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.