Friday, February 11, 2011

Town Councilmember Stipes Reflects on Priority Based Budgeting from an Elected Officials Perspective

- AdvanceChristiansburg - Fiscal Year 2011 -2012

"It's safe to say that we all realize that it's impossible for Town Government to be all things to all people, so by this exercise we're taking a step back from budgeting 'business as usual' to break down town operations as they are today and analyzing/prioritizing next year's budget (and future budgets) with the expectations of the community as a whole; a grass-roots approach to actually building a budget as opposed to just projecting the status quo into the next year."

Two important changes have taken place this year in Christiansburg that we're hoping will take root and prove to be valuable in developing this coming year's Town Operating Budget ... and future budgets. The first is that Staff and Council have begun the process 3-4 months earlier than ever before. The second is that instead of focusing on revenues and expenses, the town is embracing a fiscal philosophy known as Priority Based Budgeting that has been proven effective in many other local governments and at least one state government (Georgia).

Priority Based Budgeting engages Town Staff, Citizens, and elected officials together in the budgeting process by defining, costing, and prioritizing town functions. This year's process began in December with a workshop led by the non-profit Center for Priority Based Budgeting, which has been been very successful in leading other conscientious communities, including the City of Chesapeake Va., through the process of introspection, prioritization of programs and services, and development of a results-oriented budget that reflects the prioritized expectations of the community as a whole. Without going into painstaking detail about the process, the provided website link has a wealth of information about the process we are using this year.

The essence of the process is that Town Staff has been working diligently to identify its program responsibilities and costs associated with providing these services. Town Council, in turn, has met with a much larger working group of citizens and town staff to identify and prioritize the functions and expectations that we hope reflect the 'needs of the many'. This process will soon include further public input via a web-based tool that will further assist in measuring public pulse for town programs and services. The final step is to then align the prioritized list of town functions (programs and services) with their related costs and then to develop an operating budget that provides the services that we feel best reflects the prioritized needs and wants of the town as a whole in an affordable manner.

It's safe to say that we all realize that it's impossible for Town Government to be all things to all people, so by this exercise we're taking a step back from budgeting 'business as usual' to break down town operations as they are today and analyzing/prioritizing next year's budget (and future budgets) with the expectations of the community as a whole; a grass-roots approach to actually building a budget as opposed to just projecting the status quo into the next year.

Another goal in approaching the Town Budget in this bottom-to-top manner is to avoid what the Center for Priority Based Budgeting refers to as "Emergency Room Procedures", which include across-the-board cuts, layoffs and furloughs, and unnecessary tax increases.

Check out the website link above and stay tuned for more about this year's budget on the Town's website, by coming to Finance Committee Meetings and Council Meetings, and, of course, through traditional media outlets. Credit for this idea goes to Interim Town Manager Barry Helms and Town Treasurer Val Tweedy for suggesting the Center for Priority Based Budgeting as a proven resource for the "Extreme Makeover" approach we are taking this year.

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