About Jackson County Water & Sewerage Authority
The importance of a community’s underground is often overlooked. Thanks to the Water & Sewerage Authority, Jackson County’s H2O has been drinkable, and waste has been flushable since 1986.
The Jackson County Water & Sewerage Authority (JCWSA) operates as an independent political subdivision of the state, similar to Georgia’s counties and cities. JCWSA is responsible for keeping the County’s water supply top-quality and sewerage systems state-of-the-art, all the while handling the many finances, administrative duties, and planning that keep everything flowing.
While the pipes ran smoothly, JCWSA’s budget, on the other hand, was entirely backed up.
As you can imagine, keeping track of all of the finances surrounding the water and sewerage supply is complex and time-consuming. While the JCWSA team was dedicated and hardworking, outdated technology and manual clerical work prevented them from creating efficient and measurable processes.
OpenGov Budgeting & Planning geared the JCWSA team with the technology they needed to completely transform their budgeting process. With a centralized solution where proposals were submitted and stored, JSCWA quickly established a sustainable and strategic budgeting cycle that reduced work time, while providing deeper insight into strategic budget initiatives.
Streamlined Budget Process.
By eliminating manual reconciliation and encouraging online collaboration, the budget creation process was upgraded.
Finishing ahead of Schedule.
With OpenGov Budgeting & Planning, Jackson County finished the official annual budget a month ahead of schedule.
A day’s worth of work was saved for each report, enabling more frequent updates and better strategic planning.
Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority uses OpenGov to plan how it will allocate resources required to serve its community.
“I had to recreate the wheel, over and over again,” said JCWSA Finance Director Judy Smith, when asked of her budget process before implementing OpenGov.
Every time a change to the budget was made, Judy was forced to manually export all data from the Authority’s financial software system and recreate the report by hand in Excel. Tedious work like this was not only associated with budgeting but also with management reporting. In fact, creating every regular report for department managers, citizens, and bondholders took an entire workday for Judy to build. Inevitably, this time-consuming process took the place of strategic planning.
This process also forced Judy to run reports quarterly rather than more frequently, which strained the Authority’s ability to analyze timely data trends necessary to make critical decisions.
“We were close to our limit on a maintenance line item, and the department lead needed information right now and couldn’t wait. We had to hamper good decision-making because there was no way to know if we were even on target,” said Judy.
As the Finance Director, Judy had to share her reports with Department Heads, collect feedback, and—you guessed it—recreate the report again in Excel. “[Department Heads] often returned the reports as paper with pen marks on it, or a department manager would decide to present it in their own way,” recalled Judy. The process was anything but collaborative, with most of the weight on Judy’s shoulders.
From dollar adjustments to typo’d totals, Judy tirelessly worked in technology that was no match to her work ethic.
A Revolutionary Budgeting Process
At the national GFOA conference in Philadelphia, Judy discovered OpenGov and our budgeting solution. She quickly learned this was the tool she’d been missing: technology that allowed her to share reports with department managers in real-time. And then, let these managers adjust the budget themselves.
Judy was quick to decide that OpenGov would be crucial in her efforts to revolutionize the current budgeting process. OpenGov Budgeting & Planning simplified the initial compiling of the previous year’s budgets and actual financials, which was done manually. As a result, Judy could pull the last year’s budget and actuals in seconds.
“Everything being integrated absolutely helps me manage the budget process,” said Judy.
While building the budget in OpenGov, Judy no longer had to create sheets for each department manually. Instead, the platform acted as one central place for the entire organization to submit proposals and supporting documents.
“I quickly set up accounts for every department manager so they could go in and populate their own proposals. One of our managers was new to the process—this was his first budgeting experience ever—and he found it extremely easy to adjust his budget proposal by line item and then see the immediate impact.”
The single online portal for collaboration also made it easier to spot errors: “It’s simple to see when you’ve skipped a cell because there’s nothing there, and that made it simple to check if things looked appropriate and send them back if necessary,” said Judy. She could also immediately see whether the overall budget was at a deficit or a surplus, as well as an automatic audit trail of every proposal—a feature she described as “extremely helpful.”
With modern, cloud-based technology, JCWSA cut back on paper generated during the entire budget cycle. “This year, I created a physical file with my budgeting documents, but I’m not sure I need it. It was an eighth of an inch thick, whereas, in past years, it has been over 4 inches,” said Judy.
Finishing the Budget a Month Early!
“It had no squeaks, and saved my sanity,” said Judy, when asked about her first budget cycle created in OpenGov.
Judy created the budget a month ahead of schedule. This lift allowed the entire JCWSA team to review the process in greater depth while incorporating more buy-in from departments and other stakeholders.
Quarterly → Monthly Reporting Cycles
The ease of OpenGov report building led to a monthly reporting cycle. This new cadence gave departments the granular information they needed to follow their budget closely and change course on a dime if necessary.
A Budget Worth Presenting
After the budget is adopted, the agency is required to share its performance metrics with the County Board. A day-long process of preparing reports now takes Judy a mere thirty minutes. “Once I export the report from my finance software, it’s simply a matter of checking the template and the numbers.”
The stress of presenting the budget to the County Board was greatly relieved due to 1) OpenGov’s granular data that allowed for monthly reporting and easier trend analysis and 2) the automated and easy-to-read graphics. “Many of the questions [the County Board] has for me will be answered by OpenGov,” said Judy.
“Our budget was passed the night we presented it using reports and charts from OpenGov. I have to think that OpenGov played a part in helping to make this budget process the easiest I’ve experienced in my government career!”
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