[Webinar Highlights] Numbers That Tell A Story: Accurate Performance Measures and Optimal Budgeting
July 30, 2019 – David Jones
The budget process is one of the most fundamental elements of government operations. It is an exercise in setting the fundamental priorities that your government will address and touches all departments. Budgeting demands time, resources, collaboration, and hard work to bring the optimal budget to fruition.
Too often are budget directors and financial analysts burdened with obstacles in the process that hinder them from being as efficient and effective as possible. Siloed departments cause miscommunication, frustration, and inaccuracies in the budget draft. Additionally, outdated budgeting technologies enforce these siloes and further complicate collaboration across departments.
These issues and the methods to solve them were recently discussed on a webinar featuring Carmen Moreno-Rivera, Chief of Performance Improvement for Louisville Metro Government, Kathryn White, Director of Budget Process Studies at the National Association of State Budget Officers, Mark Welch, former Finance Director for the City of Ashland, Oregon, and Emma Coleman of Route Fifty. In this blog post, we will cover a few highlights from the webinar, but for the full version of the on-demand webinar, please follow this link.
A Culture of Process Documentation
One of the main issues Carmen Moreno-Rivera encounters in her agency’s budgeting process is the lack of an overarching culture of documentation for organizing a formal process for budget development. Her team often spends time searching to find the right person who knows their specific departmental process and spend hours with them to document that process. In describing this state of affairs, she explained, “it’s not that people don’t want to help, it’s just that it takes time to figure out who the right resource is, and asking the right questions to determine the process...making sure we’re not duplicating efforts.” Moreno-Rivera then went on to describe how her efforts in promoting that culture were beginning to pay off for the City of Louisville.
The Many Pains of State Budgeting
Also joining the webinar was Kathryn White, the Director of Budget Process Studies at the National Association of State Budget Officers, who noted the pains of state budgeting, even in cases where revenue has exceeded budget projections. She’s seen people wrestle with difficult questions in these situations, such as “How much are we able to spend now? Are these one-time gains in revenue, or is this recurring? If one-time gains, what kind of one-time investment should we make?” These are all hard questions whose answers have widespread effects on both the state’s long-term success and also the lives of its citizens.
White continued by showing examples she has seen of states offering solutions to these questions. Many states set aside budget surpluses into rainy day funds in anticipation of the potential for an upcoming recession. This scenario-based budget planning may involve a lot of work at the front end, but its benefits in the long run far outweigh the initial efforts. In addition to planning for a recession, White has seen states thoughtfully allocate funds toward one-time investments, such as building new or maintaining existing infrastructure that would benefit the community. These one-off expenditures largely avoid future gaps in the budget, ensuring that revenues are smartly handled.
The webinar then shifted to the topic of accountability. The budget’s direct impact on the general public pushes governments to be more transparent in the budget process. Coleman then posed the question, “What are steps governments can take to make budgets more transparent to the public?” White responded that she expects more governments to add budget information in an interactive online tool that is easily accessible by the public.
Mark Welch, former Finance Director for the City of Ashland, OR, has had firsthand experience using such an online tool. Now a Solutions Engineer with OpenGov, Welch brought his background into the webinar’s conversation by talking about how Ashland benefited from using OpenGov’s platform in several ways. He noted that governments often want to be more accountable for their budget, but they struggle with finding a solution to this issue. With OpenGov, he discovered that governments could achieve this desired level of accountability by finding their desired outcomes, tracking what they are doing to achieve that, and show their constituents what happened. “The outcome is all about communicating and performance,” he said.
Welch’s challenges as a Finance Director for Ashland were not dissimilar to those mentioned by Moreno-Rivera and White earlier in the webinar. Collaboration is a key component to outcome-based budgeting. However, this became very difficult for Welch without a central location for budget creation and review. He was thrilled when he started using OpenGov not only because of the ease of collaboration but also because it established a level of trust throughout the process. Communication improved because budgets were discussed and updated at the same time.
While some governments may resist embracing new technology at first, Welch said the effects of a new platform like OpenGov provide for a leaner, more efficient government long term so that fiscal leaders can focus on higher priorities and add more complex items to their responsibilities.
For more information on how to increase efficiency and improve accountability in the budget process for your government, and to hear the full conversation mentioned above, view the webinar on-demand.