Guest Editorial: County’s budget planning falls short

I attended the May 4 budget meeting where the department heads told council what money they needed for the coming fiscal year, the majority of which were increases from the current fiscal year.  There were a few things I expected to see during this meeting but didn’t.


First, I expected to see all seven council members in attendance for this important session, but only four attended.

Second, there was almost no challenge by council to any of the department heads on their proposed budgets.  The most challenging line of questioning was directed at the small number of students taking advantage of a tuition program at Midlands Tech.  It appeared that every proposed budget was rubber-stamped and accepted.

But the most surprising thing for me was that there was no visibility whatsoever of the amount of money actually spent during the current fiscal year. This meeting took place in May which means that 10 months of actual spending in the current fiscal year were behind us.

I expected to see the department heads show how much money was actually spent over the past 10 months, with an estimate for what they expected to spend for the remaining two months, and explain whether they were on budget, over budget or under budget. What I saw instead was each department head comparing next year’s budget to this year’s budget. 

Quite frankly, this was a meaningless exercise. Without looking at actual expenditures against the budget, there is no way to identify opportunities to reduce spending, and there is no way to identify problem areas where spending is over budget so corrective action can be taken. 

A variance target should be set for each line item in a department’s budget.  For example, plus or minus 10% or 15% or 20%.  So if a line item is more than 10% over budget, corrective actions need to be identified.  If a line item is 15% under budget, this could be a cost reduction opportunity.

As a taxpaying citizen of Fairfield County, that is the kind of transparency and financial accountability I expect. Not just in the annual budgeting process, but every month during every fiscal year.  And as this council works to improve our financial reporting, I ask you to incorporate these improvements.

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