Third Sunset Review of County Government Completed

Member Group : Commonwealth Foundation

(July 23, 2014)–Dated June 30th, 2014, the County Manager’s sunset
review of County departments and agencies fulfills requirements in
the Home Rule Charter and the County’s Administrative Code to analyze
County departments and agencies and determine if there should be
changes–whether to continue as is, abolish, or reorganize them.

After reviewing the legal mandate, the public need, alternative
methods of delivery, the effectiveness, and other factors the Manager
makes the recommendation as to what should happen to the department.
The sunset review goes to County Council for consideration and they
may act on the Manager’s recommendations to determine what happens
with the departments and agencies by mid-October.

The point of the sunset review is to justify the existence of the
components of County government and submit them to an up or down vote
so that the existence is not assumed to continue into perpetuity.

Recall that the first sunset review was done in 2003 and the second
came seven years after, well past the cycle set out in the Charter
and the Code. That the 2014 review was done on time and contains a
table that demonstrates how subsequent reviews of departments and
agencies will be scheduled on a staggered basis to achieve the four
year cycle is to be commended and gives a measure of confidence that
the Charter and requirements in the Administrative Code as they
pertain to the sunset review will be followed going forward.

When the first sunset review was conducted in 2003 there were 16
operating departments. When voters approved a referendum to
eliminate six row offices, three new departments (Court Records,
Medical Examiner, and Real Estate) became County departments. Last
year parts of Public Works and Administrative Services were split off
to form Facilities Management.

Departments Subject to 2014 Sunset Review Adminstrative Services
Kane Regional
Budget and Finance
Court Records
Medical Examiner
Economic Development
Emergency Services
Facilities Management
Public Defender
Human Resources
Public Works
Human Services
Real Estate
Shuman Center
Based on the 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the
full-time equivalent (FTE) headcount of the departments represents 75
percent of total County employment (5,118 out of 6,879.5). Sunset
reviews don’t cover the Court of Common Pleas (1,140 FTE), the row
offices (the remaining four–District Attorney, Controller, Treasurer
and Sheriff–had 583.5 FTE) nor the Executive, County Council, or the
Manager’s office (38 FTE). Since 2008, of the departments that did
not absorb new functions or split off part of their functions to
other ones, the biggest jump in FTE was at the Jail (24 FTE) and the
biggest decrease was at Shuman Center (16 FTE).

The current review makes one department elimination recommendation.
It recommends that the Department of Real Estate be absorbed into the
Department of Administrative Services. The latter is currently
handling functions related to elections, weights and measures,
veterans’ affairs, and property assessment and the former carries out
the functions that was handled by the Recorder of Deeds. If that
reorganization happens, and, assuming no new departments are created,
there will be 19 operating departments in County government and
employees of one department will transfer to another.

On alternative ways of carrying out departmental functions, in some
areas the review is open to the concept of turning functions over to
alternative arrangements that could involve the private sector,
multi-county arrangements, or the state (Emergency Services, Health,
and Medical Examiner) while in other places there is a skepticism
about contracting out services (Administrative Services, Budget and
Finance, and Facilities Management) as the belief that there would be
negative impacts, higher costs, or inefficiencies. It is not clear
if these statements were made based on actual bids based on RFPs or
inquiries to examine what it would cost to carry out the stated
duties. That’s a place County Council should investigate through
hearings before making its decision on the recommendations in the

While it will be another four years until the next sunset review, the
County Charter requires the County to convene its second government
review commission in 2015. The last one met in 2005 (five years
after the effective date of the Charter) and is to meet every ten
years thereafter to "…study the Charter and County government,
including the organization, practices, and responsibilities of all
County departments and agencies". Whereas the sunset review is
conducted directly by County personnel, the review commission is made
up of nine appointees who are not part of County government and may
recommend Charter amendments to be placed on the ballot. That
commission ought to be made up of taxpayer friendly people and people
open to major changes.

The Allegheny Institute continues to believe non-core government
functions that can be outsourced should be looked at seriously. It
is incumbent on County officials to work on behalf of taxpayers to
keep costs as low possible. With tax burdens rising because of
pension and other issues at the state level and in the school
districts, the County should lead the way in demonstrating innovative
ways to cut costs.

Eric Montarti, Senior Policy Analyst

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The Allegheny Institute
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Pittsburgh, PA15234