Tight Budgets Challenge U.S. Counties; Technology Can Help
Counties across the U.S. are struggling to work with increasingly shrinking budgets across all of their operations. According to the National Association of Counties (NACo), decreased funding is the top challenge most counties currently face. In some cases, these problems are the result of decreased state funding, a loss of revenue from property or sales taxes, or limits on the counties’ ability to raise revenue. In addition, the cost of mandated services continues to rise while revenues decline.
So counties are being asked to do more with less. That will require a focus on reducing costs, improving efficiency, and looking for ways to innovate in the ways that counties provide services.
The good news is that many counties are confronting these budget challenges by finding ways to reduce administrative costs via automation and technology. In many cases, this can be accomplished by tackling a common problem among government agencies – manual processes associated with managing paper.
Counties deal with a lot of paper – tax forms, registrations, licenses, legal documents, voting documents, deeds, liens, and the list goes on. Whether they arrive by mail or are dropped off in person, this mountain of paperwork has to be processed, copied, acted on, and filed.
All of this paper handling and filing requires costly labor and storage space. What if there were a way to make that process faster and less expensive, while also helping other county employees do their work faster and improving responsiveness?
There is a way to do exactly that using advanced document scanning solutions, automated mail sorting, and other technologies. A number of counties, municipalities, and other government entities are already taking advantage of the benefits.
Orange County in Florida is using OPEX document scanners and a solution from Informa Software to reduce costs and simplify payment processing in its tax collection division.
In the past, the county hired as many as 40 temporary workers during tax season to manually process tax payments. By deploying two OPEX scanners integrated with the company’s Model 51 Rapid Extraction Desk and remittance processing software, the department was able to streamline operations by automatically opening each payment, scanning the contents, and routing the images through the payment system. The new system also enabled electronic deposits, saving even more time and labor.
Instead of hiring 40 temp workers, the department only has to hire two (a substantial cost savings), and payments are processed much more quickly.
Chester County in Pennsylvania, likewise, improved its records archiving activities by ditching expensive microfilm in favor of digital scanning. The previous microfilm process was time-consuming, and the resulting records were vulnerable to damage if there were a flood or fire.
Using an OPEX scanning system, the archive service was able to cut the time to process a box of documents down to just 90 minutes, improve access to archival documents, and improve document security via digital storage.
Down the road in Harrisburg, Pa., officials are using a similar scanning solution to help manage payments processing. Previously, during peak periods payment processing activities would result in employee overtime and delayed deposits.
Incoming payments are opened and scanned with OPEX equipment. Software from Mavro Imaging automatically classifies the documents and enables electronic bank deposits. The city has eliminated physical storage of documents, reduced the associated operating budget by 40 percent, and reduced staffing by half.
The common thread in these stories is that counties have been able to evaluate an existing process and eliminate non-value-added steps – i.e., manually opening and sorting mail, carrying deposit bags to the bank, filing paperwork – using technology.
In addition, employees are able to complete more worker faster (and often more accurately). That frees them up to spend more time on other duties, providing better service to the public or improving the way they handle exceptions. For counties that face staffing cuts or department consolidation, digital document management can help organizations handle an increase in workload without overwhelming the remaining employees.
The financial challenges facing America’s counties aren’t going away any time soon. Forward-thinking public servants can help eliminate some of the strain of doing more with less by strategically deploying technology like digital document management in ways that improve both efficiency and service.