Where the Waste is in Local Government

If information technology improvements in Easton alone can yield this much savings, imagine how much money could be saved if Northampton or Lehigh County did this on behalf of all their constituent municipal governments:

Caruso said he is looking toward a three-year license with Microsoft for Remote Desktop Services that would give city hall access to instant and free updates on Microsoft programs. In all, the upgrade would save city hall $400 to $500 per computer station.

Caruso also wants to end what he calls the city’s outdated bulk mail system.

“These printers are extremely expensive to have in place with consumables running and the paper it holds and the work it does,” he said. “We’re also talking about labor time for people, somebody running these printers, taking the mail and stuffing them into a folder and prepping them in the mail room. That’s like two people doing this over a three-day period.”

Caruso hopes to create a “reduction in postage” by creating a system by which bills and other mail can be digitally generated and uploaded to the printer, reducing manual labor and saving the city another $9,600.

Think about how much money will be wasted because most of the Lehigh Valley’s local governments consider themselves too small to ever invest in these kinds of productivity improvements. They’ll keep doing it the old way for decades, and this will all add up to millions of dollars in tax revenue you shouldn’t have had to pay. The minimum we should expect from the next County Executives is centralization of IT purchasing, if not administration, at the County level.

(via Kevin Kunzmann)


  1. Municipalities don’t generally lose, or save, money in small and meaningful amounts–they do it in big chunks at a time.

    As if this wasn’t the most predictable news story of 2013. “Suddenly flush”–the irony is delightful. http://www.mcall.com/news/local/allentown/mc-allentown-airport-pawlowski-offer-20130714,0,3901007.story

    • Jon Geeting says:

      So that’s the cynical response – I prefer to believe that we can make service provision more efficient and less redundant. At the same time, we can argue about the most appropriate level of taxation and the worthiness of different government expenditures. The observation that governments often waste money on stupid stuff isn’t a good reason to pooh-pooh achievable small efficiencies.

      As for the Allentown story, I think it’s worthwhile to buy that land, close the airport, rezone it for a higher and better use and then flip it to developers. You don’t think the city could turn a profit doing that?

  2. I’m actually quite in favor of small efficiencies and initiative in finding better ways of doing things. I don’t think “saving money” is much of a reason to do so (particularly since the real way to “save” money is to eliminate the position entirely) as the amounts are rather small. The reason to do these things is because it gives something more valuable–time. Why waste a public servant’s time on such menial tasks when the same person could be supervising, inspecting, or solving an issue for local residents?

    As for Queen City–in a small way I have taken part in a couple light industrial conversions and they are nearly always far more expensive than advertised–mostly due to environmental concerns (anywhere fuel is, problems follow)–and I see no mention of an environmental survey, other than the joking about the restaurant. I don’t really care much about the airport (I’m sure a solution can be found with ABE), but I don’t see the “easy money” side of it–unless the thing gets converted to another light industrial use, like warehouses (terrible idea for Lehigh Street). Either way–eight acres isn’t much, and I’d say build the facility elsewhere.

    My broader concern is that the city–as many thought–does not seem to see the pension issue as much of a problem anymore, yet has provided no accounting of what a public asset was leased for. This city shouldn’t feel “flush with cash” just yet.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Right, it increases productivity. That’s the savings. You can either pocket those productivity gains and provide the same level of service for less money and cut taxes a bit, or you can keep taxes level and up your level of service. I want to see all municipal services professionalized (no more part time police or volunteer fire services, professional county planning departments, etc) but I don’t want those professionalized services to cost a whole lot more in taxes.

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