Tallahassee leaders want to make the city’s budgeting process more open, more transparent and more collaborative.
After commissioners and community members raised concerns about the budgeting processes last year, city staff has worked to find solutions. In February the staff commissioned a peer review of the budget, asking members of the community, businesses, organizations and agencies to weigh in on changes the city could make to improve the process. City budget officer, Robert Wigen presented the findings at the city’s recent commission meeting. He says one suggestion from the report is to focus more on the parts of the budget that are most important to citizens.
"In this case it’s the general fund, the ad valorem taxes. That should be and will be a primary focus for this year’s budget process. We’re doing that on a quarterly basis—bringing back recommendations on how to make adjustments, how to recognize issues that are short term and long term and how address those issues and then on an annual basis we’ll make plans for that next budget process,” Wigen says.
Wigen says the city also has plans for a website to give residents more opportunities to study the budget.
“It [allows] staff to present the information in a format that’s visually appealing, but the if somebody wants to delve into it deeper, there’s information there. There’s a response tool,” Wigen says.
Wigen says the “dashboard” or website will also track which areas of the budget get the most attention from community members. He says the system should be up and running in the next six weeks. Meanwhile officials have plans for an app coming up next year. And Commissioner Gil Ziffer is glad to see it. He says he wants members of the community to know the commission is listening.
“It really is important for us to listen to what our citizens are saying so we can sometimes turn around and go, maybe they are right. Maybe there are different ways for us to do this and not spend as much or do this over in this department and not in this department. So I want us to be mindful that we’re not doing this so we can develop fine messaging. But we’re doing this so we can have good government,” Ziffer says.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Scott Maddox says while increased communication and transparency is great, he thinks citizens elected the commission for a reason.
“I think the citizens want us to do the budgeting and that’s why they elected us. They don’t want to make budget decisions. They elected us to make budget decisions. They don’t want to have to study a massive budget and come up and make decisions they’re hoping that we do that and that’s what they sent us here for. So, I like this process much better to get an idea as to priorities, but then we make those decisions,” Maddox says.
Maddox says his biggest concern with last year’s budget process was a lack of transparency between the city’s staff and commissioners. Last year, commissioners said they didn’t get information about a grant to help pay for new police officers, until after they’d made some decisions about officer hiring.