Financial Plan Best Practices

Hello all!

I thought I'd ask this group of seasoned, savvy professionals what best practices they follow on their Financial Plan cycles, specifically:

  1. How often do you formally amend your plan? When doing amendments, how do you meet your public engagement requirement?

  2. During an election year, do you change your approach when preparing the draft Financial Plan & Council deliberations? Does anyone have a good package that they'd be willing to share on educating a new Council on the Financial Plan process?

  3. What best practices/policies have served to increase staff's efficiency when compiling the financial plan (i.e. checklists, setting internal deadlines, prioritizing capital projects, reserve/surplus policy, etc.)?

Thanks in advance for any feedback!

Wes

Comments

  • So I am hoping others can jump in on this as well but for Lake Country here are just a few points:

    1) I try to only formally amend the financial plan once a year, near the end of the year. We don't do any additional public engagement, other than the public meeting it goes to. I do have Council make resolutions throughout the year to amend the plan, then save all those up and take one bylaw amendment at year end.

    2) I don't have a package yet - this will be my first year in Lake Country during an election. I have heard some people are looking at taking a provisional budget before the election, but from a timing perspective that would be problematic for us! I think a more thorough approach, as far as tying policies, strategic priorities, master plans etc to the budget will be necessary for the new Council. We have a Transportation for Tomorrow plan that was adopted and is heavily tied to our financial plan that I can just mention and everyone on Council is very familiar with, but a new Council likely will not have the familiarity. This will take some additional time in the first year.

    3) Best practices - start early! We have an internal timeline that we try and stick to. If you have changes that you are burning to make, try not to tackle too much at once. Be realistic about changes you can implement in one year without overloading yourself, the rest of the staff in the organization or Council. I have tried to tackle one big issue a year, remember Rome wasn't built in a day! The reserve policy was a big one in my first year but lots of communication has led us to a point of buy in - I overheard one of our Councillors talking to a member of the public last night at the budget open house about our "savings plan". They get it! If you need examples of reserve policies, there are lots of good examples out there - email me if you need a list.

    There are lots of more points but that is a start . . . .

  • 1) Regarding amending the financial plan, we do the same as Tanya outlined...get council resolutions throughout the year to approve any budget amendments, then follow up once in January or February with an all-encompassing Financial Plan Bylaw amendment to formalize the past resolutions. We don't do any additional consultation for the amending bylaw...the Charter specifically calls for consultation when "developing" the plan (S.166), so I guess my excuse is "developing" is different than "amending" :)

    2) during the last election, we adjusted our budget schedule slightly, and it seemed to work well...we worked towards having the existing Council arrive at a budget they would support by about September, and then we parked it. it was left for the post-election Council to decide whether they wanted to pass it as is, or make any changes. We had a significant change in Council, so the new Council recognized it was going to take them some time to get up to speed, so they opted to more-or-less adopt what the previous Council had prepared, and invest their time in developing next year's budget. We will definitely attempt this approach again, it worked very well, and it was only a minor setback to our goal of having the financial plan bylaw adopted by the start of the budget year (I think it was adopted in late January or early February following the election).

    Kris Boland, Director of Finance, District of Mission

  • We present our financial plan bylaws at a fairly high level and provide Council a contingency in each fund. Unless we have an emergency expenditure of significant dollar value we discourage any financial plan amendments through the year. Within operating budgets we do not manage on a line by line basis but by management area.
    We do make staff go back to Council for approval if they want to switch out one project (capital or special) for another but as long as the overriding bylaw wouldn't change and the funding source can be repurposed, we don't "amend" the Financial Plan.

    In my experience, it is very difficult to meet financial sustainability goals and stick to financial plan policies when everyone believes the FP can be amended at any point. In some places I worked, every time you turned around, some manager was trying to draw on a reserve to do something new. Significant prioritization occurs each year during financial planning. Our Council is very deliberate in that and important initiatives get left on the table in the interest of maintaining affordability and meeting strategic plan targets. Consequently they are also disciplined to recognize that a new project has to meet a pretty high standard to be added after the fact. Having a strategic plan really helps.

    If we are amending the Financial Plan for a reason other than emergency, I do believe that we should under go some form of public consultation for the amendment.

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