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Bracing for Long-Lasting Impacts of COVID-19 on City Budgets

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May 15, 2020

Federal, state, and local budget teams are facing challenges like never before as they respond to rapidly changing demands to meet the needs of residents and key stakeholders.

I can sympathize because until early 2020, I served as a city financial reporting supervisor for 15 years. As we all work toward answers, here are just a few things I would consider right now if I were still working on a city budget. 

Questions for municipal and state budget teams to consider now 

 

The biggest priority: How will you shift resources to the areas of highest need?

Public service, public safety, and frontline responders are a top priority. Agencies may be looking for resources to protect fire and police who are exposed as they fulfill their day-to-day roles, as well as how to backfill absences. You also can't forget about public works, whose responsibilities may include recycling collection.

Every state and municipality is expecting a dramatic drop in anticipated revenues in major areas such as tourism, local and optional sales taxes, and reimbursable services, combined with delays in federal grants and disbursements at every level of government. That will make it even more challenging to balance budgets for the remaining fiscal year and anticipate the needs and priorities for the upcoming budget and beyond.

A few questions to consider:

  • Which projects can be delayed and for how long, so dollars can move to initiatives that are an immediate priority?
  • How will shifting dollars today affect departments and projects over the long term? How will that affect project deadlines and budgets in future years? 
  • How many and which projects will be delayed? How will projects be completed if there is a delay? Are there unidentified projects that may take a priority? 
  • What public-private partnerships are available to respond to state and local needs?

You are accustomed to making every dollar count. It will be even more important in the wake of COVID-19.

Collaboration is key

Take advantage of collaboration features within your agency's existing software, or use tools like Zoom or Google DocsTM (if they meet your IT team's security requirements) to work remotely with your team in real time.

For more complex reporting, consider investing in a cloud platform that gives you the ability to collaborate with more security and control. For example, here are a few features that can help accelerate budget reporting when leaders need information quickly to make decisions, which can also be found with the Workiva connected reporting platform:

  • Real-time collaboration in the cloud, so everyone is always working from the most current version of a budget document
  • An automatic audit trail that captures who made a change to a spreadsheet, document, or presentation and when the change was made
  • Data linking, which allows you to update a number at the source and automatically update it across all instances, even across multiple documents for different fiscal years
  • Connected data, with direct connections to ERPs, general ledgers, and more source systems so you can automatically pull fresh data as needed

Keep sharing ideas

I'm sure I've missed questions that your budget team is considering. Look for the Workiva team at upcoming virtual events so we can keep sharing ideas and continue the conversation. 

Stay safe, everyone.

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About the Author

Before joining Workiva in 2020 as a Solutions Architect, Scott Paasch served in the City of Missoula Finance Department for 15 years. Scott managed the compilation, reporting, and publication of the annual budget for the city. As the city's Workiva platform administrator, he implemented the Workiva connected reporting and compliance platform for use on all aspects of the budget, from data collection to presenting the budget to the City Council to annual publication. Scott was on the forefront of using Wdata, developed by Workiva, to create efficiencies in producing the annual budget and CAFR.
 

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