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Internal grants achieving cost savings in city

July 24, 2013

In order to encourage long-term savings throughout its department budgets, the city has allocated $250,000 of its annual budget since 2012 for the Internal Granting Program to fund projects that reduce costs, increase efficiency or enhance revenue.

John Ruggini has been Wauwatosa's finance director for a little more than two years now, and he implemented the program after seeing similar measures in municipalities throughout the country, including in Baltimore, Md.

"Typically the budget process can be a little depressing. This program creates an opportunity for people to be creative and invest in our city, which we don't always have an opportunity to with short-term budget constraints," Ruggini said.

Employees and mid-level managers compete against other departments with their one-time grant requests; once the money is gone, it's gone.

The Internal Grant Team was assembled to track the return on investment, the payback period and whether the program fits the sought parameters.

Grants at a glance

In the program's inaugural year, six grants were funded, benefiting four departments. The $250,000 the city allocated was used up completely.

The Public Works Department was awarded two grants for a total of $115,000 to replace aging street and alley lights with LED fixtures.

"Over time, these light installations have the potential for significant savings to the city. I think it will demonstrate a good return on investment," said Bill Porter, director of public works.

According to the 2012 budget, the city estimates it will see a payback from the LED lighting in nine to 12 years. Porter said in just a couple of years after implementation, his department has seen about $2,000 of savings in some areas.

The city's clerk office received $29,000 in 2012 to transition from paper copies of agendas and other city document packets to an electronic solution. The move to rely on computer software is mostly promoted under the idea that it is environmentally and fiscally preferred to reduce the consumption of materials. Annual savings are estimated to be $8,600.

Both the Fire Department, in cooperation with Human Resources, and the Health Department received grants in 2012 as well, mostly to implement automated database systems to streamline services and reallocate employee resources.

Additional savings

In 2013, the city had another successful round of grant proposals, awarding at least five projects for another near-$250,000 total.

Projects included more lighting upgrades for Public Works, equipment for the Fire Department to deliver fire extinguisher training and campaign money to encourage residents to recycle. It also gave $12,000 to the Police Department for an additional automated license plate recognition unit.

"These automated license plate recognition devices have a great benefit to our Police Department. It saves us man hours and overtime," Sgt. T.J. Alioto said.

With the addition of the new unit, the Police Department will have three squad cars with the mobile system, which attach underneath the light bars and automatically read, photograph and record every license plate that passes through the system's infrared camera.

If a license plate comes back stolen or if there's an active warrant on the owner of the vehicle, the ALPR trips an alarm that alerts the officers.

The continuation of the Internal Granting Program will move forward in the following years, Ruggini said.

The Public Policy Forum, a private nonprofit research organization based in Milwaukee, recognized Ruggini last month as its "Leader of the Future" in part for his forward-thinking granting program.

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