In local government, it is often said the most important work of the city is the budget. The City of Calistoga’s annual budget is a well-defined process that provides a roadmap for effective, efficient and responsive city operations. The process is necessary for effective governance and citizen participation is ever important when considering priorities.
The city’s fiscal year begins on July 1 and ends on June 30. The process will “kick off” on Monday, March 19 with the annual review of City of Calistoga Goals and Objectives as defined by the City Council. Goals are broader in nature, such as “Goal 4: Create an environmentally sustainable community,” or “Goal 3: Establish, improve and maintain City infrastructure.” Then, council provides objectives on how the city should achieve these goals.
Following this meeting, city staff works behind the scenes to prepare an annual budget, which accomplishes these goals. The budget is complex and takes several months to prepare. All city departments submit budget updates and requests to the city manager who uses this information, as well as revenue and expenditure forecasts, to develop the proposed budget. The city manager presents the proposed budget to the community and city council in May or June. The city council holds public hearings, provides input, solicits feedback and then finally adopts an annual budget through council resolution.
Once the budget is adopted, council periodically reviews actual revenues and expenditures during the fiscal year and compares the city’s actual financial performance in relationship to the original budget. If or when necessary, council even amends the original budget to reflect changing conditions.
At the conclusion of each fiscal year, the city hires an independent auditor to perform a financial annual review of accounting and finance practices of the city. In addition to the annual review, the city expands its annual report to include additional information, notes, and supplemental data to provide interested parties with as much financial information as possible. Each year, the city submits this expanded audit, called a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, to the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) for review. Since 2012, the city has received the “Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting” for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for each fiscal year.
While the annual budget is not the most exciting process, it is my favorite part of being a city manager. Oftentimes, residents observe issues, concerns or simply a new “thing” that would make our community a bit better. We use the annual budget process as a way to move the city forward one fiscal year at a time.