Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How the county is setting its budget


By JOLYNN DRAGE and DEREK VOSS

We would like to take this opportunity to communicate to the community information regarding the county's budget. We understand these are difficult times for many Blaine County citizens and we feel it is important we explain the process of achieving a final budget.

Over the past six months, the county has been developing a comprehensive budgeting process intended to better align county resources and services to those results that matter most to our citizens. This new budgeting process, referred to as outcome-based budgeting, is considered best practices by the Government Finance Officers Association and includes integrated strategic planning and performance management systems.

Each year, as part of their strategic planning and budgeting process, the county commissioners establish priorities determined to be most important for the coming fiscal year and set the county's budget reflecting those priorities. For fiscal year 2011, the county commissioners' priorities are to create an organization and organizational culture to achieve:

Fiscal Management

· Ensures fiscal stability.

· Balances its budget.

· Is prepared for unforeseen events not otherwise reflected in budget planning with sufficient contingency reserves.

Corporate Function and Culture

· Promotes a collaborative, team approach to issues and problem solving.

· Provides a desirable, responsive work environment.

Execution of Statutory Obligations and Delivery of Services

< · Recognizes the federal and state constitutional and statutory environment in which it operates.

· Understands and focuses on customer and client service.

Public Policy

· Provides leadership reflecting the goals and values of the entire Blaine County community.

· Is equipped, trained and very well prepared to protect public safety and health.

Performance Standards and Measurements

· Assist Blaine County in assessing whether the department is meeting its strategic goals.

Using this framework, the county clerk, who is also the county's budget officer, requests budget proposals from all elected officials and department heads. Once the budget officer receives all requests, she evaluates the needs of all departments and makes recommendations to the county commissioners based on anticipated revenues. The 1500-plus budget line items reflect the budget officer's ongoing discussions with elected officials and department heads prior to presentation to the Board of County Commissioners for creating the tentative budget.

In addition to receiving the budget officer's recommendations, the county commissioners conducted five days of budget hearings to better understand all possible revenues and requested expenses for the coming fiscal year. Upon completion of the budget hearings, the commissioners deliberate and make decisions regarding the amount of revenue and tax support required to meet priorities and obligations most effectively and efficiently. These procedures are followed in preparation for setting a tentative budget in the first week in August, as required by state law. A final budget, which can only be adjusted downward from the tentative budget, is set one month later.

This year, the various independently elected officials and department heads submitted employee compensation proposals that included salary increases ranging from zero to six percent. For simplicity and comparison purposes only, the budget officer presented these to the commissioners as 3 percent department salary increase requests.

As the county commissioners evaluate employee compensation for next fiscal year, they will employ a combined system of internal equity and external competitiveness as well as follow their established compensation philosophy that states in part: "The county believes that employees should be paid based on performance, with due respect for fiscal responsibility to the county's taxpayers."

For more information regarding the county's strategic plan and budgeting process, as well as all of the department and outside funding proposals, please visit the county's website at www.blainecounty.org. As always, the public is invited and welcome to attend all public hearings.

JoLynn Drage is the Blaine County budget officer. Derek Voss is the Blaine County administrator.




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