Free Tools to Help With the City Budget Process
Melissa Kuehne is communications coordinator for the Institute for Local Government and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The municipal budget process typically begins in the spring. City officials and staff involved in budget-related activities can find a wide range of helpful resources available from the Institute for Local Government (ILG), the nonprofit research affiliate of the League. ILG offers a variety of free materials to assist in budget creation, financial management and public engagement in the process.
Cities provide a vast array of municipal services to residents and businesses and use a variety of sources to fund them. The legal requirements for collecting and using revenues vary across jurisdictions, and Understanding the Basics of County and City Revenues provides a plain-language explanation of revenue sources and the constraints associated with each source.
Budgets are a key tool for linking near-term goals with available resources, while also keeping in mind long-term goals and resources. Budget Creation and Monitoring outlines the process for creating a budget, including establishing goals and priorities for the agency, allocating resources according to those goals and priorities and comparing actual expenses and revenues with those estimated in the current budget.
Once an agency’s budget is adopted, financial reports provide an essential oversight tool. Financial Reporting and Accounting offers tips on fundamental principles.
Budgeting and financial management can be difficult to master. Financial Management for Elected Officials: Questions to Ask helps elected officials, the media and the public understand the basics of local agency financial planning and management, including questions to ask to ensure that good practices are being followed.
Engaging the Public
Involving the community can inform the budget process and help residents understand the difficult choices that budgeting entails. Public Engagement in Budgeting provides an overview of how to engage the public in the budget process. This four-page publication covers reasons to involve the public in budgeting, tips on asking the right questions, tools to consider and a strategy for sustaining public engagement.
Once an agency is familiar with the benefits of engaging the public in the budgeting process, the Budget Tool Box outlines a number of ways local officials can enhance community involvement. These include budget education and outreach, surveys, workshops, advisory committees, deliberative forums, participatory budgeting and working with existing neighborhood councils and committees.
Other useful budgeting resources available from ILG include the following publications.
A Local Official’s Guide to Public Engagement in Budgeting presents five general approaches that local agencies use to involve residents in the budget process.
Cash Management and Investments offers options for investing public funds in bonds and other financial products.
Purchasing and Contracting Practices outlines ethical and legal hazards related to purchasing and contracting.
Looking Ahead: Long-Term Financial Planning helps elected officials, staff and the community understand long-term fiscal challenges and opportunities.
Capital Financing and Debt Management provides information on debt financing as a tool for achieving community goals.
Additional articles on public engagement in budgeting can be found at www.ca-ilg.org/general-articles.