Knowledge is citizen power

By: Kevin Hanley, Guest Column
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“Knowledge is power,” so noted Sir Francis Bacon, the 16th Century English philosopher, statesman and scientist. Bacon’s insightful statement should serve as a guidepost for every citizen and elected official who wants our federal, state and local governments to be as cost-effective as possible.
Measuring the performance of a business is straightforward. The bottom line – as shown in the profit, loss and cash flow statements – is either black indicating success or red indicating failure. 
Business owners can’t hide from reality. 
In contrast, measuring the performance of government is like the weather - everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it. A federal government that has over 47 job training programs but doesn’t know if they are resulting in people actually getting jobs is absurd and unacceptable. 
Similarly, the vast majority of state and local governments, stuck in the past, don’t measure their performance.
The City of Auburn is still operating under the old fashioned concept of just measuring how much money we spend. We measure inputs, not outcomes. 
For instance, if you read the City of Auburn’s 2012-13 Operating Budget, you’ll see that the Police Department will spend a total $3.349 million of your tax dollars this year, with $3.008 million for wages and benefits, $237,000 for services and supplies and $104,500 in capital outlay. 
What does this limited amount of information tell Auburn residents about the quality of policing services that they are receiving? It gives citizens no information about the areas in which our police department excels.  Nor does it point out areas where we fall short and need to enhance public safety. 
Auburn residents own their city government but without specific knowledge about how effectively it operates, they and their elected representatives don’t have the power to intelligently set budget priorities within the limits mandated by the state government.
That is about to change. At the direction of the Auburn City Council, council members and staff are working hard to create a performance-based budget (PBB) for 2013-14.  We’ve held public hearings so far examining potential performance measures for the police, fire and public works departments.  
These performance measures not only provide the city council and public with data about how the city reacts to problems but what efforts are being undertaken to proactively prevent problems. 
For instance, measuring the performance of the police department should not only examine how we track and address violent and property crimes, dangerous speeding, animal service calls, graffiti, and blight-causing code violations, but what efforts we are making toward facilitating Neighborhood Watch, lowering elder, domestic and substance abuse, and alerting merchants of fraud. We should measure the effectiveness of our community-policing program. 
For our fire department, we shouldn’t only track the number of annual emergency responses (1,696), our average response time (6 minutes, 13 seconds), but also the extent to which our department, in conjunction with the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council and neighborhoods, are proactively removing dangerous levels of wood fuel (89 acres).  
For our public works department, we should not only annually measure how much street paving we completed (50,000 square feet), potholes repaired (15 tons) and the length of creeks cleared of debris (4.5 miles) but also the length of creeks still uncleared (1.7 miles) and the amount of pharmaceutical products (1197 pounds) that city staff proactively prevented from being flushed into the Auburn Ravine.
Knowledge is citizen power. Creating a performance-based budget will give residents and their elected representatives the tools they need to better identify budget priorities and maximize the levels of services provided for Auburn residents now and into the future.
Kevin Hanley is the Mayor of Auburn