More Budget Foolishness Uncovered in Richmond

Umesh Dalal. Photo credit: Richmond.com

Umesh Dalal. Photo credit: Richmond.com

The City of Richmond could give a clinic on how to screw up budgets. The latest audit by City Auditor Umesh Dalal characterized previous budgets as “neither transparent nor accurate.”

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, among the gaffes uncovered for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2015:

  • The city budgeted only half the $1 million in licensing fees due Microsoft, even though the company’s software is critical to the operation of every department and city officials knew that they would continue using it.
  • The sheriff’s office budgeted $3.3 million less than necessary to pay for the medical services in  in contracts to pay for patients. It also under-budgeted for inmate food by more than $250,000.
  • But the city did budget for 41 positions that hadn’t been filled since Fiscal 2014. That created resources that could be raided as needed for other uses such as a transfer to the school system.

The good news is that the audit made 12 specific recommendations, which city administrators say they have either incorporated into the current budget or are in the process of doing so.

I can’t help the feeling that there is a thin green line (as in green eyeshade) between the City of Richmond and fiscal chaos.

— JAB

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7 responses to “More Budget Foolishness Uncovered in Richmond

  1. But the Redskins continue to be paid.

  2. Government is all about creating government jobs and buying votes.

    It took years of fighting by community organizations to get Fairfax County to removed long-term vacant positions from the budget. The money makes the late-summer budget review process full of additional funding.

    • Ditto in Prince William, it was only with Herculean effort that a small fraction of the long term vacancies were removed and the funding reprogrammed. It was part and parcel of the County Executive’s Carryover Spending Carnival that was an annual August event for more than a decade. The School Division has a similar slush fund, they refer to it as slippage in compensation and are just as intractable when one suggests giving that budget item a haircut.

  3. have to point out the benefits of open source here: willing to bet there are open source solutions that are equal to, if not better than the microsoft solutions rva gov relies on.
    technical support is a different beast, and i am sympathetic to critical infrastructure and/or large municipalities that simply cannot have down time. however that is no excuse for governments to not be adopting open source when/where they can.
    one last point from atop this soap box: when govs use proprietary tools, there are a few associated costs that are not inherently visible, which are passed on to users (citizens); for example, if a department releases anything in a microsoft word document format or adobe pdf, citizens are required to use their proprietary tools in order to simply read the document. not interact with, build upon, edit, etc., to simply read what the government is saying, you need these licenses. governments could just as easily adopt open office or libre office, two competing open source solutions to ms office, and publish in their open data formats, and there will never be a cost passed down to the user.

    one real life example of this from the commonwealth: a few years back one of our illustrious state agencies, i think it was lmi (labor market information) but not 100%, released some “open” data. running firefox in ubuntu, i was shocked to see that after the press release, there was literally nothing on the page to download. after going back and forth with them regarding this, i began to wonder if it was a browser issue. sure enough, i fired up internet explorer and then i could see the datasets. tying government records/services/interactions to a browser/operating system is extremely poor governance and a disservice to citizens. but it gets worse.
    upon trying to download the datasets, i wasn’t getting the options explained in the introduction; furthermore, the datasets that i could get were not formatted correctly and may as well have not been there.
    contacted tech support again, only to have both of us stumped as to what was going on….until i started thinking bout the proprietary browser usage; then it dawned on me. the reason none of it worked was because not only was the data tied to the browser, it was tied to ms office. and all of it is only functional from the windows operating system.
    sorry for the rant, but that is the worst possible way to go about setting up any public/civic infrastructure. and state/local virginia govs continue to do this daily.
    it is mind boggling/frustrating.

  4. so I have a question. If a county has a AAA rating – is that an indication that they have things pretty much together or is it a fallacy?

    re: open source, proprietary , etc,… Nothing wrong with open source as long as you have a few professionals on staff who know how to properly configure it so that it does adequately support -the users (customers).

    Some govt mistake jack-leg geeks for actual professional though. Good (competent) IT help is not cheap but it saves enormous money because they usually DO KNOW when to zig and when to zag on open vs proprietary software.

    PDF is pretty common now days… the gold standard for providing folks with docs they can read.

    • I agree with Larry on his point about .pdf. Adobe has the .pdf reader available as a free download. It does not cost me anything to read of .pdf document. Where Abode makes its money is the license to create a .pdf, which many places want to/need to do to ensure that the document is not changed once it leaves their control.
      Mr. Bowden, I agree and I disagree with you on open-source vs. proprietary. At home, my wife has Microsoft Office loaded onto her computer, and I use Open Office. I have to say, my documents look like they are made on a 2nd rate software package (they are just OK) but hers looks fantastic. If find just OK acceptable, Open Office is for you. If you want to produce professional looking documents, go with Microsoft Office, even though it is more expensive. I have a feeling that the folks in Richmond City procurement remember the old Computer Science adage: Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM products.

  5. Well – don’t look now but many schools are going with GOOGLE DOCs .. . the rent is just too damn high (as they say) for MS Office.

    Further -they’re switching from Windows and Apple machines to Chromebooks… at much lower costs… such that it’s the difference between most kids getting a computer versus not enough to go around and they have to “share” them. Of course now, I’m hearing that schools encourage BYOD – Bring your own device1!

    But here’s my gripe (and folks have heard it before):

    When I was still working – I’d have to read young folks resumes.

    Invariably – they’d be meticulous and careful with the paper, the fonts, the formatting, etc… those resumes looked sharp!

    But the English and grammar truly sucked! And this is coming from a guy whose awful grammar you see here all the time in BR … the resumes were WORSE!

    I was and am APPALLED by the level of competency of the kids coming out of High School and College these days – and it’s not just grammar – they don’t know the meaning of words EITHER.. they use WRONG words … to describe concepts, processes, events, etc!

    I’m guilty also in informal writing – but if I was writing a resume – I’d look it over and have someone else look at it , etc..

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