Casson’s presentation highlighted the findings of a committee he chaired in 2003 to study government spending, services and efficiency.
Casson said he has never been of a political nature. However, when he saw an article in 2003 about the committee being formed by the city and county governments to study how each was spending money, he felt compelled to respond.
“I wasn’t political then and I’m not political now, but that was just too inviting. How our money comes in, how it goes out and was it in the best interest of the citizens — I think everyone would be interested in that,” Casson said.
He called the county mayor’s office (then county executive) to tell him he would be interested in the position.
That was in April.
Casson received a letter in August saying he had been selected to be on the committee.
A friend of Casson’s had served in a similar committee in the past, and warned Casson the group would not be able to change people’s minds.
“I didn’t take that as a negative I took that as we are going to have to do work in a different way,” Casson said. “I told everyone we were going to be totally nonpolitical.”
He said the committee studied the finances and services of every aspect of county government. The committee took a business approach to analyzing the data they received and suggesting changes to streamline government.
“At the end of our study it looked like zero was going to get done. Looking back we saw that we planted a seed, and things are still being done,” Casson said.
If all the recommendations of the committee were followed, local governments were projected to save $4 million over 10 years.
“Our study would be even more relevant today than it was then,” Casson said.
A survey completed by the committee showed citizens wanted to see elimination of duplicated services in government to save tax money.
“We’re a 100,000 people approximately. We’re the perfect size for the citizens to actually participate in getting something positive done on either the city or county level,” Casson said.
He said often what people say spreads even without them knowing it.
“If you just plant the seed, you can get something going,” Casson said.
When the committee was studying the local governments, planning and building permits were in multiple areas.
Casson said this has been simplified since the committees recommendation.
The committee had also recommended combining the city and county planning departments. While this has not happened, Casson said he feels it is better than it was.
Some recommended changes for parks and recreation, information technology and emergency rescue have also been implemented.
Collection of taxes was another area where duplication existed, Casson said. Recommendations were made to create a way for residents to pay city and county taxes at the same time. Members also wanted to see residents be able to pay their tax bill online. Casson said local governments are moving in this direction.
“Really, when one department starts saving a few thousand here and a few thousand there, it’s surprising how quickly it’s 100,00,” Casson said. “These things that are little on their own become big when they multiply.”
Having an office open after hours to assist residents with permits or paying taxes also helps.
Some became worried the committee was out to eliminate jobs. This was most evident in the courthouse, where the committee proposed a computerized system to simplify the process and create a need for fewer clerks. Some of the departments were a little apprehensive about giving the committee information, but they worked with the committee anyway.
While the plan would have cost some money to implement, Casson said the plan would have saved the county more than $1 million.
“For example, your deed is handled three different times but you are not benefiting three different times,” Casson said.
He said if residents simply had to enter their information in a computer it would promote transparency while eliminating some of the needed work.
The committee also studied the two school systems and the fire departments.
The committee did not have many recommendations concerning the school system.
Looking at the fire department, members of the committee saw some things which could be changed.
“At the time the city was contracting with the county to cover certain fringe areas. There we saw duplication and waste, and not the best service, by having two governments run two fire departments,” Casson said. “We also found that the fire departments were the best organized of any group of employees in either the city or the county.
“At that time in 2003, consolidation was the ugliest, dirtiest, meanest word that could be used,” Casson said. “We had to use ‘combine.’”
The recommendation at the time was to combine the departments and the Emergency Medical Service to reduce duplication in command staff.
The recommendations from the committee is on file at the Bradley County Courthouse.