Budget Comparisons: Is it apples to apples?

One of the reoccurring methods that we have used during budget deliberations is attempting to show how our budget compares to “like” jurisdictions.  It is our hope that making an apples to apples comparison with a similar  jurisdiction might help get us a larger apple.  Unfortunately, in making many comparisons, we find many oranges thrown into the mix.

The first hurdle  to overcome is realizing how an organization’s infrastructure is manifested on the budget sheet.  Many infrastructure items, like fleet management, Human Resources, and IT are covered by other departments.  If funds have not been allocated for those, but are covered by those department’s budgets, then you are not going to see the true picture of the cost burden that animal services poses to the community.

One of the best indications of determining costs is to create a per capita evaluation to determine how organizations compare.  In the early days of comparing statistics between organizations, we began to understand that far too many oranges were mixed into our fruit  salad  of statistical comparisons.  In Florida, I took part, working with other service areas to try to create a even  field of statistical comparisons as part of the Florida Benchmarking Consortium.  Although we found the per capita bases solid, we based our statistics on number of events per 1,000 population.  In this way, smaller organizations could be compared against larger organizations.

When I was working out a contract with another jurisdiction for animal control services in Salt Lake County, I encountered one jurisdiction that felt that they should only have to pay for the added cost of providing services to their city.  They knew that we already had an infrastructure in place and felt it unnecessary to pay into an existing infrastructure; thereby, not paying their “fair share”

This type of thinking is what goes on in the heads of government officials when they begin looking for a nonprofit to take over their animal control program.  They want to pay less and getting an organization willing to fundraise to keep services flowing is just what they are looking for to cut costs. Too often a nonprofit organization will become over eager to assume the task of running an animal control program, only to find that they have walked into a battle of funding the program fundraising long term.

It is a challenge when taking on budget comparisons.  It is important to see the picture as to how line items are allocated.