A Day in the Life of a CFO: Klarryse Murphy, Ravalli County, MT
December 13, 2018 – Caroline Bruister
County Chief Finance Officers (CFO) have broad authority and responsibility. Their financial knowledge is essential in ensuring citizens get the most out of their tax money and the entity operates in a smooth manner. A CFO assumes overall responsibility for the County’s fiscal operations and manages the Countywide budget process including compilation, balancing and issuance of the Preliminary Budget for the annual budget hearings.
We had the opportunity to spend one October day with Ravalli County, Montana’s CFO Klarryse Murphy. She accomplishes a great deal serving Ravalli County’s population of approximately 41,000, in addition to vanpooling and relaxing with her four dogs and family.
Here’s what a typical day looks like for Klarryse:
7:00 am – While I’m not a “morning person”, I live a half an hour from where I work. There is a vanpool, Missoula Ravalli Transportation, which I take to arrive at work about 7:45 am.
7:45 am – I get to work and there are three things that I do this time of year especially. #1, open up our finance software. #2, open up our budget software. #3, I open up OpenGov. Using my dual screens, I get them all on and rock on!
10:00 am – I check my emails and try to answer as many as I can quickly. Print out what I need to do and put that aside. This time of year, I get right into working on the budget. That coincides with cleaning up from the previous year to get ready for the audit.
11:00 am – I usually take a 30 to 40 minute walk (weather permitting) to clear my head and get outside.
12:00 pm – I work through lunch. I generally am at my desk.
1:00 pm – Generally there are a half dozen questions from people who walk into the office because my office is visible from the front. They see me before the Comptroller. I field questions from Commissioners, the Road Administrator, the Fair Manager. I just finished answering questions with the County Fair, Treasurer, Clerk & Recorder, and Sheriff.
1:30 pm – I review claims and work with the payroll specialist / grants coordinator if there are any issues.
2:00 pm – Most of the requests to my office are internal. Once in a while we will get a public request for records.
3:00 pm – Follow up and weekly meetings. From February to September, I am in meetings 8-10 hours a week. During the other part of the year, it’s about 2-3 hours a week. We are on a July 1-June 30 budget cycle. We don’t get anything from the state for our taxable values until the first of August so we operate for a few months with just a preliminary budget. The state cutoff for valuations is Dec 31; then we use the next 7 months to get those valuations in for all those districts. Finally, I have to prepare about 30 outside district tax levies (not including schools, cities or towns).
That is the thing about a county, you aren’t just dealing with your government; we are dealing with 7 school districts, 30-40 outside districts. Citizens don’t realize that their tax bill isn’t just county taxes. Then we have other districts with special assessments we have to deal with. We have about 110 budgeted funds (200 funds completely) that account for different pieces and parts. We collect for the schools, special assessments, and then when we collect that bill it gets disseminated out to 20-30 districts and county funds. And somebody has to make sure all that goes to the right place. We have a really good relationship with the Clerk & Recorder and the Treasurer. Our three offices are cogs in a wheel.
4:00 pm – I work closely with our payroll specialist grants coordinator, and there are times we need to do things with the grants to close them out. The Economic Development Authority goes through us to get their grant funding.
5:00 pm – I have to leave at 5 pm for vanpool (now I am forced to leave the office!) Before when I drove, I would leave around 6 or 7 pm. And now with OpenGov software making my daily work more efficient, I can actually catch that earlier vanpool!
6:00 pm – Sometimes at home, I use my VPN to stay connected and responsive.
7:00 pm – With three older sisters, I didn’t have to learn to cook too well, so I’ll throw some dinner together. I like to read, listen to music (favorites are Lauren Daigle and Keith Urban), and watch a little TV—all to unwind.
8:00 pm – Fully unwind on the couch with husband and my four dogs—a Maltese, Aussie, Lab mix, and Bernese mix (weighing from 10 pounds to 135 pounds!)
Coffee talk with Klarryse:
What are your must reads (online & offline) everyday?
Google News, good historical fiction like the Poldark series, GFOA updates, OpenGov updates, Daily Inspirations, and the Bible.
What is the best part of your work day?
I love the mornings at work. Getting in, getting myself organized, knowing what direction that I am going, and then not achieving it for four weeks!
What is the greatest challenge you face?
Competing priorities. I want to make everyone happy, and get everything to everyone in a timely fashion, but often something has to fall off the list.
How do you get best practice recommendations to tackle your challenges? Where do you go for help?
GFOA best practices are amazing. They just came out with one for fund balance reserves which is important preparation in advance of the next economic downturn.
How do you use OpenGov to make your day more productive?
First of all, what I love is that OpenGov is not on our servers; I love that it is in the cloud so it is accessible anywhere. Even if I were at home and someone were to call, I could go right to it. Our departments are very specific on our coding for expenses, and we have all the detail in OpenGov Budget Builder. If a department head wants to know where to go to pay their dues, I tell them “It is in OpenGov—go find it.” Or if they are out somewhere, I can pull it up and share the data with them. Sometimes someone will call to ask if they budgeted something in two different places accidentally; I will go in and find it, then OpenGov lets me move it to office expenses and keep that line. Then, we are good to go. Easy peasy.
I still need to learn report building, but just haven’t had the time while we are working on getting budget to the state!
Please quantify any time savings in your day/work now that you have implemented OpenGov?
Before, we had four 4-inch binders. Don’t laugh! With all the funds, pay matrix, etc. A department head would come in and say, “What do we do here?” We would grab the book, open it, then we would have an Excel spreadsheet with the whole budget. Then, let’s say it was “dues and memberships,”. Behind it was a bunch of numbers outlined all on that page. Do you know how many paper cuts you get from that?! Dragging the big book out…especially when you have already given them a copy of their budget. That’s a lot of time wasted. With OpenGov, now it’s just “Click here, now look it up yourself.” It saves a lot of time (and fingers!)
This year, we have exported everything in Excel to one worksheet and every budget (most are 1-2 pages). Our budget we are working on this year all fits into a 4-inch binder. Down from 16 inches to 4 inches! I don’t have to print a budget document for my commissioners. They have OpenGov too and can look it up online.
OpenGov WAY exceeded what we expected. We were set to hire another person in our office—$70,000 to $80,000 a year in perpetuity. It was crazy. The budget was taking half of the Comptroller’s time and all of my time. The Comptroller worked very little on it all this year. So when we finally passed the budget, all the Comptroller did was take what we passed and input it into the budget module.
Who else has benefited from your implementation of OpenGov?
Our IT guy loves OpenGov because he doesn’t have to worry about server space or updating anything. For our department heads, it can be tough to learn new things. When we went to zero-based budgeting, it was a challenge. But they got used to it. It used to be late April before we had everything in, but we had everything in by mid-March!
The Clerk & Recorder who used to give us handwritten notes loved being able to make her updates from home.
The Office Administrator for the Sheriff’s Office loves it.
Not one complaint!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about CFOs?
That we are all dull and boring with no sense of humor. That everything we do is analyze and think. When I moved to Montana, I drove a Firebird with T-tops. I got pulled over by a highway patrolman because I still had Texas plates, and he said he had never seen a CPA drive a Firebird. I asked what he thought I should drive, and he said a Honda Accord. I did not receive a ticket.
If a CFO had a theme song, what would it be?
“I Will Survive”
My son gave me a little sign for my door that said: “Being a CFO is easy. It’s like riding a bike except your bike is on fire, you’re on fire, and you are in hell."
You just have to learn to go with the flow.
Tell us about your path to CFO.
When I graduated, I went straight into public accounting where I audited governments and nonprofits. Then I went out on my own where I did tax preparation and government consulting. It was wonderful working for myself because I had small children, and my kids weren’t in daycare. In 2009, the County convinced me to come on board full-time.
What advice do you have for new finance people in government?
Learn to laugh.
Be an advocate for those you work with.
What is really important: be kind. It’s hard. And there are times when I do get the F word—frustrated. You have to have a lot of patience. Not everyone thinks the way that you do. I remind some of our people that I don’t know how to pave a road.
Be good at what you do, and if you don’t know something, be honest. If you don’t know something, say you don’t, and then figure out where to find the answer.
When you are pushed to your limit, just close the door, breathe, and say “this too shall pass.”
Again, the biggest one is to be kind.
To learn more about Ravalli County and how they are driving innovation with modern budgeting (and saving $70k annually!), check out their case study.
Category: Customer Story