Thursday, April 30, 2015

What Are the Most Important Questions in (Local) Government?

"While politicians easily offer policy prescriptions, they often fail to ask how they will be paid for." - Mark Funkhouser, Publisher of Governing Magazine

In a recent Governing article, "The Most Important Question in Government: Where's the Money," author and Governing magazine publisher Mark Funkhouser writes, “Where’s the money?” While that’s the second question in government, it’s also the one that really matters most. The debates that fuel elections and the legislative process are usually about the first question: “What shall we do?” But the answers to that are largely irrelevant if you can’t find the money to pay for what you want to do.

Financial crises are a perennial and perhaps endemic feature of democratic government, in part because so few public officials want to make this connection between money and the policies they advocate. Lois Scott, Chicago’s chief financial officer and the leader of the Municipal CFO Forum, echoes this theme. When a public official says, for example, “I’m for job creation,” Scott wonders, “Who’s opposed to job creation?” Anyone can talk about what government should do. The critical issue is how we will find the money to get these things done."

Allocating Resources Based on Priorities

How fascinating and true! Why do so few public officials make the connection between money and policies? What assumptions do public officials hold so firmly and that so calcify their thinking to convince us that questions such as "what shall we do"and "where will we find the money" should come before "what Results is this community in business to achieve" and "what services are of the highest priority that allow us to meet these community Results."

We at the Center for Priority Based Budgeting certainly acknowledge that times are not easy for government at any level. The recent recession played fiscal havoc on the vast majority of local government communities across the nation. And while the economy has certainly improved, those desperately wishing for a return to the "good old days" will likely find themselves seeking alternative employment prior to the return of pre-recession fiscal conditions.

We, among others, have also been communicating that local government communities are firmly in the economic grasp of the new normal. Local governments continue to face previously unknown financial and political pressures as they struggle to develop meaningful and fiscally prudent budgets.  Revenues are at best stable (or even declining), while demand for services continues to increase.  Citizens believe that government budgets are "fat" and that there is ample waste to "cut".  Civic leaders more often than not focus on "across the board" cuts that spreads the pain equally - but also encourages mediocrity rather than excellence.

We've also been desperately trying to communicate that the (financial) crisis is not fiscal. Why do local government professionals believe that changing fiscal conditions represent our crisis? Would higher revenues and lower expenses allow us to operate crisis free? Or does the true crisis exist when, despite our fiscal realities, we don’t focus on those priorities and objectives that ensure the success of our communities?"

Perhaps the question(s) public officials should be asking in lieu of "where's the money" is "do we truly understand our fiscal health position (how much money do we have)." Local governments must be clear and transparent about what truly is their picture of fiscal health. Communicating that picture simply and clearly without volumes of numbers, spreadsheets, tables, and an endless series of charts is frankly a challenge that has plagued financial managers for years. If local governments are going to be able to demonstrate financial reality internally to elected officials and staff, and externally to residents, they have to find better ways to make fiscal situations understandable and transparent to everyone.

The key breakthrough in this area has been "data visualization" which allows for the easiest way of creating a common view, a common perspective that is simple and that everybody can agree on. Part of the reason that financial problems can be obscured or hidden is because many times decisions makers have no idea how to understand finances to begin with. 

Data Visualization allows us to create a common view of the financial situation that is simple to understand and interpret, describes the clearly defined variables that can impact the financial situation, allows for "live" and "real-time" changes in these variables, and offers the ability for "dynamic" modeling of "what-if" scenarios - this is how transparency is created, and this is the essential first component in understanding "how much money do we have?"

The second question public officials should be asking in lieu of "what shall we do" is "how can we best utilize our scarce resources (money) to meet the Results the community desires." Public officials must change the way that resource allocation discussions take place. Financial problems are frequently effectively hidden and obscured because the budget process allows for it. Line item budgeting, incremental budgeting, zero-based budgeting were each attempts to better understand "how" money is spent, but these methods fail to address a more fundamental question: "why" money is spent.

The question of whether or not public dollars are being used effectively is not answerable with the tools currently available to elected officials, decision makers, staff and citizens. 

Priority Based Budgeting provides a comprehensive review of the entire organization, identifying every program offered, identifying the costs of every program offered, evaluating the relevance of every program offered on the basis of the community's priorities, and ultimately guiding elected and appointed officials to the policy questions they can answer with the information gained from the Priority Based Budgeting process, such as:
  • What is the local government uniquely qualified to provide, offering the maximum benefit to citizens for the tax dollars they pay?
  • What is the community truly mandated to provide? What does it cost to fulfill those mandates?
  • What programs are most appropriate to fund by establishing or increasing user-fees?
  • What programs are most appropriate for establishing partnerships with other community service providers?
  • What services might the local government consider “getting out of the business” of providing?
  • Where are there apparent overlaps and redundancies in a community because several entities are providing similar services?
  • Where is the local government potentially competing against private businesses within its own community?

"Making the Simple Complicated is Commonplace; Making the Complicated Simple, Awesomely Simple, that's Creative."

Although we love this Charles Mingus quote (above), we readily admit nothing in public finance is simple. However, subscribing to and implementing the proven, scalable and replicable practice of priority based budgeting provides a platform; a map; and best of all a strategy that the most innovative local government communities have already found successful.

Priority Based Budgeting is a unique and innovative approach being used by local governments across the Country to match available resources with community priorities, provide information to elected officials that lead to better informed decisions, meaningfully engage citizens in the budgeting process and, finally, escape the traditional routine of basing "new" budgets on revisions to the "old" budget

This holistic approach helps to provide elected officials and other decision-makers with a "new lens" through which to frame better-informed financial and budgeting decisions and helps ensure that a community is able to identify and preserve those programs and services that are most highly valued. 

The underlying philosophy of priority based budgeting is about how a government entity should invest resources to meet its stated objectives. It helps us to better articulate why the services we offer exist, what price we pay for them, and, consequently, what value they offer citizens. The principles associated with this philosophy of priority based budgeting are:

• Prioritize Services. Priority based budgeting evaluates the relative importance of individual programs and services rather than entire departments. It is distinguished by prioritizing the services a government provides, one versus another.
• Do the Important Things Well. Cut Back on the Rest. In a time of revenue decline, a traditional budget process often attempts to continue funding all the same programs it funded last year, albeit at a reduced level (e.g. across-the-board budget cuts). Priority based budgeting identifies the services that offer the highest value and continues to provide funding for them, while reducing service levels, divesting, or potentially eliminating lower value services.
• Question Past Patterns of Spending. An incremental budget process doesn’t seriously question the spending decisions made in years past. Priority based budgeting puts all the money on the table to encourage more creative conversations about services.
• Spend Within the Organization’s Means. Priority based budgeting starts with the revenue available to the government, rather than last year’s expenditures, as the basis for decision making.
• Know the True Cost of Doing Business. Focusing on the full costs of programs ensures that funding decisions are based on the true cost of providing a service.
• Provide Transparency of Community Priorities. When budget decisions are based on a well-defined set of community priorities, the government’s aims are not left open to interpretation.
• Provide Transparency of Service Impact. In traditional budgets, it is often not entirely clear how funded services make a real difference in the lives of citizens. Under priority based budgeting, the focus is on the results the service produces for achieving community priorities.
• Demand Accountability for Results. Traditional budgets focus on accountability for staying within spending limits. Beyond this, priority based budgeting demands accountability for results that were the basis for a service’s budget allocation.

Local government communities must consider a completely different perspective. In order to achieve success and accept the challenges that are ahead, we must see more clearly how to manage, use, and optimize resources in a much different way than has been done in the past.  

This new environment demands a new (economic) vision of the future. And that vision is created through priority based budgeting.

And don't forget! The Priority Based Budgeting is now web-based! This powerful new public finance technology tool may very well define the future of on-line local government budgeting! 

If your community is interested in this disruptive new tool, and being among the first to utilize on-line priority based budgeting, contact us!
Center for Priority Based Budgeting
2015 Annual Conference 
Denver, Colorado | August 4 - 6, 2015
Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel

Monday, April 27, 2015

Using Dynamic Data in Making Local Government "More Responsive, Transparent and Effective in Serving Citizens."

"19% of all Americans could think of an example where the local government did a good job providing information to the public about data it collects." - PEW

In a recent article and survey conducted by the PEW Research Center "Americans' Views on Open Government Data," authors John B. Horrigan and Lee Rainie write "Government reformers and advocates believe that two contemporary phenomena hold the potential to change how people engage with governments at all levels. The first is data. There is more of it than ever before and there are more effective tools for sharing it. This creates new service-delivery possibilities for government through use of data that government agencies themselves collect and generate. The second is public desire to make government more responsive, transparent and effective in serving citizens — an impulse driven by tight budgets and declining citizens’ trust in government.

The upshot has been the appearance of a variety of “open data” and “open government” initiatives throughout the United States that try to use data as a lever to improve government performance and encourage warmer citizens’ attitudes toward government."

Making "government more responsive, transparent and effective in serving citizens" is of critical importance, at all levels of government, and especially at the local level. The CPBB has been a long-standing supporter of transparency and efficiency in local government through our concepts of Fiscal Health and Wellness through Priority Based Budgeting.

And to fully engage the data-driven era we're all in (like it or not), we've brought all our tools online. Our unique and innovative fiscal health, priority based budgeting, program inventory and program costing tools are providing new platforms for local government communities to truly be "more responsive, transparent and effective in serving citizens."

While we're proud of our data-driven suite of tools, we also recognize it takes a village to support this
revolution in local government. Which is why our 4th annual conference is focused on "Driving the Data-Focused Future of Communities."

This years (un)conference will represent the evolution of our work and showcase leading public and private sector innovators who are inspiring data-focused excellence in local government!

We’re still putting the finishing touches on our program, but highlights of our working program currently includes:

Keynote- Lined up an incredibly talented individual who is the co-lead of UNICEF's Global Innovation Unit, was listed in 2013 as a Time Magazine list of 100 most influential people, is a TED Talk speaker and a leader in global innovation. Introducing  Chris Fabian (CFx2, and no not to be confused w/ CPBB Co-Founder Chris Fabian)!

Sessions focusing on "Disruptive Technology in Local Government"

We have ELGL as a conference partner again this year and they will be facilitating a panel discussion on the critically important #13percent issue

Brian Elms, Manager of the Denver Peak Academy will discuss Data Informed Decisions in Local Government

Mike Jones, Director of Implementation, to present “Reinventing Criminal Justice" with an innovative organization Pretrial

And “Optimizing the Approach to P3's in Community Development" - A SAFEbuilt Panel Discussion

On top of this, we will be assembling the largest Priority Based Budgeting “user group” representing the 90+ organizations who have been innovating with us over the past 6 years. And of course, a few “surprise” unveilings!

We’re very excited about expanding the topics of conversation, bringing in new partners and speakers, and of course cementing relationships with our valued existing partners.

Local government must be "more responsive, transparent and effective in serving citizens." And Driving the data-focused future of communities will provide your community with all the tools and resources to get there!

Register today!

Keep an eye on the CPBB blog for further updates. Sign-up for our social media pages so you stay connected with TEAM CPBB!

Follow Us on FacebookFollow Us on Google+Follow Us on TwitterFollow Us on LinkedInFollow Us on RSS

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.


Monday, April 20, 2015

"A Common Sense, Strategic Alternative to Budgeting." - South Jordan Utah Mayor's Message

"Priority-based budgeting also requires elected officials to make fiscal decisions which benefit the long term financial health of the City." - Mayor David Alvord

South Jordan City, Utah has made tremendous strides in successfully implementing priority based budgeting (PBB). In preparing for the 2015-2016 budget, the City incorporated priority based budgeting into their fiscal budget strategy, the first community in Utah to implement PBB!

The South Jordan Journal recently published a Mayor's Message, where South Jordan City Mayor David Alvord "reports back on some of the progress we are making as we work towards good governance."

Congratulations and excellent work South Jordan City - first in Utah! Welcome to the Priority Based Budgeting Community!

Read the full story below.

As the Mayor of South Jordan, it gives me great pleasure to report back some of the progress we are making as we work towards good governance. As an elected official, I have learned that you have to balance politics and good governance. Politics is the art of working together to achieve compromise. Governance, on the other hand, is seeing that the government stays on course to efficiently provide for the common good through areas like transportation and public safety. 

As citizens in South Jordan we frequently disagree on political positions. Even among our City Council members, there are frequent political disagreements. However, I am pleased to report that a budget has been prepared that displayed the council’s unity to work towards the overall good of the city. As a result, this budget includes tax relief, debt repayment, a new fire station, new full-time employees for the city as well as many other asset improvements. As I mentioned to the council, we are truly blessed to live in South Jordan at this time in the history of the city.

Some of you may know that in preparing for the 2015-2016 fiscal year budget the City Council, City Manager, senior staff and I engaged in a new priorities based budgeting format. Priority-driven-budgeting is a common sense, strategic alternative to budgeting. The philosophy of priority driven budgeting is that resources should be allocated according to how effectively a program or service achieves the goals and objectives that are of greatest value to the community. As those needs are identified and prioritized through discussion, a very clear picture of where to allocate resources emerges. As a result the City will once again have a balanced budget in 2015-2016.

One of the budget priorities for me since I became interested in local government has been seeing that
taxes reflect our actual needs. I am pleased to announce that after working with our City Council and city staff, that the 2015-2016 budget will include further reductions in tax revenue, meaning that the City will be taking less taxes. This accomplishment could not have happened without the cooperation of our excellent staff and employees.  

Priority-based budgeting also requires elected officials to make fiscal decisions which benefit the long term financial health of the City. To that end, the City will be paying off $4,000,000 in debt from the bond used to purchase the Mulligan’s property. Reducing our debts improves our already well regarded credit ratings and improves the overall fiscal health of South Jordan. 

In addition to payment of debts and reduction in property tax revenue, South Jordan City is also preparing for its future needs by maintaining and in some cases improving services through increases in employees and operational budgets. The City will also be working towards building an additional fire station, which will help us expand our advanced life safety and fire response.

South Jordan’s residents and elected officials disagree about a wide variety of political positions. That’s part of the political freedoms we share in the United States. Our shared commitment to efficient governance, however, will focus all of us on working together to find solutions that benefit our common good. Thank you for the privilege of serving as your Mayor. It’s great to live in South Jordan! 

Center for Priority Based Budgeting
2015 Annual Conference 
Denver, Colorado | August 4 - 6, 2015
Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel
Early bird discount available now (for a limited time)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

City of Humboldt Engages in an “Election on Results”: Launching Priority Based Budgeting as the First City in Saskatchewan, Canada!

The City of Humboldt, Saskatchewan's elected officials and department directors participated in an entirely different kind of election last night, as they weighed in on a comprehensive set of “values” identified in their Strategic Plan.

Thank you for taking part in this unique "budgeting" experience,” began the unique online ballot exercise. “Through Priority Based Budgeting, we are presenting you an opportunity to directly influence the way dollars are spent in this community. Think of it as an election, but a very unusual election: an election for the Results that matter most to you.”

      "Why" Does our Local Government Exist?  The City of Humboldt Engages in an "Election on Results"

The City of Humboldt, Saskatchewan launched their Priority Based Budgeting process April 8th, leveraging and building upon over a year of Strategic Planning that set forth values, and strategies to achieve those values. Their objective in initiating Priority Based Budgeting is to link every dollar spent to the programs and services most directly aligned with the achievement of those values.

As the ballot read: “By placing more of your votes toward the achievement of any Result, you are communicating to your City that services designed to achieve that Result are a high priority. Similarly, vote less for Results that, while still important to you, are relatively less important. By not voting for a particular Result, you are informing the City that any programs currently designed to achieve that Result should not be provided – a “no-vote” is that serious. 

This is about clearly prioritizing the role you want your local government to serve in your life, and your community. Lastly, there is the opportunity for "write-in" candidates - if you feel that any "Results" are missing, please add a Result, and then allocate part of your vote total to the new Result.” 

Election Results are Tallied and Reported

With Results established, and prioritized, the City will embark on the next phase of Priority Based Budgeting on April 9th, as each Result is defined in detail. Precision in Priority Based Budgeting depends on the clear articulation of the cause and effect relationship between a program and a defined Result. With clearly defined “Result Definitions,” detailing the factors that influence the Results the City is in business to achieve, it can seek to minimize subjectivity in the process of linking those Results to programs or services offered to the community.

Great work City of Humboldt! Welcome to the Priority Based Budgeting community!

Center for Priority Based Budgeting
Driving the Data-Focused Future of Communities
2015 Annual Conference 
Denver, Colorado | August 4 - 6, 2015
Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel
Early bird discount available now (for a limited time)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Driving the Data-Focused Future of Communities

"Data focused communities are challenging the status quo and unraveling conventional wisdom, defying what we thought we knew about the traditional role of government and mining fundamentally new knowledge in policy-making to create communities that achieve More!"

Center for Priority Based Budgeting
Driving the Data-Focused Future of Communities
2015 Annual Conference 

Denver, Colorado | August 4 - 6, 2015
Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel
Early bird discount available now (for a limited time)

Priority Based Budgeting is fundamentally changing the way local governments are approaching resource allocation, community partnerships, transparency in financial management and literacy, credit rating management, and our very understanding of the modern role of pro-active governance.

For over five-years, nearly 100 communities across the US and Canada have been implementing and evolving our scalable and replicable core budgeting and community development concepts, and the outcomes have forever transformed the status quo in service delivery and community resilience!

Priority based budgeting is first and foremost a process. A process that transforms communities and provides visualized fiscal data to make better informed decisions on prioritized services. This year, we’ll once again be bringing hundreds of the bravest, most courageous, creative and innovative local government professionals to Denver to further propel excellence in governance.

Referred to as an (un)conference, we annually gather the brightest and most curious minds in local government to share experiences, ideas, and lessons in innovation. These “user-group experiences” are the foundation of our events. And provides the perfect platform to explore how leading PBB implementers are “Driving the Data-Focused Future of Communities.” Register here!

Driving the Data-Focused Future of Communities Annual Conference is brought to you by the Center for Priority Based Budgeting (CPBB) and conference partners Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL)