Hemet’s General Fund revenues dropped by 29 percent during the recession, which prompted service reductions as well as a 31 percent reduction in staffing. Despite those expenditure cuts, Hemet continues to operate with a structural budget deficit. In 2013, city leaders concluded that closing the deficit would require either further service reductions, taxpayer approval of additional revenues, or both. However, when input from the city’s customers was most needed many departments had no customer feedback mechanism and the public had little data to evaluate their value of their services. This need prompted the city to launch what has become a successful effort to bring residents into the city’s planning process.
The city decided to implement a two-pronged strategy in February 2014 to engage the community in evaluating city services and inform them of the how their tax dollars are being put to use. The city manager first directed all city departments to regularly solicit point-of-service customer feedback using a customer survey designed by the city’s executive team. The survey can be completed as a hard copy or electronically, after the city services are rendered. The completed customer surveys are summarized quarterly, reviewed by the entire executive team, and posted on the city’s website.
The second strategy focuses on a Strategic Management Program in which every city department established a mission statement, goals, measurable objectives, performance indicators, and performance targets. Performance data is reported quarterly, showing every performance objective and whether the city is meeting its performance targets or falling short. This performance data is reviewed by the entire executive team and is also posted on the city’s website.
Just 37 individuals responded to the survey initially, which was much less than staff had hoped would be submitted. However, as departments placed greater emphasis on requesting feedback and increased its response rate, the volume greatly increased. In the 13 months after customer surveying was implemented, 1,509 surveys were completed with 91 percent of the residents rating the quality of services as a “4” or “5” on a five-point scale, where “1” means poor and “5” means excellent. The customer ratings and additional comments have been very helpful to the city in identifying where it meets customer expectations and where it can improve.
The quarterly reporting of how the city is performing in relation to its performance targets has set a high standard for accountability and transparency. It has also given the city’s executive team a performance dashboard it had not previously had to evaluate its service performance and identify where intervention is needed to improve outcomes. The performance objectives and targets also enhance the annual budget process by quantifying what the community can expect in terms of the services it provides for the resources invested in them.