errors, improves the City’s cash flow and allows office staff to focus on customer service improvements. One-fifth of our customers are enjoying the benefits of this program.

6. Replace utility meters from dial-type to touch pad meters. All meters run slow over time which artificially reduces the volume of water billed by the city. Replacement with touch pad meters that sends readings directly into hand held computers improves customer service with reliable meters and quickly and accurately measures water consumed and the corresponding revenue needed to run the water and wastewater operations.

Each department, employee and volunteer contributes to the successful operation of the city. The Finance Department serves to provide transparency, internal controls and the financial expertise needed for a complex and changing organization. To increase the readership, all financial reports as well as the City’s SEA report are available through the city’s internet site (cityofmarcoisland.com) and through notices provided in the City’s written and electronic communications.

Thank you for living and working in this community, and I appreciate your support and discussion of the issues and trends that we face.

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