Thursday, May 26, 2016

How Marathon County, WI Gets Their Priorities Straight!

"We need to FIRST get our priorities straight and THEN align our money with our stated priorities." - Brad Karger, Marathon County Administrator

Brad Karger
This article originally written by Brad Karger and published in the Summer 2016 Marathon County Newsletter.

160 million dollars ($160,000,000) is A LOT of money. That’s the size of Marathon County’s annual budget. So don’t let anybody tell you that the County is broke. We are FAR from broke.

The real challenge we face is that every year, our operational costs go up 2 million dollars ($2,000,000) while the State imposed levy caps limit us to a half million dollars ($500,000) in new tax levy. This means that pretty much every year we start the budget process with a 1.5 million dollar ($1,500,000) deficit just to cover the same slate of items we did the year prior.

I’ve been in leadership for a long time, and we’ve used a number of strategies to address this deficit:
·Across-the-board cuts
·Pay freezes and asking employees to shoulder more of the cost of their health benefits
·Reducing the size of our workforce
·Energy-conservation measures
·Spending down reserves

All these strategies have worked, but they’ve taken us about as far as they can.

In preparing the 2017 budget, we will aspire higher. We want our lower priority programs to be the funding source for our most impactful, highest priority initiatives.

Complaining about State mandates and declaring ourselves victims of a State-imposed system is pretty standard stuff for local officials, but it isn't going to accomplish much and, more than anything, it will contribute to a loss of public confidence in us as leaders.

So, for 2017, we need to FIRST get our priorities straight and THEN align our money with our stated priorities.

Think about how a family allocates its financial resources...
·If appeasing the desires of the children today is the top priority, a family might focus on having TVs in several rooms and splurging on satellite television so each child can watch what he or she wants.
·If the family’s focus is more long term, education might be the priority and the family might choose not to spend their money on multiple TVs or satellite programming, and instead save and invest their money so that all the children in the house will have a college fund one day.

In a perfect world, every family could have both satellite TV in every room AND a college fund for each child. But when the world is not perfect, someone needs to be the parent in the room and make the tough (sometimes unpopular) decision, knowing the impact of that single choice will be long standing.

That’s why this year we’re committing ourselves to getting our priorities straight in Marathon County, and we have a new methodology and some consulting support to help us make the transition.

That may sound easy, but when your “family” is the size of Marathon County, it’s not. So stay tuned, and I’ll be sure to let you know what we’ve learned and adjusted in the fall. 

The CPBB congratulates Marathon County on their excellent work in implementing priority based budgeting. Marathon County joins Washington County (first County in Wisconsin to implement PBB) in their innovative fiscal and budgeting efforts through priority based budgeting!

The Center for Priority Based Budgeting
“A Prioritized World” 
2016 Annual (Un)Conference

Denver, Colorado | August 2 - 4, 2016
Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel 

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