Tony McDowell, Budget & Financial Reporting Manager, City of Asheville

NCLGBA: The People Who Balance NC Communities

We invite you to hear from North Carolina’s local government budget professionals who believe in the value of public service and consider it an honor to bring value to their communities in their respective roles. Twice a month we will be highlighting NCLGBA members who are an important part to the balance in their communities.

Today we will hear from Asheville’s Tony McDowell.

The City of Asheville, with a population of 90,918 (2016 est.), is the largest city in western North Carolina, the 10th largest in the State, and is the county seat of Buncombe County.  The City is the regional center for health care, manufacturing, transportation, banking, professional services and retail trade.  Other leading industry sectors include tourism, government, hospitality and food services.  Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other U.S. City, and is the home to the east coast production facilities for both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium.   The City is surrounded by mountains, many with elevations above 5,000 feet.  In its July 2017 issue, Outside magazine named Asheville as one America’s twenty-five best towns ever, specifically citing Asheville as the best place to spend a summer day. The City’s total Adopted Budget for FY 2017-18 is $175.4 million, which includes a General Fund budget of $120.7 million.

What was the biggest challenge facing your community this fiscal year and how did you address as part of the budget development process?
Asheville faced a number of high profile challenges during the most recent budget process. On the revenue side of the budget, the FY 2017-18 process followed a reappraisal of property in Buncombe County which prompted a lot of discussion around the property tax rate. Average property values in the City increased around 30%, so there was a great deal of concern about the impact of property taxes on the overall affordability of housing in the City especially since voters had already approved a General Obligation (G.O.) Bond package in November 2016 that carried with it a property tax rate dedication. In the end, staff was able to deliver a budget to City Council that included a revenue-neutral property tax rate for general operations and only a 3.5 cent increase for the G.O. Bonds.

Even with adoption of a revenue neutral tax rate, the City was still able to include additional funding for two key focus areas during the budget process – transit and public safety. Despite a reduction in federal grant funding, we were able to fund key service expansions in transit, provide funding for a new transit management contract, and begin addressing the need to replace an aging fleet of buses. The public safety budget included the addition of 15 police officer positions that will allow for the creation of a new downtown unit. This was the first addition of patrol officers in approximately 10 years.

The budget process this year also included the highest level of citizen involvement in the 19 years that I’ve been here in Asheville. The public hearing that we held in June lasted almost four hours, and the meeting rooms were full for all of our work sessions as well. It was exciting to see so many citizens actually interested in the budget!

What drew you to a career in public service?
I wanted a career in which I was not just earning a paycheck but one in which I felt like I was making a difference in the community that I lived in, and working in local government budgeting is perfect for that. I live in the City of Asheville, about ten minutes from downtown, so I can actually see the projects and services we fund impacting my own neighborhood every day.

What career advice do you wish someone would have shared with you when you started your first local government budgeting job?
Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn more about local government – whether it’s attending classes at the School of Government, getting involved with the NC Local Government Budget Association or getting out in the field to learn more about your own organization’s operations. If you have career aspirations to be a city or county manager, there is no better place to start your career than in budget.

How do you create public value for your organization?
I create public value by striving to be a positive representation of a local government employee.

What excites you most about FY 2018 in your community and your department?
Three years ago our City Council dedicated 3 cents on the property tax rate to enhance our Capital Improvement Program, and we are now beginning to see the positive impact of that investment in our community. The City recently completed a project around the New Belgium brewery in our River Arts District. The City constructed greenways, added sidewalks, and made other infrastructure improvements in that area to support the brewery and its operations. In addition, the City is getting very close to beginning the construction phase of the $50+ million River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project (RADTIP), a multi-modal transportation project that includes the installation of sidewalks, street trees, public art, bike lanes and greenways. Also, on November 8, 2016, Asheville voters approved a $74 million general obligation (GO) bond referendum for Housing Affordability, Parks and Recreation, and Streets, Sidewalks and Bike Lanes. It’s the City’s first successful GO bond referendum since 1986. I’m excited about working with departmental staff from across the City to begin implementing this new program in FY 2018.

Specifically in the Budget Division, I’m very excited to begin an update to the Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) model that we first implemented two years ago and explore ways of better integrating the PBB data into budget decision making. We are also going to be working to develop a more robust multi-year forecast model; and finally, we have several City Council members who are interested in us incorporating Participatory Budgeting into next year’s budget process.

If you didn’t work in budgeting, what would you do?
Great question, and one I don’t have an easy answer to. I love working with numbers, doing financial and statistical analysis, and then telling the story behind the numbers; so my guess is that I would probably work in a field where I could utilize those skills.

Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.
I enjoyed playing table tennis (ping pong) as a kid, and have recently gotten back into playing. I joined a table tennis club here in Asheville about a year and a half ago. It’s a great way to relieve stress during the budget season and I actually won 2nd place in a City of Asheville employee tournament last fall.

Also, I’ve always been a big music fan – anyone who is a friend of mine on Facebook already knows that about me. I love seeing live music, especially in small clubs, and I’m lucky enough to live in a place that provides ample opportunities to indulge my musical interests – in the last year I’ve been to around 35 live music shows.

 

Lesley Reder, Budget Analyst, City of Concord

NCLGBA: The People Who Balance NC Communities

We invite you to hear from North Carolina’s local government budget professionals who believe in the value of public service and consider it an honor to bring value to their communities in their respective roles. We are highlighting NCLGBA members who are an important part to the balance in their communities.

Today we will hear from the City of Concord’s Lesley Reder.

The City of Concord is a vibrant community that honors heritage and tradition while racing towards the future. Since 1990, the total population of Concord has nearly tripled in size from 30,844 to 87,130 people. In the same time period, the square mileage grew from 23 to 62 miles. The continued growth and expansion of the City is supported by our comprehensive infrastructure and services, all of which help enhance the quality of life for Concord’s residents. Visit www.concordnc.gov to learn more!

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What was the biggest challenge facing your community in the 2017 fiscal year and how did you address it as part of the budget development process?
With the City beginning to grow again, balancing the needs of City departments to handle growth with the realities of available revenues was particularly challenging. After reducing the budget and “doing more with less” for almost a decade, departments had a wide variety of needs. For FY17, the City added 36 new staff and provided funding for six major Parks & Recreation capital projects.

What drew you to a career in public service?
As long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in civics and government. Growing up, my mother used to have me fill out a questionnaire at the end of each school year. One of the questions was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There were little check boxes for things like “Vet”, “Astronaut”, “Doctor”, “Teacher”, etc. I always selected the only government-related box – “President”, because I knew that was where I wanted to be. My strongest elementary school memory is related to the 1992 election (I was a Perot voter in case you were curious). I was also the incoming freshman at my high school who was most excited about taking Economic, Legal, and Political Systems.

I briefly considered law school after college, but soon realized that I should listen to my inner government-nerd and get an MPA. The MPA led me to budget, which led to me Concord!

What career advice do you wish someone would have shared with you when you started your first local government budgeting job?
Don’t be afraid to speak up when you have something valuable to add to a discussion. You may be the youngest/greenest/newest person in the room, but if you can provide insight on a decision or have additional information, sharing it with your superiors in a respectful way is never a bad thing.

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What excites you most about what you have been working on during FY 2017 in your community and your department?
Growth! I began my career in Concord in June 2007 – barely two weeks before Philip Morris announced the phased closure of its 2.4 million square foot manufacturing plant in Concord. Approximately 2,500 employees were laid-off and the City lost $4 million dollars in revenue (taxes, utility revenues, etc). The recession and its aftermath defined the next eight years of my time in Concord.

The City is aware of more than 800 homes to be built in the near future, with the potential for more many more. Concord Regional Airport has been expanding its reach to commercial air service and is the process of building a new terminal to handle the increased passenger traffic. In FY17, Concord will be adding 36 new positions to bring service levels back to where they need to be, including public safety staff for the new terminal building.

If you didn’t work in budgeting, what would you do?
My husband and I have a long-standing semi-serious joke about quitting our jobs and opening a bagel shop. If we weren’t such terrible morning people, I think we really would do it!

Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.
My first job ever was at the Carolina Renaissance Festival. For a few weeks each fall during high school and college, I put on my sturdiest boots, laced up a corset, and spoke in the worst faux-British accent imaginable. My job was officially called “game wench” and I spent my weekends trying to convince people to pay for the chance to hit plastic ‘’froggs” into wooden buckets.

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Josh Edwards & the Center for Advanced Hindsight Discuss Innovation in Local Government

NCLGBA President and City of Durham Strategy & Performance Manager Josh Edwards recently participated in the “Sanford School @ Duke” podcast to discuss innovation in local government. This episode focuses on the use of behavioral economics in local government as previously discussed at the 2016 Summer Conference and this post calling for proposals for local government project proposals.

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Listen to the full episode here: https://soundcloud.com/sanford-school-duke/ryan-smith-gov-inn-master

From the episode description: “Guest host Ryan Smith, Senior Director of Innovation at the Sanford School, discusses local government innovation with Mariel Beasley of the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke. Mariel and Ryan are collaborating on a new course on the topic and the City of Durham is working with the Center to improve their own processes. The founders of a Durham, N.C.-based Idea Lab join the discussion.”

 

 

2016 Summer Conference Highlight: Ashley C. Qualls

Ashley C. Qualls is a Budget Analyst with the City of Asheville.  She is also the recipient of one of NCLGBA’s two scholarships to the 2016 Summer Conference.  These are her conference highlights.

I greatly enjoyed attending the 2016 NCLGBA Summer Conference in Wrightsville Beach as a scholarship recipient. The Conference had a variety of fun and informative sessions on how budget professionals can make positive impacts on their organization. The two general sessions by UNC School of Government professor Dr. Willow Jacobson (Shared Vision) and Cleveland County Manager Jeff Richardson (Growing Leadership Capacity) were two of my favorite sessions. Leadership development is a topic that has always interested me personally and academically, and the general sessions demonstrated ways budget professionals can be leaders in their organization regardless of their (at times unclear) position in the organizational hierarchy. The general sessions were also very interactive and gave me an opportunity to discuss the topics with other attendees.

 
Jeff Richardson, Cleveland County Manager | Dr. Willow Jacobson, UNC School of Government

Local government has a reputation for being a profession resistant to change, stuck in “the way we’ve always done it.” Through this conference and other networking opportunities, the people working in budget have always stood out as constantly looking for ways to improve themselves, their organization, and their communities. Regardless of their formal title or level of authority, they show leadership in their work ethic, initiative, ability to collaborate, and willingness to approach a problem in new ways. “Budget people” are rarely doing only budget work. They bring a variety of skills to the table, and they hold themselves to the highest standard. I look forward to more opportunities to learn from and with my fellow budgeteers.

Justin Amos, Strategy & Budget Analyst, City of Charlotte & 2nd Vice President, NCLGBA Board

NCLGBA: The People Who Balance NC Communities

We invite you to hear from North Carolina’s local government budget professionals who believe in the value of public service and consider it an honor to bring value to their communities in their respective roles. We are highlighting NCLGBA members who are an important part to the balance in their communities.

Today we will hear from the City of Charlotte’s Justin Amos.

The City of Charlotte, located in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, is the largest city between Baltimore, Maryland and Jacksonville, Florida. The City is in the Piedmont Region of the Carolinas, two hours east of the Appalachian Mountains and three and one-half hours west of the Atlantic Ocean. Location and growth reinforce the City’s role as a regional center in the Southeast. Charlotte was incorporated in 1768, became the county seat in 1774, presently covering 310 square miles of the 527 square miles in Mecklenburg County. The City referred to as the “Queen City” owes its name to German born Queen Charlotte, wife of England’s King George III, and the County’s name to her birthplace of Mecklenburg. The City’s vision is to be a model of excellence that puts citizens first and makes this a community of choice for living, working, and leisure. The City’s mission is to ensure the delivery of quality public services and to promote the safety, health, and quality of life of its citizens.

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What was the biggest challenge facing your community this fiscal year and how do you see it impacting the budget development process for FY 2017?
Charlotte faced a $21.7M gap in revenues going into FY2016. This was a result of a combination of factors that included the loss of BPLT ($18.1M) and the loss of property tax revenue from the recently completed review by Mecklenburg County of the 2011 Property Assessment revaluation that resulted from higher declines at the end of the review process than had been projected. This resulted in reducing the City’s total property tax revenue by $10.8M. While the losses came from two of the City’s main sources of revenue, Charlotte continues to grow and place growing service demands on City infrastructure.

The losses were addressed by reduction in city services ($2.3M), reduction in expenses within departments ($4.5M), reducing market compensation increase to city employees in FY2016 (3% increase reduced to 1.5% for a savings of $2.6M), increase in regulatory user fees ($1M), shift of $2.1M of expenses into other appropriate funds outside of GF; 1 cent property tax increase, and the elimination of 101.50 frozen FTEs, avoiding layoffs however.

While the revenue picture in Charlotte has improved going into FY2017, the City continues to face the burdens of increased service demands with incremental growth in property and sales taxes. City Council has made public safety the top priority next year, and we are proposing to add 75 positions (50 sworn officers, 25 civilian) for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and 18 firefighter positions for a new ladder company for the Charlotte Fire Department.  The City Manager presented his recommended budget to City Council on Monday, May 2nd and Council will vote on Monday, June 13th on the final FY2017 Operating and FY2017-2021 Community Investment Plan.

What drew you to a career in public service?
My parents have been and continue to be the biggest influence in my life. My dad taught 8th grade American history until he retired five years ago. My mother has worked as a nursing administrator at Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro since 1979. From an early age they both instilled in me the value of public service and the impact one can have on your community. I pretty much knew what I wanted to do since I was 8 years old, about the same age that I figured out that I wouldn’t make the NBA or enjoy a career that involved math or science… lucky for me we now have Excel.

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What career advice do you wish someone would have shared with you when you started your first local government budgeting job?
I would tell them not to worry about figuring out your career path as soon as you start your first job. You will have a long and varied career, one that hopefully will be enjoyable, fun, exciting and challenging. You will meet so many wonderful people in our profession that it is more important to build relationships, to learn from your peers, to do some networking, and to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Do not be afraid to network and reach out to people, they will support you throughout your career. If you concentrate your energy on building relationships and recognizing opportunities, then your career path will be one full of challenging issues, a wealth of contacts and relationships to depend on in times both good and bad, and you will leave your mark on your community—which is the reason most of us got into public service.

What excites you most about what you have been working on during FY 2016 in your community and your department?
In Charlotte, FY 2016 has been a year full of interesting projects, new department assignments, and challenges. Charlotte continues to build out the state’s only functional light rail system, and the $1.1B extension to UNC-Charlotte should be nearly complete by 2017. We opened the first segment of Charlotte’s street car line in July and continue to invest in bike lanes, sidewalks, and greenways. As a part of the 2014 bond package, we are preparing for a 26.2 mile greenway trail (Cross Charlotte Trail) that will run the length of Mecklenburg County, from Pineville to the Cabarrus County line near the Charlotte Motor Speedway. When it is finished, hopefully I can help organize the City’s first greenway/trail based marathon.

Charlotte’s Budget & Evaluation office was recently merged with several other financial related departments to form a new Management & Financial Services department. We continue to find ways to better integrate our duties and to continue to serve the organization by being the source for budget, strategy and performance related issues.

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If you didn’t work in budgeting, what would you do?
Growing up I wanted to be a history teacher (like my dad) and high school football coach. If not that, then I’d like to work for a professional sports franchise (if I couldn’t participate).  When I retire, I’d like to learn to brew beer and open my own brewery somewhere in the mountains. It would be called Famous Amos Ales.

Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.
I’ve run 8 marathons and plan to complete by 9th this January at Walt Disney World. I’ve traveled to 48 of 50 states (still need to visit North Dakota and Alaska) but I’ve been a Tar Heel since I was born (my mom still has my baby blue shirt that I came home from the hospital). I’ve never lived anywhere else, and don’t plan to move anytime soon

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