A New Way to Build a Budget

Most of Burnet, Texas’ budgeting is done on Microsoft Excel and through interdepartmental emails, not atypical for small cities, but certainly not efficient.

“That gets pretty cumbersome after a while, when you have as many departments as we do,” said Connie Maxwell, Burnet’s budget director, in an interview.

A degreed accountant, Maxwell has served in various financial capacities for the city over the past 12 years, but her primary responsibilities are the budget, the general ledger and fiscal reporting.

That meant inputting the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet for all the traditional agencies like Parks & Recreation and Fire/Emergency Medical Services, as well as the less common airport and golf course, and then dropping them into Burnet’s accounting software. It’s an exhausting procedure.

“I think this is one of the great problems in public administration,” said Zac Bookman, CEO and co-founder of OpenGov, whose new Budget Builder software has been piloted by Maxwell since April.

The “biggest product launch in the company’s history” by Bookman’s estimation, web-based Budget Builder is a product he’s had in mind from the start and one that rounds out a software suite that also includes transparency and management reporting tools. Burnet has used OpenGov Intelligence for two years.

The platform can now be used to report on spending against the budget in addition to running analytics and informing the public and elected officials. Budget proposals can be rolled out from across the enterprise with supporting documents into a central online system, where commenting and rejections can occur.

Teams can also create Budget Milestones reports to update officials on performance.

The streamlined process reduces errors and saves government employees time in a way most technology staffs can’t offer, Bookman said. In a few minutes, Maxwell updated OpenGov with the budget numbers from Burnet’s accounting software.

Texas state government requires localities to project through to the end of the year with their budgets and also go back two years prior. Burnet’s charter requires the current year and five years beyond that. The old accounting software couldn’t put all those numbers in one report, Maxwell said.

OpenGov’s budget module eliminates the need for her Excel spreadsheet, though she still uses the program for its formulas—simply transferring the numbers back to OpenGov once calculations are complete.

“It’s probably saved me well over 50 percent of my time used to deal with the budget excel spreadsheet and making sure totals are carried forward,” Maxwell said. “Department heads are putting in their own budgets for the first time.”

Bookman says 10 governments have already signed up to use Budget Builder without any marketing.

OpenGov allows jurisdictions to tour the system with their own data while using their existing budgeting system alongside it for one more year.

“They’d be deployed by the time they sign up, eliminating risk,” Bookman said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive‘s Route Fifty and is based in Washington D.C.

By OpenGov
Published: September 14, 2016
Source: A New Way to Build a Budget