I teach performance based budgeting to city leaders about a half-dozen times a year. At one point during the seminar, I ask the participants to discuss what their department does and what their goals are for the coming year.
One Parks and Rec director for a moderate sized city said that her department has a mission to connect the community and get people from all walks of life involved. OK - I can go with that concept. Sounds very parks and rec-ey. But then she went on to say that they were trying out a new concept this year - a dog parade. They had already designated several of their parks as dog friendly - which makes sense to me. But they felt like they could do more - so they came up with a dog parade.
Now I love dogs and have had several that I treated like children. That is until I had my own children - you know - HUMAN children. And I understand that everyone needs to get out. But do I have to pay for that? Is that where my tax dollars are going? What about defending us from terrorists? Flu shots? Teaching Johnny to read?
I remember reading about Jimmy Carter's efforts to implement zero-based budgeting at the federal level. He said that once you get a program going in government it is hard to kill - because you have constituents who will fight very hard to keep it. This city was creating a new expectation from its citizens that it will have to continue to meet or suffer the wrath of dog owners.
Once you give someone money - they feel like they have to spend it doing something. Why not just make something up on the fly!?!
Another fire chief for a high end estate community bemoaned his citizens lack of support for his service. He was trying everything he could to extract more money from them so that he could build his team - but the community was already being served by a neighboring, larger municipality and they saw no need in paying double. He was furious with them and felt unappreciated. Narcissism alert! I gently, gingerly worked to make him see that just because he exists now does not mean he should exist in the future. They simply didn't need him, and he knew that in his core. But he didn't want to lose his job.
Another participant in this very class was new to city leadership. He and his gated community felt that the city that owned them was not serving their needs - so they broke free and created their own city. He told me that he had millions in property taxes at his disposal now, but had no idea what to do with them. He couldn't think of anything that his citizens needed so he was a little stuck and asked me what I thought he should do with the money. Again - the attitude of use it or lose it!
I told him to give it back. What he did with that little gem of advice :), I don't know.