County focuses on priority-based budgeting |

County focuses on priority-based budgeting

by Sheila Gardner

Douglas County commissioners have scheduled a workshop Thursday for an overview on priority-based budgeting, one of the board’s strategic goals.

County Manager Steve Mokrohisky said commissioners, elected officials and staff are to hear from representatives of the Colorado-based Center for Priority-Based Budgeting who will discuss the system they have implemented in 20 local governments nationwide.

“Priority-based budgeting is an objective decision-making process that focuses on allocating available resources to the programs and services that have the highest value and results to our organization and community,” Mokrohisky said.

He said priority-based budgeting is intended to move away from across-the-board reductions and “the potential mediocrity that is created from that approach to budget cuts.”

“The process is also intended to bring together local government officials, civic leaders and community stakeholders to make decisions that align the community’s resources with what the community and its leaders value the most in local services,” he said.

Mokrohisky said the county has developed a five-year general fund forecast that conservatively predicts a shortfall of $2.5 million per year.

“I don’t anticipate implementation of this system will be complete by the time we begin developing next year’s budget. This is the beginning of the our process that will hopefully be complete for utilization during the fiscal year 2013-14 budget,” he said.

He said across-the-board budget cutting is intended to share reductions equally throughout the organization.

“But, it also assumes that every service we provide is equally important to our community,” he said.

Mokrohisky said priority-based budgeting is a standardized system that creates a consistent approach to focusing resources on the highest value, greatest results and best alignment with the county’s strategic priorities.

“This system is specifically designed not to pit one department against another, but rather to have an educated, thoughtful and data-driven discussion on most important and least important investments within each service area,” he said.

He said services within each department and elected office would be prioritized and reviewed by peers to ensure objectivity and transparency.

“The goal is to evaluate services and programs by department, not to compare library services to law enforcement services, as that discussion is too broad and subjective. Rather, this process will look at the highest to lowest priority services, based on their value, results and alignment with strategic priorities to determine opportunities to fund some services at higher levels and others at lower levels,” he said.

“The biggest advantage to priority-based budgeting is that the county becomes more strategic in its approach to funding services by changing the discussion from seeking across-the-board cuts, to a more thoughtful analysis of how to provide the best value and results to our residents. The disadvantage is the recognition that not all services are equal,” Mokrohisky said.

Mokrohisky said the county used priority-based budgeting in the last cycle by shifting $191,000 of property tax revenue to road maintenance as well as additional property tax revenue from the general fund to support parks, recreation, library and senior services.

“These decisions were made in the face of a $3.2 million shortfall in the general fund, which only compounded the problem. That is precisely what priority-based budgeting decisions are all about – putting limited resources in the areas that are most highly valued and that deliver the best results,” he said.