Calendar, Vision Help Guide Lengthy Process
Legal document…approved expenditures…statement of revenue…expenses and fund balances…
While these technical definitions of the county budget are certainly valid, the budget document often embodies much more to Commissioners Courts and the constituents they serve. In many counties, the facts and figures in the budget ultimately originate from a set of goals or vision statement. A segment of the mission statement is dictated by state law, as counties must fulfill responsibilities mandated by the State of Texas. Another segment of that mission is often more personal. For example, consider the Gregg County Mission Statement, included in the county’s finalized budget document: “Our mission is to provide quality services that are responsive, respectful and effective in a fair and equitable manner that will enhance the quality of life for Gregg County residents.”
Gregg County’s Mission Statement is rounded out by a multipronged vision and 10 overall goals.
Walker County includes in its budget document both general goals and primary goals that help direct budget proceedings. For example, the 2018 budget offered a multipage narrative on how the county approaches long-term planning, referencing initiatives including the Walker County Economic Development Policy and the Walker County Safety Community Plan.
“Walker County is also very involved in several interagency public safety task forces, and budgeting for grant match needs is a high priority budget item as is funding the personnel needed to address public safety concerns,” the budget reads.
The final budget document also lists primary goals that helped drive the 2018 budget process:
- to aim at not adopting a tax rate that exceeded the calculated effective tax rate;
- to maintain at least the same level of service to the community;
- to continue with the equipment and vehicle replacement schedules;
- to continue to budget for major maintenance to the aging buildings;
- to continue to supplement the Road and Bridge Fund budget from one-time monies available;
- to set aside monies for planning for future retiree health insurance planning –begin to build ongoing allocations into the budget and supplement with one-time monies available;
- to meet the most pressing needs identified by the elected officials and department heads within the dollars available;
- to maintain the budgeted fund balance at no less than the minimum level set in budget policies of 16.67 percent with a preference for a higher percentage; and
- to fund ongoing costs with revenues generated in the current year.
“Commissioners Court met their goals,” stated Patricia Allen, Walker County auditor, in the 2018 budget cover letter.
Both Walker and Gregg counties use a budget calendar to guide the lengthy process, which usually spans a six-month period.
“The budget calendar allows for an organized effort in the budgeting process to happen in a timely manner,” shared Walker County Judge Danny Pierce. “Every department has ample time to separate needs from wants and prepare for presentation to Commissioners Court.”
The annual budget process is complex involving statutes for ad valorem tax, financial accounting, archival plans, salaries for elected officials, specialized local entities, and budgeting, explained Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt. Each section of the law has specific requirements for public notices and/or public hearings.
“An effective budget calendar combines these requirements and ensures compliance with all statutes,” Stoudt continued. The calendar distributed in the Gregg County budget instruction manual and the annual budget provides major dates of interest to departments and the public, and the detailed calendar used by the Judge’s office includes deadlines and statutes for all the complex pieces of the budget cycle. The detailed Gregg County budget calendar is available to anyone upon request.
The Texas Association of Counties provides a detailed calendar on its website at https://www.county.org/for-county-officials/Pages/Budget-and-Tax-Planning-Calendar.aspx.
Both Gregg and Walker counties supplement the facts and figures within the budget with explanations of how decisions are made including budget policy, cash management strategies, and issues that affect the decision process.
“At the end of the day what matters is how we work together and do what is best for Gregg County,” Stoudt declared. “The bottom line is, we are public servants who are accountable to our citizens.”