A wonk, as defined in Google’s online dictionary, is “a person who takes an excessive interest in minor details of political policy.” And, for those who know me, my specific wonky area of interest was born out of my passion for all things financial.
Finding ways to save money and raise revenue, without raising taxes or firing employees, is among my favorite things to do. I have more than a decade of success doing this as a school board trustee, as an appointee to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, and in my current capacity working for the Town of Hempstead.
In my experience, businesses are more likely to invest in communities with well-run, efficient and transparent governments. To accomplish this, elected officials need to treat every penny as if it’s their own.
With that in mind, here are several ideas for good government that Long Island municipalities can incorporate to help attract capital:
Community Choice Aggregation: Your National Grid bill is composed of two parts, delivery and supply. The natural gas supply part of your bill is a market rate price that National Grid passes on to the consumer without a markup.
The New York State Association of Towns and the New York Conference of Mayors have created the New York Municipal Energy Program as a buying initiative that lets residents and municipalities save on their natural gas costs, through the supply part of their National Grid bill.
Through a CCA, NYMPEP’s chosen representative receives bids from dozens of third-party natural gas suppliers, picks the lowest one on behalf of residents and/or a municipality, and locks in pricing for 18 months if there is a greater than 10 percent discount to the average price over the last 12 months.
Not only could residents or governments save the equivalent of one month or more on their energy pricing, but residents can also opt out of the NYMEP plan at any time if prices drop. In other words, there is no risk and plenty of reward for the consumer.
Electronic Purchasing: Using an electronic platform to purchase goods and services cuts the time of procurement in half and increases the number of vendors bidding, due to a transparent and open process. Nassau County, to its credit, uses an eProcurement platform, SpecBid, with great success.
Pricing through an eProcurement platform often comes in at roughly 10 percent less than the traditional paper-based platform, and often even lower than New York state contract pricing, which is updated as infrequently as once a year.
Many items on government contracts are commodity-based products that fluctuate due to supply and demand, so eProcurement is a more current and competitive vehicle for government use.
Vendor Quick Pay: Although I just gave Nassau County kudos on eProcurement, they are notoriously slow to pay their bills. Many vendors who don’t have the luxury of waiting to be paid “factor” their invoices. Factors are entities that pay vendors immediately, but at a discount, making their money when they get paid in full at a later date by a municipality.
A new business model called vendor quick pay, has found a niche to operate profitably by partnering with government, creating a win for all involved. With vendor quick pay, a vendor signs up for the program in advance, gets paid on submission of an invoice within 24 hours, and the municipality and the vendor quick pay company split the discount, which is roughly 3 percent lower than the invoice.
The amount of the discount the municipality earns depends on how quickly they pay back the vendor quick pay company. For municipalities with efficient comptrollers, every million dollars paid this way could yield as much as $20,000 in found money.
Electronic Signatures: The world is quickly going digital, and paper contracts with a “wet” (or hand-written) signature are time-consuming and inefficient. Governments are starting to accept electronic signatures by using Docusign or similar vendors, who offer similar services.
Once governments accept the more efficient practice of electronic signatures, municipal employees will be spared the time-consuming task of walking invoices and contracts from department to department for signatures, thus saving both time and money.
Super Wonky Rapid-Fire Ideas:
• Unscrewing light bulbs in vending machines saves $100 per year in energy costs.
• Century Gothic Font uses 30 percent less toner than Arial, and toner is expensive.
• Shutting off workstations at night through a power strip saves over $150 per year per workstation.
There’s a multitude of revenue generating and money saving ideas in government that have nothing to do with raising taxes or firing employees. Once governments become motivated to stretch hard-earned taxpayer dollars through creative solutions, businesses will take notice and invest. All it takes is initiative from our elected officials.