The Evolution of City Budget Documents

The Evolution of City Budget Documents

By Mimi Parseghian

This past Tuesday, the Lowell City Council approved the FY 2018 City Budget presented by City Manager Kevin Murphy and his financial staff. As I looked through the Budget on the City’s website, I reflected how far we have come in the presentation of this document.

I recall that prior to 2006, if you wanted to see the City Budget, you needed to pay, yes pay, for photo copies. Then with the emergence of the internet and the emerging influence of the blogsphere, the City Council asked the then City Manager to post the Budget on the City’s website. Well, it was a photocopied PDF file, which took minutes to download and was almost impossible to search.  Furthermore, all it was one column of the current year and one column of the previous year.

Then with the arrival of a new administration that was tech savvy, appreciated the internet and loved Power Point Presentations, we began to see an easy-to-read, comprehensive and analytical document

But I have to give the Murphy Administration kudos for taking what was given to them and improving on it. It is an easy document to read with its charts, graphs and info graphics. Chief Financial Officer Conor Baldwin served as the “stat man” for the previous administration and his knowledge and appreciation of historical data is so evident in the presentation of this financial document. In addition to CFO Baldwin, Deputy CFO Rodney Conley must have played a major role in preparing this document. A lot of work went into this document. The page on the City’s website that hosts the budget states:

The Budget Department is tasked with the production and implementation of the City’s Operating and Capital Budgets. The Department is also the home of the City’s LowellSTAT Program which monitors fiscal, operational, and personnel data in order to make City of Lowell government more efficient, effective, and transparent.

I recall when the concept of Stats was discussed on the Council floor a few years ago, it was not understood by all, nor was it unanimously appreciated. I am glad all this has changed.

What has also changed is the practice of the Council doing a line-by-line review of the budget. As a practical matter, there really is not much room for deductions when so many of the expense items are set by contractual agreements. Consequently, this Tuesday we did not hear any suggestions or motions to reduce or reject particular budget line items as we had in the past (and as a bonus this year, we also heard a few City Councilors try out their reelection campaign speeches).

Again, I like this document not only for its financial information but also for its description of what the overall plan is for the upcoming year.