"Before diving head-first into a local government’s budget season, it’s important to establish priorities first."
"Priority based budgeting is something that we believe will greatly benefit our County for the next decade” - County Administrator Joshua Schoemann
Among Priority Based Budgeting implementers, there is an evolution underway.
- PBB communities during the Great Recession became masters of the process to facilitate rational and apolitical budget balancing, during gut-wrenching economic tumult,
- Post recession, PBB communities inventively reimagined the very role of local government, using the tools of PBB to rebuild service only where they maximized societal objectives,
- And today’s PBB communities are unleashing the power of the tools and their PBB data to mine and reallocate their people and funds towards the services that will make government relevant in the future.
Washington County, Wisconsin is best in it’s class among those PBB communities ushering in this bold evolution. In it’s first year of implementation, the County successfully implemented the process, and has already undertaken a merger of it’s Health Department with a neighboring County, realizing substantial savings. Regionalization of services and public-private partnership (“P3’s”) are among the greatest sources of opportunity for PBB communities (at the 2016 PBB Conference, the PBB data-mine demonstrated $409million in opportunities among PBB communities alone in 2016).
Under the leadership of County Administrator Josh Schoemann, and Assistant County Administrator Jamie Ludovic, Washington County is the first County in Wisconsin to implement PBB. By showing what is possible through it’s work, Marathon County followed quickly in it’s footsteps, and North Central Health as well becoming the first health-care providing agency to embark on PBB implementation.
Recently Michael Grass, Executive Editor of Route Fifty, published an article focusing on Josh Schoemann and his team's work in implementing priority based budgeting in Washington County (Navigator Award Finalist: Joshua Schoemann, Washington County, Wis., Administrator). Here is the full article below:
Navigator Award Finalist: Joshua Schoemann, Washington County, Wis., Administrator
It’s not easy to implement a major shift in budgetary thinking across the landscape of stakeholders who have a hand in crafting a local government’s fiscal roadmap—including the public.
In some county and municipal jurisdictions where the Great Recession brought strained budgets, kept tax collections flat and necessitated difficult cost-cutting decisions, public administrators have been prompted to consider new fiscal-planning strategies.
There is a handful of different budget-planning schools of thought, including evidence-based budgeting and participatory-based budgeting. In Washington County, Wisconsin, located northwest of Milwaukee, the county administrator, Joshua Schoemann, chose to pursue priority-based budgeting.
Last fall, Route Fifty featured Schoemann’s priority-based budgetary efforts as the county was looking ahead to the fiscal 2017 budget. As we wrote that October, “priority-based budgeting involves establishing a set of priorities and then aligning budget dollars to match them. This can mean winnowing money from programs that do not line up with those priorities, in order to free up funds for programs that do.”
It sounds like a reasoned, basic framework to embrace. But as with all things related to budgeting, it’s naturally more complicated.
Priority-based budgeting is not a shortcut for those interested in mowing down budget line items with a lawnmower. But it is a way to look at how to best reallocate what you have. About 100 public-sector organizations in the U.S. and Canada use priority-based budgeting, which is mostly new to Wisconsin.
“The decision really was to go back to the basics and say ‘what is it we’re here for?’ And then let’s fund that. Let’s be the best we can possibly be at those things,” Schoemann told Route Fifty. “Some of our lower priorities, maybe we freeze funding, or we cut funding.”
That forces county departments “to look more innovatively at how we can do things differently, so we’re not relying on dollars that may not exist in a year or two,” he continued.
Some of guiding principles for the 2017 budget, according to Schoemann’s 2016 State of the County Address, include maintaining the current tax rate; reducing or eliminating the need to access the fund balance to balance the budget; replenishing the health insurance fund balance; and a third consecutive pay-plan adjustment.
Where are things now? This month, Schoemann has been working with his staff and the county’s Executive Committee to review changes to the 2017 budget proposal and submit it to the full County Board for consideration in early November, according to Schoemann’s weekly update.
So while it’s premature to assess Washington County’s still-unfinished budget for fiscal 2017, we are pleased to highlight the process used to get to this point. While the priority-based budgeting approach may not necessarily be a fit for every local jurisdiction, Schoemann’s experience in Washington County shows why it’s important to have priorities and goals before diving head-first into budget season. We’re pleased to include Schoemann as one of our 50 Navigator Award finalists.
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If you're thinking of jumping into the world of Fiscal Health and Wellness through Priority Based Budgeting we would certainly like to be part of your efforts! Contact us to schedule a free webinar and identify the best CPBB service option(s) to meet your organization's particular needs.