QUEENSBURY - Athletes, salespeople and CEOs are paid based on their performance, and department chiefs in Warren County may also be, if a performance-based pay proposal is enacted.
Warren County Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty suggested to county budget committee members Feb. 11 that they consider the adoption of a tiered pay-raise system for department heads which would award pay raises based on meeting performance goals.
Geraghty proposed pay raises based on accomplishing objectives like spending less money than budgeted or reducing employee overtime.
"The methods of assessment would be measurable in this system," Geraghty said. "I view this as an incentive system that will require the department heads to run the county more successfully."
While performance-based pay in government is revolutionary, Geraghty proposed veering from tradition in a second way.
Geraghty has been exploring a three-year budgetary forecasting process that would produce a prepared budget several years before it is to be enacted.
"We can't keep writing budgets line-item by line-item," Geraghty said Wednesday. "We would estimate budgetary increases based on an overall percentage rate and then only have to tweak it later on."
Proponents of the three-year forecasting system argued this week that the budgetary process has become far too laborious and inefficient, and has produced unnecessary financial crises.
This past month, Warren County officials were stunned when county Treasurer Frank O'Keefe told them the county had an urgent cash shortfall, and the board of supervisors authorized borrowing up to $4.5 million to cover unanticipated shortfalls this year.
O'Keefe had said that his office hadn't been aware of the necessary payments for expenses of the ongoing Hague sewer project. Republican Supervisors have blasted O'Keefe, a Democrat, for not anticipating cash needs, and for giving county officials widely varying figures for cash balances and reserves.
County supervisors said this week that long-range financial planning might help avoid such problems.
A two-year budgetary system has been in place in Ontario County for five years, officials said.
"This system takes away all of the surprises from the budget creation process," Ontario County Board of Supervisors Chairman Theodore Fafinski said Friday. "Granted, the previously prepared budget requires a few tweaks, but it forces us to plan for upcoming shortfalls and expenditures much earlier than we ever did before."
Fafinski said that the hardest part of the multi-year budgetary system takes place in the first year of the new process.
"Our initial mistake was that we didn't look at the second year hard enough - you have to have the departments prepare their individual budgets a year in advance," Fafinski said. "Since, the method has improved - we are now far more efficient and prepared for large expenditures."
The recently adopted 2009 Ontario County budget required only minor adjustments associated with Medicaid reimbursement rates, Fafinski said. One positive outcome is that impending tax rates are known a year prior to the budget's adoption. Further, the multi-year approach allows a county to be more prepared to deal with large expenditures, like capital projects, he said.
"Everyone must be ready to look into the future," Fafinski said. "The key to efficient government is to never be surprised and now we rarely are - if we see a potential shortfall in 2010 then we prepare in 2009."
Geraghty said this week he was considering the performance goals as a way to promote to greater accountability from the Warren County Department heads.
Last fall, supervisors proposed a tiered pay-raise system for county employees - smaller raises for the higher wage earners - that would have been based on arbitrary earnings figures. This idea lost traction as many supervisors feared drastic political ramifications.
The performance-pay concept highlights the change-of-culture approach recently of the county board of supervisors, which has focused on improving efficiency and reducing operating costs.
"Most of the department heads are getting it," Geraghty said. "If we have department heads not operating the way we want them to, it is up to the board of supervisors to sit them down and work the issues out."