Tasks and Long-Term Thinking for the New Year
January 19, 2016
When I was a Finance Director, I came back from the holidays every January and sifted through an inbox full of top-ten trends, best technology for the new year, white papers, finance news and a cornucopia of ideas and trends promoted by professional organizations, vendors and writers. Every year, I wished I had time to digest and implement more of these suggestions. Unfortunately, there was already a full load of pre-existing tasks and issues begging for attention as the year began and the team shrugged off the holiday daze.
Payroll and personnel issues were always a top priority. With the start of the calendar year, we had some critical tasks with strict deadlines: updating payroll tax withholding tables in the software before the first new-year payroll cycle; calculating and issuing W2’s with current employee addresses; verifying employee insurance plan records and open-enrollment changes, including payroll deductions and vendor records; and implementing any calendar-year step increases, longevity plans or other compensation changes.
We did not have the added burden of the accounting year-end cycle to manage in January because my city, like the rest of California, operated on a June 30 fiscal year calendar.. Nevertheless, we did need to finish some important tasks related to the fiscal calendar:
The next year’s budget cycle began with drafting a budget process calendar to guide the overall process to budget adoption by June 30.
Mid-year budget adjustments to the current year budget were on the Council agenda for February. As the December month-end process wrapped up, we published our six-month variances. Then, the team worked with the operating departments to study their run rates and additional needs for the rest of the fiscal year. As the team completed these reviews, we examined the variances’ total impact on the budget, and reconvened the budget committee if the variances were large. This work culminated in staff reports asking Council to authorize extra funding.
The prior year CAFR had been written, audited and published. After the avalanche of work that ushers in the holidays then some time off,we checked that all the final steps had been completed: had we posted audit adjustments to the GL, and filed the CAFR and single audit with the State, our cognizant agency, and bond holders?
Despite these important tasks, I tried to stay on top of the new ideas in my inbox. I wanted to provide the best customer service and communications possible for our citizens, and favored using the latest technology and processes we could find (and afford). We were already working hard to communicate future year budgets, current-year variances and historical results, We generated Budget Documents, Council Variance & Status Reports, and the CAFR, for just these purposes.
I began my career budgeting on paper, participated in the moves to Lotus, then Excel on the desktop, and then helped usher in the local network. I assembled Word and Excel printouts into budget and CAFR packages for years, and was delighted when Adobe let me translate those files into more stable PDFs, which were easier to manually collate.
I remember how thrilled we all were when Adobe’s next generation of Acrobat let us assemble all the work into one printable PDF. We gathered around my desk to watch the process as I brought in the files and setup page numbering and headers across the assembled document. At the same time, color printers reached a speed and price point where we could print our documents in-house in minutes, instead of days or weeks of proofs and final runs at the printer.
Along the way, we started adding these documents to the Finance page on the City web site. At first the process was piecemeal, but we got better every year and we were proud of the documents and how they looked on the site. They were easily downloaded and allowed us to reduce the number of hard-copy documents we printed. However, we now have the ability to make all these documents come to life with modern software that enables dynamic interactions with these reports.
Initially relegated to my “junk mail”, these white papers and articles helped answer a critical question: what does the world expect of the Finance Director and Department in 2016? More, better, faster. More information, better intelligence, faster reporting. More intuitive web-based reports and sites. Better stories to explain the numbers. Instant search, drill-down, and other tools.
It may be worth the time to look at some of the ‘junk mail’ you just sent to the trash, do a little research, talk to some other governments, and see what new solutions are coming into the marketplace to help you revolutionize your own operation this year.
Mike McCann moved into government service in Ukiah, then Monterey CA, after beginning his career in corporate (ADP, Wells Fargo Bank, Blue Shield of CA), not-for-profit (Blue Shield of Ca, Mendocino Private Industry Council), and start-up accounting. For the last 20 years, Mike has been hands-on with budget, financial reporting and accounting operations, including City budgets and CAFRs. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from SJSU and M.S. in Instructional Technology from CSUMB.
Category: Government Finance