Novel Methods For Supplementing Your Budget
The Assessor’s Need For Supplemental Funds
We've written previously about approaching the budget process to get the funds that you need. Sometimes, however, the budget given only covers essential operations, leaving no opportunity for the assessor to invest and innovate within their department. In these cases, assessors need to think about ways to gain supplemental revenue so that the department can invest in itself.
Municipalities and counties, in general, struggle with figuring out ways to raise supplemental revenue. Ads on websites and tiered fee structures are two policy ideas entertained for solving the problem; these two solutions apply directly to the assessing department too, so we’ll explore both ideas.
Ads On The Assessor’s Website
Well-placed, subtle ads on the assessor's website would both help local businesses advertise their goods and services and help the assessor get supplemental funds...
We're all familiar with advertising; our modern economy depends on the activity. Ironically, local government embraced advertising long ago as a method of funding. Many mass transit systems, usually run by a municipal or regional transit authority, depend on ad revenue as a key source of funding. How many times have you seen a transit authority bus with advertisements for a new television show or the local car dealer?
Ads are also an essential part of the internet experience. Do a search in Google and paid results will appear; Facebook news streams and pages offer links to sponsored contact or show ad videos, ready for you to click; check your personal email and ads will show up in the borders. People are used to visiting websites and seeing ads of some sort.
The assessor’s website is an ideal place for advertisements because people frequently visit it for information. Well-placed, subtle ads on the assessor's website would both help local businesses advertise their goods and services and help the assessor get supplemental funds from advertising fees. A simple reminder to government officials that advertising is already used by other government entities should make approval of an ad program easier. And if the website design integrates ads seamlessly (good website design is essential for ads to work and not be annoying to the general public), the public won't mind the ads.
The Assessing Department in King County, Washington is one of the first assessing departments to embrace advertisements on its site. When we first visited the assessor's website, we were struck by the following notification:
Assessor's website, King County, Washington: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/assessor.aspx
As the notice illustrates, King County is transparent about why ads are on its website. The assessor's transparency continues with five pages of guidelines, which specify:
- what can and cannot be advertised;
- the types of advertisements that can be shown on the website;
- the sequence as to when ads will load on the page;
- how ads need to work;
- the need for reference and background checks on each partner placing an ad;
- steps the Assessor will take when ads do not meet the guidelines.
When we last visited the website, ads were not yet showing, so we're not sure what the experience of visiting the website with ads is like. We're also curious as to how King County administers the ad program. Does the assessor sell their own ad inventory or do they partner with an ad selling firm? What sort of businesses have been quick to inquire about advertising opportunities? We'll have to follow-up with King County to learn more.
However, King County is a template for other jurisdictions, outlining two of the most important aspects of allowing advertisements on your website: be transparent about why ads are on the website and be clear about the type of ads that are permitted. When people know what to expect, they're far more accepting of change. In local government, the public's acceptance of a change is the ultimate test of whether or not an idea will succeed.
Tiered Fee Structures
Assessors can also grow their supplemental revenue through fees for services or information, though fee revenue can sometimes be tricky. In many jurisdictions, offerings to the public are free. Assessors in such jurisdictions must maintain the free option; innovation lies in setting up fees for expedited service or quantities beyond a certain number or for additional information. The general public can still take advantage of free services or items, but those parties that need a service performed faster or need large quantities of information pay for the increased services and quantities. Many assessors offices already have a fee schedule, but few make the best use of that schedule.
In contrast, the Secretary of State in most states is a master of structured fees. Take Delaware as a good example. If you are registering a new corporation, Delaware outlines the following fees:
*The base fee may vary depending on the amount of stock be registered by the newly formed corporation.
To register your company cheaply, the base filing fee applies, but Delaware may take up to two months after you’ve filed to complete the registration. If you are in a hurry, however, you can have your application processed within 24 hours, or have it processed on the same day you file, for an extra fee of course. The cost to the state to implement this type of fee structure is minimal; processing a corporate registration takes the same amount of labor and time (one would assume), whether you're processing the registration immediately or two months down the road. The benefit to the entity filing and to the state are clear - if the entity is strapped for time, then the extra fees paid are worth the increased cost, while the state gets extra revenue with no additional cost.
The key to setting up fees that are reasonable is making sure the thing you're charging for is necessary or costly to produce in large quantities.
For assessors, some of the offerings that are conducive to a tiered fee structure are:
The items above are either in demand or are difficult to produce in high quantities. Fees that are charged in such cases will make sense to most people, though they may not like paying the fees. Again, like with web advertising, it's important for the assessor to explain why the fees are charged and how both the assessing department and the community benefit in the long run so that fees feel fair.
Whether you’re considering ads on the assessor's website, tiered fee structures, or some other method of raising money for your department, there are a few factors you should consider, which McKinsey and Company outlined nicely in a 2019 article, and which we’ve adapted to the specific needs of assessors:
These factors must be considered because raising revenue outside of the normal budgetary channels is different, though necessary in many cases. Ultimately, assessors will gain funds that allow them to invest in the deparment if the revenue idea (ads, tiered fees, or something else) is understood by stakeholders, the benefits clearly laid out, and the impact on citizens carefully considered.