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How much can you benchmark?

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By Mark Mallon, on June 21, 2012

Recently, there has been some discussion in the City Council about the effectiveness of the City’s animal control. Specifically, a citizen was concerned that there were not enough animal control officers in the City. Council asked the staff to look into the matter, and this task fell to me.

One way that local governments evaluate their services is by benchmarking. In the broadest sense, benchmarking simply means comparing yourself to some standard. Sometimes this standard is set by an outside organization, such as the state or federal government. Often, local governments compare their services to those of their peers, which are other jurisdictions of a similar size and with similar services. There may not be a standard of excellence, but you can at least see how you stack up against your neighbors.

So I set out to do some benchmarking. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much about animal control. For one thing, animal control is typically at the county level, and that is definitely the case in North Carolina. I didn’t want to use benchmarks from county animal services because (forgive the pun) I would be barking up the wrong tree: counties are a lot bigger than cities and they work a little differently. I did find a rule of thumb in a textbook on municipal benchmarks written by UNC’s own David Ammons. Ammons says that typically, the yearly animal intake in a city shelter should be about 7-10% of the human population. If it is more than this, you might have an animal control problem. This was an easy starting point: I quickly looked up how many animals entered the shelter last year and calculated that the intake was about 3% of the City’s human population. So, the City probably didn’t have an animal control problem, but this figure didn’t tell me much else.

I looked to see how many animal control officers other cities in North Carolina had. Again, because animal control is typically handled by the counties, this task was not that easy. I did manage to find a few cities that have animal services and the number of animal control officers in each, and put these numbers in a table with each municipality’s population:



OK. But I still had no benchmark with which to compare all of these places – they all have different populations and different numbers of officers. So I did some simple calculations with my old friend Excel to see the number of animal control officers per 50,000 people:



Success! We have a benchmark to see how we stack up against other cities. We can’t say with absolute certainty that we don’t need more animal control officers, but we can at least say that we have an above average number of officers for our population. We can also say that it is unusual for a mid-sized city in North Carolina to have animal services at all, which makes the benchmark even more salient. It would seem my dogged persistence paid off.

Tags: animal control, benchmarking | Categories: City of Rocky Mount, Uncategorized | No Comments
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