Cost Accounting in Local Government

Who’s in charge of the DIF Calculation Process

Sometimes I get a bit envious of my partners Rick and Eric. They primarily undertake the operations (fee) service costing and Cost Allocation Plan efforts offered by Revenue & Cost Specialists.  I envy them because they always know what department their primary contact will come from the finance operation.  I conduct the Master Facilities Plan (MFP) and Development Impact Fee (DIF) Nexus and Calculation Reports and typically find myself assigned to someone from anywhere in the agency to function as my City-wide contact.  While just about every department provides important and required information to the DIF calculation process, I am trying to determine who best fills the job of project coordinator for such an effort.  Three of the candidates fall within central management (City Manager’s office, Finance and Planning) and the remaining candidates fall within line operations (Public Safety, Public Works, or Community Services). Line departments contain what I like to refer to as the agency’s infrastructure managers, in that they are responsible for developing and maintaining one (or more) of the agency’s infrastructures. An infrastructure’s capacity defines the level of service provided by that infrastructure.  As an example, the City’s Circulation Engineer is responsible for determining the required arterial lane miles and traffic signals.  The Fire Chief is responsible for determining the number, size and location of the agency’s fire stations.  Infrastructure managers benefit the most from a MFP and DIF calculation process.

City Manager’s Office – This can generally work well, considering that it is the City Manager, but that office can also be pretty busy and communication can be delayed for “more pressing issues.”  However, a kick-off meeting involving the City Manager and scheduled updating of progress to someone in the City Manager’s Office is generally suggested.

Finance – This important operation provides required financial information such as account structure, existing DIF funds and existing balances (as well as obligations), bond debt on existing facilities, and other financial record keeping. Finance is also responsible for the annual DIF collection/use report.  The finance operation benefits from the process by finding out all of the capital needs over General Plan build-out.  This helps prevent surprises, such as the immediate need for a new fire station when the City Council merely says, “find a way to pay for it.” The final report is a treasure trove of financial information.  Additionally the process generates information about how much money is required to finance long-term replacement of the City’s sizable assets.

Planning – The agency’s planners provide the all-important “Land-use Database” that identifies the service area(s) for which DIF schedules will be crafted.  The information usually consists of at least six basic land-uses identifying existing and future anticipated acres and units.  The planners benefit in that the agency’s General Plan (GP) is made relevant by determining how the agency can provide infrastructure-based services to the anticipated future population and business community.  The DIF calculation acts as a General Plan Capital Infrastructure Financial Element (even though one is not legally required).  While critical to the process, the planners do not generally have the broader concerns required to undertake the on-site project management job.

Public Safety Chiefs – The public safety chiefs generate demand and capacity information and in return receive the statistical number of additional calls-for-service they can expect from GP development.  This information allows the Police Chief to have a more valid determination of how many additional sworn personnel (along with space, vehicles and equipment) they will need in the future, based upon statistical demand, instead of the oft-quoted, but equally unfounded, 1.5 officer per 1,000 residents guesstimate.  The information allows the fire chief to determine where stations will be needed and how many bays they will need to be.  This process mirrors the Master Plan process evident in other public works infrastructure such as the ubiquitous Circulation or Storm Drainage Master Plans.  However these two positions have little to offer in terms of the MFP/DIF project management.

Public Works Directors – This group hits the mother lode with the possibility of fully funded circulation, storm drainage, and utilities systems needs based upon well thought-out Master Plans.  The process also identifies the amount money (annually) necessary to maintain the existing structure capacity, even though DIFs cannot be used for this process. This knowledge could help recognize that some rehabilitation or replacement of aging infrastructure is essential.  Regardless of how many infrastructures may be represented by the Public Works Director, it’s still not a particularly good idea to have one line (or infrastructure) manager as the project manager in the MFP/DIF process.

Community Service Managers – The MFP/DIF process identifies the existing, or de facto, standards (capacity per resident) for the agency’s parks, aquatics centers, libraries, and public use facilities.  Based upon this relatively simple information, the legislative body can determine if these existing standards are insufficient or adequate to meet the resident’s needs.  Most agencies do not have any type of standard referenced in the General Plan elements. This void is recognized and dealt with in the DIF report by identifying the current de facto standard and determining if that is the desired standard.

So who does make the best on-site MFP/DIF Calculation on-site project manager?  Based upon my experience, it’s a fully invested member of the Finance operation.  The MFP process is all about capital planning, (as I wrote earlier, it eliminates surprises), and the DIF process is all about capital financing.  Finance’s task is to continually improve the agency’s ability to finance capital expansion and then on-going operation costs.  In my book that is the essence of Finance.

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