Indian Wells has taken steps in the last few years to increase budget transparency and make the process more accessible and understandable for residents. The first step was in 2016 with the implementation of IW Open Check Book, a program that provides residents with online access to all accounting transactions in near real-time. In 2017, the City began producing public quarterly snapshots to feature revenue, tourism indicators and real estate trends.
Another means of improving transparency was the transition from department-based budgeting to program-based budgeting for fiscal years 2017/18 and 2018/19. The new program budget aims to address the challenge of turning the budget document into something accessible for all residents. Indian Wells City staff came together to make dramatic changes to the budget documentation making it easier for residents to read, understand and to provide better insight into programs and outcomes.
“Program-based budgeting simplifies reporting of City expenditures and the allocation of resources consistent with City goals,” explained Kevin McCarthy, City Finance Director. “Program budgets emphasize the objectives of the City and allocate expenses back to these objectives.”
First, the City Manager’s Office implemented workload activity measures (WAMs) across City Hall to track time spent on programs to better reflect costs and performance. Each department began to utilize WAMs and provided input and feedback on the new budget.
By involving all staff on the budget revamp, it allowed those without an accounting background to provide a valuable perspective. “As a collective team, we used an entirely inclusive approach, and through that process, we learned a lot as a City,” said McCarthy. “It allowed us to see areas for improvement, and, as a result, the City also implemented new permitting software and a City-wide fee study in conjunction with the improvements to the budget.”
All in all, the process was rooted in the desire to provide residents with a deeper understanding of where and how their money is being spent and to present the information in a way that is easy to understand.
“It’s of vital importance to the City that we have open communication with our residents and always provide comprehensive and transparent financial information,” said Mayor Kimberly Muzik. “What the Finance Department has implemented puts our City at the forefront of public engagement in the budget process.”
The Finance staff worked closely with the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) during the development of the new budget and is participating in a national panel focused on improving public engagement in the budget cycle at the next national conference.