City considers new budget processProposal brings council in much earlier than before, streamlines staff requests
(April 14, 2017) While weighing the proposed multi-million-dollar spending plan for the new fiscal year, the Ocean City Council is also considering whether to implement a new budget process for next year.
Last week, City Manager Doug Miller and Budget Manager Jennie Knapp proposed a new schedule that would ease the council and the city staff into the financial planning process nearly a year in advance. They suggested that strategic planning, which outlines government’s primary objectives and necessary steps in five and 10-year intervals, should be started in July with the new fiscal year.
Other suggestions include looking at capital improvements, or major projects, in October and projected revenue estimates and requests for additional staff in January.
The current practice is to introduce the complete financial package to the mayor and council in April, which follows with two weeks of meetings that cover individual departments’ proposals.
“We wanted to bring the mayor and council more into this rather than just the end of this process,” Knapp said this week. “It’s very compressed and they don’t have the chance to ask questions. These points would serve as a reality check.”
“It’s like cramming for an exam. If you do it all at once, you don’t do as good a job,” Miller added. “Spread it out, we do much better.”
For both Miller and Knapp, the budget process never stops. In July, the convention center has to be accounted for since the Maryland Stadium Authority, which helps fund its renovations, has its budget due a month later.
In fall, the department heads receive documents to start thinking about requests that would include vehicles, new positions and other capital improvement projects. In turn, those requests are sent to the Procurement Department, the Engineering Department and Human Resources for review. By January, Miller and Knapp start meeting with various department heads to firm up their individual budgets.
Miller pointed out that incorporating the strategic plan early in the budget process would help give city officials a better idea of how and where they should be spending money.
“That will give some guidance on what important changes they’re looking for in the budget next year,” he said.
This new process, if approved, would also eliminate the middleman when it comes to requests for new positions. During the recession, the council cut 100 positions and froze hiring. Knapp said that the city had slowly reintroduced some of those positions, but 28 requests were made for staff this year. Ultimately, Knapp and Miller presented a budget that recognized six positions, but several of those were filled by reorganizing staff.
Knapp pointed out that by bringing the staff requests before the council, there would be no surprise when it came to the overall budget.
“Some cases, there’s committees, like Transportation, Police and Recreation and Parks, that have already heard the need. There’s no Public Works Committee, and no one is familiar with their need,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how to give everyone an equal voice.”