Budget Bits No. 6: Budget Advisory Committee Has Suggestions for a Better City Budget

This is the sixth installment in our series on the 2015-17 budget process. Council will be considering the Mayor’s budget, the Council President’s proposed changes, and other changes offered by Council members on Monday, June 22 at 5:00 p.m. and Tuesday, June 30 at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall. This Budget Bit summarizes the Budget Advisory Committee’s views.  Next, we will provide a comparison of the Mayor’s and City Council President’s proposals. 

Oakland’s Budget Advisory Committee presented its report to the City Council on June 8th. BAC correctly reported that there were many features in the Mayor’s budget of both a fiscal and procedural nature that were improvements over prior years. The major improvements included public safety funding, recognition of debt and long term fiscal problems, an attempt to take salary disputes out of the budget process, increasing public engagement and improving fiscal transparency.

However, BAC also called for improvements in this, or future budgets, including the following:

  • Survey: Funding a more robust professional survey to reach all Oakland Residents not just voters.
  • Revenues: Improving the discussion of the critical importance of revenues. Revenue presentations are often presented in summary charts with a limited discussion of the underlying basis for the estimates. BAC believes the budget process would be improved by much greater attention paid to explaining and understanding the current and potential sources of revenue in our City.
  •  More Metrics on Outcomes. BAC believes that the entire budget process would be greatly strengthened if it contained metrics for each of the City Departments and their principal operating units indicating a) measurable activities and accomplishments in the prior budget and b) anticipated outcomes for the proposed budget. A clear description of activities and outcomes would provide needed information for the Mayor in preparing the proposed budget, the Council in evaluating it, and the public in understanding the accomplishments of our City government.
  • More Context. This budget states that it maintains service levels, but is that in comparison to the previous biennial budget or other benchmark?  What were service levels before the great recession?  A generation ago?   The public would benefit from like comparative analytics to better understand what the historic service levels were – not just comparing money spent, but other metrics as well, perhaps full time equivalent employees, percent of budget, and, most importantly, what did the public receive?
  • More Trend Data. While Revenue and Expenditure summary tables in the Financial Summaries (starting on page E-65 and E-91, respectively) show four years of data (prior year actuals, current year budget, and the two years of the proposed budget), Departmental Summaries do not show prior year actual financial data. BAC believes the City should consider showing this information at the departmental level so the public can compare spending within departments to past trends.
  • More Percentage Comparisons Include year-over-year percent changes in charts. To enhance the value of the trend data presented in revenue and expenditure Financial Summaries, consider including the percentage increase or decrease for each line item and the totals from the current year budget to the first year of the proposed budget and from the first year of the proposed budget to the second year.
  • Departmental Summaries The departmental summaries do not show prior year actual financial data. Consider showing this information at the Departmental level so the public can compare spending within departments to past trends.
  • Easier Navigation. A budget document is a very large set of information to read and process. The public is greatly aided by a Table of Contents that is comprehensive and designed to help readers locate information. The use of a letter-number system for paginating the document hinders readers’ ability to quickly assess how far into the document a particular section is as listed in the table of contents (example: how far into the document is page E-89?). Consider using a standard pagination format that starts with the number 1 and proceeds upwards from there until the end of the document. Especially as more of the public switches to reading documents on-line, being able to enter a page number from the Table of Contents into a page finder is helpful, and also helps readers who still use printed documents. PDF files should not be scanned documents which cannot be searched.
  • Complete Payroll Cost Information. Include information on the city’s total payroll. The budget includes this information for the general purpose fund (which is only about half of budget expenditures) but not for the whole budget.
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