economyLocal Government

Budget Calendars Boost Local Governments’ Transparency Efforts

Marshall, Mesquite and Dallas

Texas local governments can begin and end their fiscal year any month of the year, but are required by law to complete certain steps prior to the start of each budget cycle. A local government’s budget calendar enhances transparency by comprehensively outlining dates, times, goals and meetings and provides an organized framework to prepare, approve, implement and evaluate the budget.

A good budget calendar includes city staff budgeting deadlines; city council or commission budget workshops; a schedule for public notices of budget hearings; a schedule for discussing a proposed tax rate and adopting a tax rate. The local government should also file the budget calendar as a public document. City officials in Mesquite, Texas’ 18th largest city with more than 136,000 residents, have used a budget calendar for more than 20 years.

“Using a budget calendar achieves two things for local governments,” says Mesquite City Manager Ed Barron. “It keeps staff and the officials focused on deadlines and it keeps them accountable for their actions.”

Neither Mesquite nor the smaller city of Marshall, which has slightly more than 24,000 residents, have substantially modified their budget calendars since they were first used in the late 1980s. Marshall City Manager Frank Johnson says a budget calendar can help small local governments immensely.

“It maps out things, such as meeting certain legal requirements, notifying the public of various meetings and budget adoption, ahead of time,” he says. View Marshall’s budget calendar (PDF).

A budget calendar also can improve the transparency of the budget process for citizens.

Transparency in government means citizens must be able to see through its workings, to know exactly what goes on when public officials transact public business.

Any city that vies to be recognized by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) must include a budget calendar in the budget. Local government budget documents are evaluated as either proficient or outstanding in four major categories: as a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide and a communications device. (Refer to the group’s Best Practices in Public Budgeting for more details.)

A budget calendar “must be provided to supplement (not replace) the narrative information provided on the budget process,” Johnson says.

Whether the local government entity is large or small, a budget calendar is an appropriate tool. Texas’ second largest city, Dallas begins its new budget process the same week as the current fiscal year begins. The detailed Dallas 2009-10 calendar (below) is included in its budget transmission document.

2009-10 Budget Process Calendar

The City of Dallas’ budget process consists of a 12-month schedule of presentations, hearings and deliberations. The FY 2009-10 budget process dates are as follows:

  • October, 2008 - City Council Planning Session – Review of key focus area objectives and strategies for FY 2009-10 budget
  • January, 2009 - Various Consolidated Plan Public Hearings
  • January 7 - City Council Planning Session – FY 2009-10 Initial Outlook
  • January 27 and February 2 - Budget kick- off - City departments receive instructions on development of their FY 2009-10 budgets for all services using Zero-Based Budgeting
  • February 4 - City Council Planning Session – Approve FY 2009-10 key focus area objectives and strategies
  • February 18 - City Council Briefing – Set preliminary “Price of Government” for the city
  • March 25 - Public Hearing on the Operating, Capital and Grants and Trusts Budgets
  • April – August 1 - City Manager’s Office budget deliberations including individual department presentations
  • April 2 - Community Development Commission amendments and recommendations on the Consolidated Plan Budget
  • May 20 - City Council preliminary adoption of Consolidated Plan Budget
  • May 20 - City Council Briefing – Introduction to FY 2009-10 Budget and Preliminary Rankings
  • May 27 - Public hearing on the Operating, Capital and Grants and Trust Budget
  • June 10 - City Council Consolidated Plan Budget Public Hearing
  • June 17 - City Council Briefing – FY 2009-10 Budget Preview
  • June 24 - City Council final adoption of Consolidated Plan Budget
  • July 24 - Certified Tax Roll from Dallas Central Appraisal District
  • August 10 - City Manager’s FY 2009-10 Proposed Budget presented to City Council in a formal Council briefing. Council feedback is received.
  • August 10 – September 8 - City Council Budget Town Hall Meetings – Scheduled by the individual Councilmembers. An Assistant City Manager presents the City Manger’s recommended budget to those in attendance and the Councilmember receives comments and feedback from constituents on the budget.
  • August 24 - City Council Budget Workshop – Specific budget- related topics are briefed to the Council. Councilmembers provide their comments on possible changes to the recommended budget.
  • August 26 - Public Hearing on the Operating, Capital and Grants and Trusts Budget
  • September 2 - City Council Budget Workshop - Specific budget-related topics are briefed to the Council. Councilmembers provide their comments on possible changes to the recommended budget
  • September 9 - City Council adopts Budget on First Reading (requires a majority vote); Public Hearing on Property Tax Rate
  • September 14 - City Council Budget Amendment Workshop – Councilmembers submit proposed amendments to the City Manager’s recommended budget. Proposed amendments should be balanced with revenue and/or expenditure changes. A majority straw vote is required for an amendment to be included in the recommended budget. Public Hearing on Property Tax Rate.
  • September 16 - City Council Budget Amendment Workshop (if necessary) – Council members submit proposed amendments to the City Manager’s recommended budget. Proposed amendments should be balanced with revenue and/or expenditure changes. A majority straw vote is required for an amendment to be included in the recommended budget.
  • September 23 - City Council adopts FY 2009-10 Operating, Capital and Grants and Trusts Budget on Second Reading and sets Property Tax Rate (requires a majority vote).