Boulder City, NV Embraces a Nimble Approach to Budgeting

POPULATION: 15,550 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $60 Million

Originally designed to house the builders of the Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada was federally-planned as a model city in the 1930s. Located between Las Vegas and Lake Mead in the southern part of the state, Boulder City now boasts a municipal airport, multiple golf courses, an extensive network of parks, miles of scenic hiking trails, and myriad “Dam”-themed festivals and events. Facing population growth restrictions, shifting circumstances, and changing service needs, the City’s leaders thus sought to plan for future sustainability and utilize technology to mitigate operational challenges.


New Finance Director Struggled to Create Budget, Meet Deadlines


While there is never a perfect time to join an organization, as Boulder City Finance Director Hyun Kim learned, coming on board in the middle of a fiscal year presents unique challenges. Kim, a seasoned professional with a background in both the public and private sectors, joined Boulder City amid ongoing budget preparations.

Joining Boulder City right in the middle of a fiscal year and going straight into the next year’s budget process, as firm budget deadlines loomed, Kim immediately had to mitigate the challenge of time. For instance, it was difficult to have a comprehensive budget book complete by submission dates, particularly as various department-level modifications repeatedly changed proposals, requiring tedious manual updates. Kim needed a solution that would increase his team’s ability to make ongoing – even last-minute – changes while maintaining confidence in the budget numbers.


Saved Time and Met Deadlines


Kim first learned of OpenGov while reading an article about online transparency solutions for the public sector. “Transparency is a hot topic right now for any organization – we all want to be more transparent; we all want to give the citizens more access,” he said.

Facing growth restrictions, Boulder City undertakes strategic long-term planning. (Photo: iStock)

However, when learning that OpenGov had recently announced a public sector budgeting solution, he saw a greater opportunity to integrate an impactful technology into his team’s budgeting workflow. The solution, OpenGov’s Budget Builder™, offered Boulder City an opportunity to improve its budgeting process immediately and for the future. Kim called Budget Builder “a game-changer, in the sense that it really saves tangible time for staff and allows for more transparency for the elected body and the public.” Kim used Budget Builder to navigate a tight timeline and increase his confidence in the budget data’s integrity amid ongoing changes.

Initially, Kim effectively utilized Budget Builder as time-saving tool while he was learning to use the city’s more involved Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Because Budget Builder leveraged the City’s existing Chart of Accounts, he was able to leverage both systems without the experience feeling fragmented and duplicative. “The fact that I could build a budget outside of my ERP by pulling out a simple chart of accounts saved tangible time for me,” he explained.


Confidence Amid Constant Changes


However, OpenGov’s budgeting solution also provided an effective solution for budgeting in the middle of contract negotiations. “We have seven bargaining groups and were in the middle of negotiating contracts while budgeting,” he said. “As I got a sense of where negotiations were headed, I updated the budget accordingly. If I just had a static Excel spreadsheet, I’d have to update it for every bargaining unit every time I got wind of a different direction. I don’t have to do that now. I can make changes in Budget Builder on the fly based on what I’m seeing.”

Kim’s team also benefitted from the ability to change the budget document in a centralized location as needs arose. “We had a key team member retire, so we had to modify that department’s salary package. With a static system, we’d have to modify multiple spreadsheets and go back and forth over e-mail. With OpenGov, the process is dynamic, and everyone can make changes on the fly.”

As a recreational destination, Boulder City works to deliver effective services to residents and visitors. (Photo: Interbike International Bicycle Expo / Flickr)


Future Sustainability Through Innovation


In a post-recession environment of uncertainty, many municipal governments have increasingly expanded services in the face of decreased federal and state aid. “In Southern Nevada,” explained Kim, “the biggest challenge is that most communities are funded through sales or property taxes. Budgets are predicated on having growing populations to pay for infrastructure projects, etc. In my opinion, that growth trajectory is not sustainable. The challenge comes when budgets are predicated on continual growth, and then the actual growth starts to slow down.”

Indeed, budgeting with short-term growth expectations and real long-term resource constraints is the tension at the core of fiscal sustainability. One approach to achieving fiscal sustainability likely lies at the intersection of technology and the people powering public administration. “Creating fiscal sustainability requires city leaders to look at problems with the concepts of efficiencies and innovations,” said Kim. “It’s already happening, and OpenGov is a great example of that.”

As a source of cost savings, Kim also found value in adopting a cloud-based online system that facilitates collaboration and evolves over time without requiring expensive, time-consuming updates. He pointed to the public sector’s reliance on e-mail for so many tasks as an illustration of how old organizational paradigms are shifting toward the need for lighter technologies built to achieve outcomes. “Town staffs live and die by their e-mail,” he noted. “And most cities have an IT department staffed by folks helping people work through redundant, legacy systems.”

For Kim and his team, solutions like OpenGov’s Smart Government Platform™ make it more effective to plan given the reality of uncertainty, both because the software facilitates effective planning and because the technology is more cost effective for resource restrained governments. “Those legacy systems were great yesterday, but going forward we are seeing cloud-based possibilities that manage back-end infrastructure and storage for pennies on the dollar for what we’re spending on in-house IT departments,” he said.

Boulder City leverages cloud-based budgeting software to collaborate around its budget planning process, enabling it to deliver a consistent level of services. (Photo: City of Boulder City)

Results

  • Met Budget Deadlines Using Dynamic Budgeting Solution.

    New Finance Director successfully developed budget using OpenGov Budget Builder, meeting tight budget deadlines while accommodating last-minute changes.

  • Saved Staff Time and Empowered Collaboration. 

    The team streamlined its internal budgeting workflow using OpenGov. Finance Director aggregated input from all departments, and department heads easily made changes on the fly without relying on lengthy e-mail exchanges.

  • Successfully Leveraged Cloud-Based Technology.

    As the nature of budgeting evolves, cloud-based budgeting technology mitigates planning challenges as new tools align with new paradigms, saving both time and money. Cloud-based solutions offer technology infrastructure for pennies on the dollar compared with bulkier in-house or legacy tools.

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