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Jeffco looking to change internal mindset, become more efficient

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By Corinne Westeman

When, not if, another recession happens, will Jefferson County still be financially stable? And, even now, while demand for some county services are increasing, are there ways to be more effective and efficient?

These are the questions Jeffco staff and elected officials are focused on answering as part of the Resilient Jeffco initiative.

Resilient Jeffco, which was the brainchild of the budget office, promotes county offices to collaborate with one another and outside entities, and to look for innovative and efficient ways to improve services.

“It’s bigger than fiscal impacts,” budget analyst Marlin McDaniel said. “It’s about changing (the internal) mindset and culture. ... The main goal is to spur creative thought, and through that, we hope that the budget is more sustainable and services are better.”

Holly Björklund, director of finance and IT, added that the initiative is focusing on the county becoming more proactive rather than reactive, and learning to anticipate what the customers’ needs are.

Resilient Jeffco also should allow the county to continuously adapt to changing demands for service, McDaniel and County Manager Don Davis described.

Pilot program

McDaniel and Mary O’Neil, director of budget and risk management, said they started discussing what would become Resilient Jeffco during summer 2017, as the staff was preparing the 2018 budget.

McDaniel described how, during the recent downturn, Jeffco customers saw the effects of not having resilient systems, such as longer wait times and staffing cuts. Resilient Jeffco looks to prevent that by becoming prepared for disruption of any kind, whether that be physical, technological or fiscal, he said.

“We’re looking to interview the various departments to find out where they want to go and what their challenges are,” he said, describing Resilient Jeffco’s pilot program. “That way we can unearth the common themes around those problems and find out what’s systemic. ... One solution to the same problems.”

For instance, as part of the pilot program, the budget office has started going over the county’s vehicle fleet management, researching ways to increase efficiencies, such as sharing vehicles.

Changing the culture

But while the pilot program is a start, it’s not the end goal, staff members emphasized.

It’s not solely up to the budget office to make other departments more resilient, they said. Rather Resilient Jeffco is more about initiating and promoting creative discussions within each department, and among departments, on finding ways to support services long-term.

The county commissioners, during an August 2017 staff briefing, described this as breaking down the “silos” that exist within Jeffco. They encouraged Jeffco and fire districts to join forces on equipment use and slash collection dates.

McDaniel described Resilient Jeffco’s overall efforts, saying, “We are trying to harness Jeffco’s greatest asset — its community and its workforce.”

Recent success

It’s also important to highlight Resilient Jeffco success stories as a way of promoting further discussion, the budget staff explained.

One example of recent success they gave was the Clerk & Recorder’s decision to give customers an estimate of their vehicle registration fees, so they’d have the right amount when they came to the motor vehicle office. This has saved time for both staff and customers, they said.

During the Board of County Commissioners’ 2018 budget discussions, Commissioner Casey Tighe said he thought that Resilient Jeffco was already having a positive impact on Jeffco.

“The rate of expenditure in the fund balance is lower than it was last year,” Tighe said at an Oct. 17 hearing. “So, I think we have made progress with Resilient Jeffco. ... And, the number of new (full-time employees) requested was lower this year than it was in years past.”

Both the staff and commissioners have voiced that there is still a lot of work to be done to make Jeffco more resilient, but even the smallest steps help.

“(Resilient Jeffco) isn’t about one big project; it’s about little experiences,” Björklund said.

During a Dec. 5 hearing, Commissioner Libby Szabo said, “We can take two approaches: we can proactively implement Resilient Jeffco ... or we can be forced to become more resilient.”