Preparing and approving the annual budget is the most important task City staff members, City Councilmembers, and I do every single year. The annual budget is the document that sets the policy direction for how our municipal government operates each year. For example, after the budget is approved by Council and our new fiscal year begins in July 1, our staffing levels and salaries should be set for the entire year. Just about all of our foreseeable revenues and expenses for the next twelve months are established with the budget. Let’s walk through our planning process.
The first step beginning in January every year, we release a Budget Calendar to keep City Staff and City Council on track with our process. Some dates are flexible like planned budget workshops and others are more “rock solid” such as first reading of the budget ordinance at our May Council meeting and seconding reading of the budget ordinance at our June Council meeting.
The next step, and likely the most important, is our City Council retreat. These certainly can take on many different flavors, but this year on January 6th, we had a facilitator lead our Council in a planning and goal setting session. During the retreat, we covered the role of Council, conducted a SWOT analysis, prioritized goals, and reviewed the structure of our new form of government. This annual retreat helps Council and staff prioritize our scarce and valuable resources.
Afterwards, budget request forms are distributed to each of our Department Heads (Fire Chief, Public Works Directors, Natural Gas Manager, etc.) and they determine how much money they need and want to be able to operate their department in the upcoming year. In the meantime, the City’s Finance Department projects expected revenue for the upcoming year and also compiles complicated expenses such as FICA, SC retirement, and worker’s compensation.
Then, the Finance Director and I set meetings with each Department to drill down deep into their individual departments’ budget. Just like families all across the country do on a regular basis, we try to distinguish between needs and wants. It’s not easy finding the right balance of providing outstanding services and remaining fiscally responsible.
After City staff has created a balanced budget, we have budget workshops with City Council for them to ask questions and offer changes. Some years, staff and Council may have many budget workshops and other years we may have only one.
When a consensus budget is ready, an advertisement will be placed in the newspaper indicating the highlights. Council will vote on the budget for first reading at our Council meeting in May and if it receives a majority vote, it will be ready for second and final reading at our June Council meeting. We will hold a public hearing on the budget at this meeting to hear any concerns citizens may have. If approved, we will begin our new Fiscal Year on July 1st operating under our new budget.
Shawn Bell is the City Administrator of Fountain Inn. For more information, go to www.fountaininn.org, call 864-862-4421, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.♦