PDS operations will be prepared to transition to a new model in the interest of greater accountability by the end of the current fiscal year (June 30, 2017). Whether that transition is authorized depends on staff work to be accomplished between now and the end of the fiscal year’s third quarter.
The organization is structured currently on a departmental basis. If authorized by the PDS Management Board and Council, it would move to a structure focused on programs administered today by the staff.
PDS has operated for several decades within a structure of four main departments—planning and zoning, infrastructure engineering, GIS, and building codes with services provided by an administrative staff. Being structured in this manner meant funding from a budget built around these categories and direction from a work program based on them.
And, while this structure has worked, it has made answering questions difficult about the various programs that are administered by staff. PDS executive director Dennis Gordon asserts that programs are more the focus of inquiries—be they funding or direction oriented—than are departments.
“People couldn’t care less about how our staff is divided,” he says. “They’re familiar with the programs we administer and, as such, frame their questions to us in those terms. We answer their questions eventually after pulling numbers from this department and that department and totaling them… a process that is time consuming and less than transparent.”
Gordon suggests the departmental focus also makes it difficult to compare revenues and expenditures for individual programs.
Take for example PDS’ One Stop Shop codes administration program that enforces building codes, property maintenance codes, and zoning codes for 16 of Kenton County’s 20 local governments. Answering questions about the revenue and expenditures of the program takes time and a calculator because those functions are located within two of PDS’ departments—planning and zoning and building codes.
Another example covers services provided to the Kenton County Planning Commission. Members of that 20-member board deal with staff from two departments as they pursue their responsibilities. Those are planning and zoning and infrastructure engineering. More examples exist.
Under a structure approved preliminarily by the PDS Council and Management Board, the four departments give way to four programming areas that cut across the PDS staff. They are Kenton County Planning Commission, the One Stop Shop program, GIS, and General Governmental Services.
“Our elected and appointed officials have approved this transition in concept; now it’s up to staff to provide the tools to make it work,” said Gordon. “Our first task is to slice and dice the current departmental budget—both revenues and expenditures—into one that’s structured along program lines. We’ll report our financial activities throughout FY17 in both formats so they can make the necessary comparisons.”
Gordon says the ongoing assessment of the programming focus will run through the third quarter of FY17—roughly next February. That’s when work on the FY18 budget begins. If PDS officials are happy with the transparency that results from the new structure, staff will build next year’s budget and work objectives around the four program areas. If they’re not, staff will begin looking for another way to provide the accountability and transparency everybody wants.
Gordon believes officials will like the result. “We’re optimistic this will work or we wouldn’t have exhibited the enthusiasm we’ve shown. It’s going to be a lot of work to be sure, particularly for our accountant who’s responsible for time reports and financial books. But, she was the one who called our attention to the ‘programming-focused’ approach after attending a national public finance officers’ conference a year ago.”
“She’s going into this with her eyes wide open,” Gordon concluded. “We’re confident this is a good move.”