SUMMERSIDE – City management has taken another step in opening up the municipal budget process.
© MIke Carson/Journal Pioneer
Rob Philpott, chief financial officer, prepares for upcoming budget deliberations with city council. Philpott, along with Chief Administrative Officer Bob Ashely have opened up the budget discussion process with council.
This time it is internally, by having members of council involved in the deliberations from the start.
“The way I understand the old process, and I wasn’t involved in it last year, the chief administrative officer (CAO) and the chief financial officer (CFO) would meet with the department heads individually and go over their budget requests for the upcoming year,” said CFO Rob Philpott. “The CAO and the CFO would develop a draft budget that they would bring forth to council for consideration. That was essentially it.”
This year Philpott and CAO Bob Ashley wanted to do things differently.
“We’ve taken a look at the process to see if there are ways we can try and get people more involved,” Philpott said. “What we decided to do first off was to have council involved more at the outset, at the beginning of the process because we felt that if they’re part of those meetings with the individual directors it will give them a sense as to what each of their departments are facing in terms of challenges and key areas of concern for the upcoming year.”
He said this gives council more of an appreciation for not only the individual challenges, but also what it looks like from a corporate-wide perspective as well.
“What we’ve heard to date from many of the councillors who have had the opportunity to participate is they have found it to be extremely worthwhile and very valuable in terms of being educated on what the key financial issues are,” Philpott said. “It’s a new process for everybody and we’re learning as we go along. At the end of this process we’re going to reflect on what’s worked well and there may be some things where we can improve and take that as lessons learned for next year.”
He said while councillors are able to offer their input, but during these early sessions there are no final decisions made.
“We welcome everybody’s input around the table and everybody’s clear that we don’t make any decisions on this,” Philpott said. “It’s simply recommendations that go forward to council for their consideration. We want council to have some flexibility to see what are some of the key areas of concern and give them a few options to mull over as opposed to just going forward with just a singular recommendation from both myself and the CAO.”
Philpott and Ashley responded to concerns from council that changes were needed to the budget process.
“I think council probably felt that they weren’t as involved as perhaps they could have been,” he said. “When I started here back in April, one of the common themes that I did hear from councillors universally around the budget process was we need to take a look at the way we’re doing our budget development and seeing if there is a way where the input of both senior managers and councillors could be maximized. That’s what we’re trying to do as part of this process. It seems to be working quite well so far.”