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Bainbridge begins move to use priority-based budgeting

Bainbridge Island Finance Director Ellen Schroer discusses the advantages of hiring a priority-based budgeting consultant in time for the city’s 2015-2016 budget process.   - Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review
Bainbridge Island Finance Director Ellen Schroer discusses the advantages of hiring a priority-based budgeting consultant in time for the city’s 2015-2016 budget process.
— image credit: Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

The city’s budget will be recalculated in time for the 2015-2016 budget process, the Bainbridge city council decided Monday.

Like many communities, for years Bainbridge’s budgeting process has consisted of simply modifying the previous year’s budget. This year, though, City Manager Doug Schulze said the city will conduct a complete overhaul of its budgeting process by partnering up with the Center for Priority Based Budgeting.

“I think there are different levels of how cities have used a similar concept in the past, but this is really something that is a relatively new approach to budgeting for local governments,” Schulze said.

With priority-based budgeting, the city will refocus its financial efforts to how people want their tax dollars spent in this community, Schulze said.

In a unanimous vote, the council approved a $60,000 contract with the center. The consultant will work with city staff over the course of five to six months to define goals the city hopes to achieve for meeting community expectations.

It will also develop a comprehensive list of city programs and services, identify the costs of those services and help prioritize each one accordingly.

The consultant will additionally develop a web-based Fiscal Health Diagnostic Tool for the city to help staff properly diagnose future symptoms and causes of a departmental budget issues.

By analyzing the city’s financial history, the diagnostic tool will help staff communicate the city’s fiscal health to elected leaders, administration officials and other community stakeholders. It will likewise allow staff to graphically depict how ongoing and one-time funding sources line up with the city’s expenditure needs.

The new approach will give staff a way to monitor the city’s budget and gauge long-term impacts.

During Monday’s city council meeting, Councilman Wayne Roth — who promoted priority-based budgeting during his campaign for council last year – questioned what kind of budgeting method the city has previously relied on.

“I can’t imagine ever doing a budget without a developed strategic priority and setting a budget to address the priorities,” Roth said.

“I’m reading this more as a way to have a third-party guide us through something intuitive we all know how to do, even if we haven’t done it exactly,” Roth added.

Schulze said that cities commonly make adjustments to preexisting budgets. Taking it to this level of prioritizing will be an overhaul for the city’s finance department in how it distributes resources.

Finance Director Ellen Schroer further explained how the consultant would be offering valuable training.

“The tool for fiscal health gives, I think, the council and the community and the staff a shared vocabulary to talk about some concepts that we’ve discussed in the past, using terms like recurring revenues and recurring expenses,” Schroer said.

“But they also have some tools that allow maybe better recording than we have right now, or web-based sort of scenario analysis which we don’t do right now,” she said.

Schulze also noted the consultant will open the opportunity for public dialogue to identify the needs of the community, and it will provide added staff support at a time when the city is not only setting up a new process but also gathering data for next year’s budget.

The Center for Priority Based Budgeting is a Colorado-based organization. Its approach has  received endorsement from the International City/County Management Association.

 

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