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Stretching Your Budget In a Recession

Almost every agency is feeling the pinch of hard times, but there are ways to reduce the pain.

August 07, 2012  |  by Wendy Dutenhoeffer


If you've ever had insomnia or worked rotating shifts you've probably seen late night infomercials. The announcers on these things have mastered peddling everything from lighted slippers to miracle bras. One of my favorites features a guy tanned and toned with his six-pack abs glistening in the sun, standing next to a Ferrari and a perfect Barbie babe. He expounds the wisdom of his proprietary program where you can make millions by sitting home, eating bonbons, and maybe spending an hour per day on your computer. That's some people's idea of sound economic advice.

But law enforcement agencies with budgets strained by the current recession can't rely on such economic snake oil. They need a strategy for maximizing their purchasing power and stretching every dime.

At its core, finance operates on the following very basic principles.

  • You cannot spend more than you make without going into debt.
  • Don't go into debt if you can't afford to make the payments.
  • If you don't want to or can't go into debt and you need or want to buy something beyond your means you have two choices: make more money and/or spend less on other things.

These principles are not exclusive to any particular sector. They apply to our personal budgets, to non-profits, to multi-million dollar corporations, and to governmental agencies.

Law enforcement agencies have been hit with a recession double-whammy of slashed budgets and increased expenses. But unlike corporations dealing with the recession, law enforcement agencies can't just cut service. In fact they often face higher demands on services.

The following is a look at some ways that the average law enforcement agency can stretch its budget.

Reevaluate Your Needs

One of the best ways to reduce expenses is to take a hard look at where your money goes and determine the necessities.

Pay Only for What is Needed

This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but contracts and services that haven't been recently reviewed suck money out of your budget faster than the lastest super hot 50HP vacuum.

Look at service contracts first. Compare the cost of the contract vs. actual expenses. Often, if you add up what the service fee would cost, it is less than what you pay under contract. Also, take a close look at what you are paying for. When technology changes and your service doesn't, you could be paying more than if you signed up as a new customer.

Reviewing cost for services received should be done on a regular basis. A little bit of time and effort makes sure you are getting the most service for the least cost.

Share with Others

Talk with other agencies in your area and see if they have similar equipment needs. If they do, negotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for sharing the cost and use of equipment.

For example, let's say your agency has a fingerprint machine that sits idle 60% of the time and another nearby agency needs the same machine 30% of the time. This is an excellent opportunity to share the expense on this equipment.

When calculating cost sharing don't forget to factor in ongoing maintenance agreements, wear and tear, and the equipment’s useful life. If there are several agencies in your geographic area, consider starting a multi-agency equipment co-op.

Volunteer to Test Something

New technology isn't cheap. It costs manufacturers plenty in research, development, testing, marketing, and manufacturing. If you see an emerging technology that could benefit your agency, talk to the supplier about a win-win option. Offer to be a beta tester for the company's product.

Your agency gets the equipment at no charge and in return you promise to test the heck out of it and tell them the good, the bad, and the ugly. Additionally, you could agree to give testimonials about the product to other agencies. If your policies allow, offer to put the company's logo and link to its Website on your home page.

The best companies to approach about beta testing are the ones in your region. Do some research and find out what companies are in your area code or at least within 250 miles of your jurisdiction.

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