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We all know the saying that the only things certain in life are Death and Taxes.  Well, my March blog article was on Cancer. This April one is on Taxes.

The word “taxes” spurs all kinds of emotions. Most of us have experienced the whole range of them (what would happen if we take out the “n”)?

My early career was as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard (Federal government). My  last 15 years have been helping local governments. Both are focused on delivering services to the American public. Both use taxes to fund their operations.

My partner Ellen used to tell our classes “I’m just like you. I want the maximum services for the minimum taxes”. Finding that balance is a constant challenge for the local governments I work with. Some engage and challenge their citizens to help in identifying that balance.

The City of Round Rock, Texas used an on-line tool to involve citizens in budgetary decision making and service provision.  Asked them to rate services and assign budgetary support based on a forced choice model (identifying the level of service as a “Corolla”, “Camry”, or “Lexus”).

HOW WILL WE?: There are other aspects to this issue. People are generally more accepting of paying their taxes if they believe they are necessary and reasonable. I help local government leaders create a clear strategic plan and management system … then align the budget to that. This matters because people can more clearly see the organizational priorities and how the funding allocations support that.

HOW DID WE?: Beyond saying how we plan to use the funding, we should also clearly describe how we HAVE used the funding. More and more jurisdictions are doing that – often using pie charts.

SERVICE DELIVERY: But, what it really comes down to is “Do I feel I get the services I’m paying for in an  effective and efficient manner?”  Local government leaders have a duty to bring the right people into their organization, care about them, and equip them to excel at doing the organization’s work.

During my last Coast Guard assignment, I found and posted in my office a newspaper headline that said “Lest we forget”. We are servants of not only the public’s trust, but also their money.

Hopefully, I’ve painted a picture. It takes collaboration between several groups to make the intent of taxes successful in real life. 

  • Councils/Boards of Supervisors create the strategic direction with citizen and staff input
  • City/County Managers propose budgets which align with and support that vision and desired level of service delivery
  • Leadership (multiple levels) uses various methods to communicate how the funding will support the strategy and how the funding was used, and
  • ALL of the City/County staff is dedicated to delivering the best quality and timeliness of services

Our governments (Federal, state, and local) need taxes to perform their mission(s).  My call to action is to take a systemic approach to ensure we are treating this as essential, not as a necessary evil.

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