Every year in mid-June, we hold budget hearings for the following fiscal year (July 1-June 30). However, that is really the final step in a budget planning process that begins in January of each year. That is when we start with a five-year forecast of what’s ahead – we look at the long view, and needs there, while we also start to focus on the short (next year) view. The Budget Book (510 pages this year) goes to the printer in May; it’s printed and received by us for reading in mid- to late May. Based on that final review, there are minor changes/corrections presented to us when we get to hearing in mid-June. But the bulk of the work has been done in the prior months, which is why our actual budget approval/adoption hearings can appear short and sweet: they are just the final step in a very long process.
Everything is based on policy – what we do in mid-June is based on those policies we adopted earlier in the year. So the information presented at the budget hearings as to why this or that is in the budget, often is not the first time we have heard the concern. The budget process is really about putting $ figures to those policy decisions we have made earlier.
Based on the best analysis of where things are headed over the next five years, our fiscal situation is structurally balanced. It’s the unmet infrastructure needs or unknown economic surprises that will ultimately challenge us. For instance, one trend we have noticed – increases in total workers compensation costs – is of great concern. An example: our workers compensation bill for 200+ volunteer firefighters is being increased by $80,000. Thus, we directed staff to investigate and advise us as to whether the increases are an internal issue (e.g., a particular subset of employees with higher than average number of claims) or a statewide trend.
Another external issue affecting us — as it is every business manager in the U.S. — is the effect of the Affordable Care Act. We will probably be changing our “extra help” use because of health care requirements now associated with those employees.
Those are just a few highlights from our budget review.