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March 2016

These articles were previously published in the March 6 edition of the Santan Sun News.



Goal of the City’s annual budget process is to align City Council priorities with the needs and desires of residents

Read the news headlines and you will see that Chandler is one of the best run cities in Arizona; regularly earning high marks for fiscal policies and management practices that have enabled the City to maintain strong financial flexibility. In their most recent reports, the three major credit rating agencies affirmed that Chandler’s financial position is stable, and they praised the City’s low debt and sound financial reserves. These factors – combined with the community’s highly educated and skilled workforce, growing employment base, low unemployment, and well above average household income – position Chandler for ongoing growth and success.

The bedrock of this success is the City’s annual Budget and Capital Improvement Program (CIP). A city’s budget is a reflection of its values, and in a healthy community the priorities set by elected leaders and implemented by municipal employees closely align with the needs and desires of the community. You can see this alignment in action here in the City of Chandler. The responses on the recent Citizen Budget Survey (conducted Nov. 16, 2015, to Jan. 3, 2016) indicate strong support for the fiscal management policies established and maintained by the City and the Mayor and Council.

As a result of this alignment of values, priorities and policies, Chandler is a healthy community where 98 percent of survey respondents agree this is a safe place to live, 96 percent rate our quality of life as “Excellent” or “Very Good,” and 89 percent say they get a good return on the City taxes they pay.

“Take a closer look at the City’s budget and you will see a community that values the safety, health and prosperity of its people, and a municipal organization committed to providing exceptional service to the community in the most cost-effective manner,” said Mayor Jay Tibshraeny. “These survey results show that Chandler successfully leads by example when it comes to fiscal discipline.” To view the complete Citizen Budget Survey results, go to chandleraz.gov/budget.

The budget is developed over the course of many months through a comprehensive and transparent process overseen by the City’s Budget Office and involving collaboration among every department and division. As a new fiscal year begins each July 1, the hard work begins anew for City staff: revenues are projected, spending patterns are examined, goals and objectives are reviewed, and performance is evaluated for progress.

Department directors submit their budget requests, called decision packages, as part of a Priority Based Budgeting Process. At the same time, Department directors are submitting proposals for capital improvement projects to be incorporated into the 10 year CIP.  All requests must be fully justified to show that they will maintain or enhance service delivery or support new programs.

Meanwhile, public input, which is so critical to the process, is welcomed at any time through letters, phone calls, website comment forms, social media and more. However, the feedback process starts in earnest with the previously mentioned Citizen Budget Survey, which is followed by the annual “Budget Connect” virtual community meeting (held Feb. 25). Those are followed by an all-day briefing to the Council on April 29, several public hearings, and a series of votes to adopt the budget, CIP and the City’s portion of the Property Tax Rate. Of course, the entire budget and CIP process is much more complex than what is summarized here.

“The process of formulating Chandler’s budget and CIP is like taking a long journey,” said Management Services Department Director Dawn Lang. “A tremendous amount of thought and effort goes into developing the initial plan, and then you have to be patient and flexible to deal with all the bumps and detours that challenge you along the way. But it’s all worthwhile once you reach your destination, which for us is a balanced budget that reflects resident’s desires through Mayor and Council’s vision.”

For the Budget Office, this year’s journey should end successfully in June. Soon after, it will be time for the next fiscal year’s journey to begin.

 


Experienced and dedicated Budget Office staff guide City through challenging process each year

The phones are relatively quiet these days in the Chandler Budget Office. That’s how Budget Manager Greg Westrum knows the City is on the right track. “We don’t get a lot of phone calls from citizens, and when we do they are, by and large, complimentary about Chandler’s fiscal transparency, City services and our employees,” Westrum said. At the height of the Great Recession, when the economy and people were struggling, residents were much more vocal about how their tax dollars were being allocated.

Chandler made it through those difficult years with no staff layoffs and a minimal reduction in services. “It wasn’t luck. We are in a good financial position today because of years, if not decades, of solid fiscal policies and timely decisions made by City leaders,” Westrum said. He believes most Chandler residents understand that they live in a well-run community, and thus good times equal quieter times.

“Nearly nine in 10 people who completed our Citizen Budget Survey said that they get a good return on their taxes in Chandler.” Westrum added, “I think it’s evident that they appreciate our low cost of services and low taxes.” That apparent trust established between the community, its leaders and the municipal organization is enhanced by a very transparent and public budget development process.
Think of this process like climbing the steep face of Mount Everest. The goal? To reach the pinnacle: a balanced budget and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the organization to follow for the next fiscal year. The climbers represent the Mayor and Council, City Manager and every City department and division. The journey from Base Camp to the highest peak is long, requires patience and great stamina; and there are many challenges along the way. But the climbers aren’t alone. They are led by experienced mountaineers, the (Budget Office) Sherpas, who will guide everyone to the top, step by step.

The mountain climbing analogy may be a little corny, but the results are not. Westrum, four budget analysts and a management assistant are tasked with managing the year-round budget process from start to finish. “I’m extremely fortunate to have an outstanding team with years of experience. They pull everything together and everyone along.” The team’s efforts have been recognized and rewarded for 28 consecutive years with the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association.

Westrum, a native of Fargo, North Dakota, served 26 years in the U.S. Army before retiring as a Lt. Colonel and joined the City of Chandler 15 years ago. He has been a member of the Budget staff for more than seven years, and the best part of the job he said is “getting to work with all of the departments, and getting to know all of the things that go on each and every day to make the City operate smoothly.”

Westrum has been married to his wife, Judy, for 41 years.  He has two children, one grandchild, and another on the way. Away from the office, Westum is a baseball and football fan and enjoys traveling whenever he gets the chance.

 
  

Did you know …
Chandler’s total budget (operating and capital) for FY 2015-16 is $910.6 million.
 
 
 
COMMON BUDGET TERMS
  • The General Fund is the main operating fund for the City and contains basic accounts for all financial resources and transactions not accounted for in other funds. This fund is used to support many of the services residents rely upon most, including police and fire services, libraries, maintenance of city streets, parks, and other infrastructure. The majority of General Fund revenues come from local City sales tax and state-shared revenues, with smaller amounts from fees, fines, and charges for services.
  • Capital Improvement Program, or CIP, is a multiyear (usually 4-10) plan outlining funding and schedules for constructing new facilities and major infrastructure projects, equipment purchases, and the rehabilitation or replacement of existing capital.
  • An Enterprise Fund accounts for activity for which a rate is set and charged to external users to purchase the resource or service it provides. An Enterprise is a self supporting operation that is run much like a business. The funds are