SALEM - City Council's Committee of the Whole heard an overview Wednesday about a proposed performance audit which could carry a possible price tag of up to $71,700 and could begin in March if given the go-ahead.
James Pyers, Senior Performance Project Manager with the state Auditor's Office, reviewed the process, the letter of arrangement explaining the scope of the project and the methodology, besides answering questions from council members.
"What we're trying to strive for is to give the city an opportunity to improve," he said.
The Finance Committee of city council voted in June to pursue a loan from the Leverage for Efficiency, Accountability and Performance (LEAP) Fund to defer the cost of a performance audit aimed at studying city government operations for possible ways to save money. Ideally, the money would be paid back with savings identified through audit recommendations.
Last fall, council voted 4-3 against accepting LEAP funding and going forward with a performance audit, but some of the council members who defeated the issue are no longer on council. The price this year is a little higher because of the wider scope, which now includes the Utilities Department and the Parks Department.
No action was taken at this time, with plans calling for a review and tightening of the terms of the agreement, most notably the conditions of paying back the cost and then providing a written response to the state Auditor's Office regarding the clarification of the terms. Plans also call for contacting the Parks Department and Utilities Department to put in writing the plan to share the costs for the audit if savings are found in their departments.
Pyers called the performance audit an economy and efficiency audit, saying the auditors will be looking at whether there's a way to streamline government activities. He said they'll review agreed-upon areas and benchmark the city's performance against standards and best practices and how the city performs compared to peer cities.
According to the scope outlined in the letter of arrangement, the state will look at administration operations, public safety, public works and parks and recreation. Interviews will be conducted with personnel, data will be collected and the reliability of the data and information will be tested. The city will have input to make sure the base information is correct.
Pyers said before the audit comes out, they'll make sure the city knows what's in the report so there are no surprises. The city will also have input regarding the peer cities selected for the comparisons. Pyers said they'll make it as much of a collaborative process as possible, but keeping in mind that it's an independent look at how the city operates.
Several questions were raised regarding the payback of the cost and how it's figured out with the identified savings from implementing recommendations and whether the state takes into account areas that aren't in the city's control. The agreement noted any savings identified would exclude negotiated compensation. If the savings identified don't cover the entire cost, the difference will be waived.
Mayor John Berlin said he would like the state to find $71,700 worth of savings, but said he didn't think enough would be found.
"I believe the 1 percent tax rate we have here in town is being spent wisely. We do what we can with what we're given," he said.
Berlin said they'll have the report to use as a benchmark. He said it's not just about performance and efficiency, but about accountability to the citizens.
Both Councilmen Jeff Cushman and K. Bret Apple questioned what happens if there's a disagreement over the facts or the interpretation of the facts.
Pyers said they'll be taking the numbers from the city and verifying that those numbers are reliable and that information they receive is reliable.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org