Walker praises former Superior Mayor Ross for cutting spendingWisconsin’s governor is praising Superior’s former mayor for helping to merge two state agencies for an expected $1 million in savings.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Wisconsin’s governor is praising Superior’s former mayor for helping to merge two state agencies for an expected $1 million in savings.
Gov. Scott Walker said the savings will result from a reorganization led by Dave Ross that created the Department of the Safety and Professional Services.
Ross was tasked with taking the regulatory functions of the former Wisconsin Department of Commerce and merging them with the former Department of Regulation and Licensing.
The new agency will deliver services more effectively, efficiently and responsibly, Walker said.
Ross described an effort that included eliminating filing cabinets’ worth of stored paper, prioritizing complaints, reducing office space and combining several legal offices under a single management.
Ross said the goal of merging the regulatory functions of commerce with the Department of Regulation and Licensing, which he was appointed to lead, was to save taxpayers money.
It also allowed Walker to create a new agency dedicated to economic development — the public-private Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
Under the new structure, the Division of Safety and Buildings also merges with the Division of Environmental and Regulatory Services to create the new Division of Industry Services. Efficiencies created under the plan allow the revamped division to relocate in Madison from the Tommy G. Thompson Commerce Center in Madison to the professional services offices.
Ross said there were three major initiatives to rein in the cost of operating the agency — addressing leases, reducing personnel and taking on paper.
“When you have a file cabinet … you’re paying for the lease space that file cabinet sits on,” Ross said. “We’ve emptied well over 100 file cabinets in our agency alone, which has allowed us to put in nine more office spaces.”
While there is an obligation to maintain certain records, Ross said those the state wasn’t obligated to retain by law went to the Wisconsin Historical Society or were destroyed; records that are required to be maintained were placed into storage.
“Believe it or not, we had records from barbers who had taken apprenticeships back in the 1920s still sitting on our floor in file cabinets,” Ross said.
In addition to eliminating and storing records, Ross works with fewer employees than his predecessor. Though the governor set a goal of reducing 57 employees between the two agencies, Ross said 71 positions were vacated through attrition and none of those positions have been filled.
That allowed Ross to address another “substantial” cost to taxpayers — leased space in Madison.
Ross said the state’s lease obligation for space in the Tommy G. Thompson Center was “substantial,” with the commerce regulatory divisions taking up two full floors of the building just off the Capitol Square. However, staff levels didn’t warrant the amount of space used, he said, so last year the lease costs, about $108,000 a month, were cut to $27,000 a month when the divisions were reduced to half a floor.
“Not only in this administration, but in prior administrations, there’s been a drop in the number of employees … and that reduction in employment also has to reduce the size of the footprint government has,” Ross said. “And the cost of leasing that space is tremendously expensive, especially here in Madison.”
Updating the new division’s management structure saves taxpayers $1.3 million a year, and vacating the Tommy G. Thompson Center will save the remaining $27,000 per month in leasing costs, the governor said.
“When we merged two cabinet agencies to create the DSPS, we knew there were administrative efficiencies to be found while maintaining the quality of the services our stakeholders have come to expect,” Walker said in a prepared statement. “I would like to thank Secretary Ross and the DSPS staff for achieving this victory by using cutting-edge lean government principles.”
Ross credits his staff with taking the initiative to create additional efficiencies within the agency. And by prioritizing complaints, he said the agency’s five-year, 1,500-case backlog has been cut by more than half and the number of prosecutions for violations is up.
Other changes include canceling state board meetings when there is no business to address, which comes with a cost when board members travel from other parts of the state. That area alone has resulted in about $200,000 in savings, Ross said.
Another part of the DSPS reorganization brings all legal services provided by the department under single management in the new Division of Legal Services and Compliance, formerly the Division of Enforcement and the Division of Board Services. All department attorneys moved to DLSC and structured into legal practice teams run by a team leader under the general supervision of a legal manager.