Budget seasons bring new budget system for Humboldt

The City of Humboldt with be planning a different budget for 2016.

This year, city officials will be using the Priority Based Budgeting system developed by a group in Colorado to analyze where and how tax dollars  are being used.

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The new system will take the Our Humboldt Strategic Plan that has been developed by the city over the past couple of years and rate money distribution based on the values the community has set for themselves.

City Manager Roy Hardy says that this tool will help find the direct linkage between the money spent on programs and the desired results that are measured at the end of the day.

“We now use a tool that  helps us identify what our goals are and how our resources are being applied against those results that we want,” says Hardy.

The desired results themselves are the values the city set in the Strategic Plan, while the measurement system is a rating of 1-4 on a scale of money contributing to these values to money that does not contribute to these values.

To get this rating for the programs, the city has changed how they are getting their data, as well, as well as looking at the cost of the programs in different ways, says Hardy.

Before the new budget was brought in, money was broken down by amounts needed for each department.

Now, the city is getting more finite numbers based on breaking the budget down by program funding, staff effectiveness, and resources going into the program, then comparing that to the desired result.

“We’ve got dollars, and people, and resources, and we compare that with the results we get.” Says Hardy.

To rate the programs last year, the department heads looked at the programs within their departments and gave them a rating, but then also looked at programs outside their department and gave them a rating as well.

This year, front line supervisors were also involved in the analysis of the programs, which has helped staff better understand the programs that the city is offering, says Hardy.

Department personnel were paired off, with one member of the department available to act as a reference point and then another member of a different department there as a second set of eyes on the program, says Hardy.

After all the programs are rated, what does that mean for programs at the bottom of the scale?

Centre for Priority Based Budgeting co-founder, Chris Fabian, says that a program that gets a rating of four does not automatically mean that this program is set for the cutting block but is a program that could use resources more effectively.

Relative to a program that is using resources to directly improve the community based on the values, a four improves on these values very little, says Fabian.

“It’s not about cutting but rechanneling so they are constantly focused on making sure all the resources are creating the greatest benefit for the community.”

Hardy also sees a four rating as a program that needs to use money and resources more effectively instead of being cut, but it starts the dialogue of looking at the program more closely.

“It may be not doing what you want it to do but is there a reason why we’re doing it,” says Hardy.

Going back and looking at the program, the city can then decide to still fund it, remodel it, or not fund it at all.

“What it really does is it helps us with making sure, overall, our dollars are prioritized to what we want,” says Hardy.

Fabian founded the centre with co-founder Jon Johnson because, while working in municipal politics themselves they noticed a difference between what different programs municipal governments  were funding and the direction the community was headed.

“When it came to our decisions makers trying to make any sort of sense of our dollars we take in actually achieving results, it’s somehow not a very easy question to answer.”

Attitudes towards resources is another issue when it comes to moving dollars around, says Fabian.

A lot of communities just do not think they have enough money or resources. Fabian says that they do, but it is about using their resources more effectively.

“It’s just a matter of making sure you’re using it in the right way.”

Centre for Priority Based Budgeting has over a hundred communities across the United States, as well as 6 within Canada, including St. Albert, Alberta and Lethbridge that just signed on last week. Humboldt is the first community in Saskatchewan.

Fabian says he applauds Mayor Eaton and Hardy for creating this momentum in Humboldt and who are eager to try something new when it comes to budgeting. A lot of that credit goes to having a strong leadership base, says Fabian.

“It’s not easy to take a large organization, like a government, and say we’re going to try to completely reallocate resources.”

Humboldt residents will have plenty of opportunity to see the new budgeting system in action.

The 2016 budget open house is set for sometime in March and will give residents the opportunity to see what Priority Based Budgeting can do.

“We’re going to get people thinking about this and thinking particularly about the questions that we’re asked to get the analysis that we did,” says Hardy.

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