IVGID GM’s Corner: Accountability key to a successful community (opinion)
IVGID GM’s Corner
Accountability. It is what we all expect from every level of government — it is also what we expect from our spouses, children, employees, employers and every service provider we access.
I’ve purposely spent all of my career working in local government because I believe local government is the most accountable to our citizens.
Our proximity to all of you makes for a much better understanding of your needs. Our proximity also makes it much easier for all of you to communicate your needs and concerns directly to us.
I also believe local government is effective and efficient because we are in competition for our citizens. If we aren’t accountable, citizens can find a local entity that does a better job of meeting their needs. And just as in the private sector, there is plenty of competition vying to serve you.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 35,000 municipalities and townships, more than 12,000 school districts and over 3,000 counties in the United States. And there are over 37,000 of us special districts as well.
That is a lot of competition! It also is a treasure trove of information. Nearly every one of these entities has a website that provides access to their budget, along with their programs and services.
Access to all of this information allows us to better serve you. If an entity is finding a more cost-effective way to provide services, we can learn more about their methods with a couple of mouse clicks. If our citizens are interested in a new program, a quick search can yield best practices from across the country. We can learn the pros and cons of that new program and determine whether or not it can succeed in Incline Village.
We spend a lot of time reviewing industry standards and best practices, both locally and nationally to make sure we are providing the most cost effective menu of services possible.
Our Financial Transparency page — yourtahoeplace.com/ivgid/financial-transparency/budget — now includes a section entitled “Dashboards.” These Dashboards include performance measures for each District operation. Each measure not only provides a data point for our local performance and our performance targets, in many cases we also include an industry benchmark.
Industry benchmarks tell us how we are doing compared to our competition.
For example, the average water utility annually spends $361 per customer for operations and maintenance. We spent $234 per customer. On the service side of utilities, our rate of wastewater technical service complaints was one-tenth of the industry average.
Obviously, industry-wide standards don’t always allow us to factor in our local conditions. For example, our wastewater cost of operation per customer is slightly below the industry standard. But it would be much lower than the standard if it was only compared to agencies with elevation changes and a requirement to pump all of its effluent out of the District.
That is why we spend plenty of time working with our partner agencies around the Lake to ensure we are following best practices for the Tahoe Basin. And there is a simple way to see if we are competing well within the region — it is called utility rates.
Our proposed water and sewer rates are within pennies of being the lowest in the region and are nearly twenty percent below the regional average. For the last full billing year, our customers paid an average of $254 less than the average Tahoe Basin resident. That is a $2 million savings to our ratepayers.
In this year’s budget, we are continuing to improve our service levels and proposing a flat facility fee for the eighth year in a row. I believe this is also a reflection of our desire to follow best practices and ensure that our residents are getting the highest level of service at the lowest cost possible.
In a previous column, I provided data on our closest competitor for recreation services — Tahoe Donner. They are following our lead, and for the first time in at least a decade, they are not raising their fee to their homeowners. Prior to this year, they had raised their fee nearly 40 percent during the time our fee had remained flat. Their fee is now more than double our $830 at $1,900 and provides far less services than our Facility Fee.
I would encourage all of you to review our Dashboards; we update them on a quarterly basis to maximize our accountability to our community.
“GM’s Corner” is a recurring column from IVGID General Manager Steve Pinkerton, who discusses issues and offers updates regarding various district matters. He may be reached for comment at email@example.com.