Pre-Budgeting: Three Things to Do Before Budget Season Begins
It seems like the finance department just finishes up with a big project (like the annual financial report) and then it’s time to start on another: budget season is just around the corner! (FYI: Check out our budget calendars for cities/towns and counties.) While I know it is tempting to take a breather and relax during the summer, now is actually a good time to start thinking about those pre-budget issues that need to be completed prior to drafting the preliminary budget. Below are three things I recommend focusing on in the next couple of months. You may ask yourself, what pre-budget issues is she referring to?
1. Host a Council/Board Retreat
Well, for starters there’s that council/board retreat that you’ve been thinking about ever since the budget workshop in Leavenworth last year. Each year at the AWC Budget Workshop, both I and Mike Bailey discuss the importance of having a council/board retreat for the purpose of developing a vision statement and establishing goals. These essential elements provide the base from which a budget is built. Even if your entity has established a vision and associated goals a retreat is a great opportunity to revisit these and update. Tracey Dunlap, Director of Finance and Administration for the City of Kirkland wrote an excellent article for the MRSC Finance Advisor column two years ago titled “Reprioritizing in the Rebound”. This article is just as timely today as it was then. Retreats for any reason are always a good opportunity to update and communicate. I would like to suggest that July is perfect time for a retreat and encourage you to get it scheduled early so you have time to incorporate the information into the budget process.
2. Adopt Some Financial Policies
If you’ve completed your retreat early enough, pre-budget season can be a great time to adopt financial policies to help achieve the goals set during the retreat. Financial policies are considered a best practice but are often put on the back burner in smaller jurisdictions. Since you won’t be able to get to all the financial policies you may want, here are three good ones to start with, even for the smallest of jurisdictions:
- Setting an appropriate level of unrestricted fund balance
- Use of one-time revenues
- Achieving a structurally balanced budget
3. Update Your Capital Facilities Plan
It’s important to update your capital facilities plan before you start on your budget. The capital facilities plan is a six or more year plan of capital projects with estimated costs and proposed methods of financing that is updated each year in those jurisdictions that are required to fully plan or have opted to plan under the requirements of the Growth Management Act (GMA). The topic page on Capital Facilities Planning on our website provides all of the background and links to sources such as the Department of Commerce, Capital Facilities Planning tool to help you get started. This is a required element for those entities that are imposing impact fees, so if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get a hold of us or the folks at Commerce.
The budget development process has begun and as part of this annual process, we will be writing a series of budget blogs over the next few months. In addition we are updating our budget topic pages so be sure to check back on a regular basis for new information, tips and guides.
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