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Strathcona County Blazing Priority Based Budgeting Trail in Alberta, Canada


by Chris Fabian, Co-Founder, Center for Priority Based Budgeting

Strathcona County, Alberta, Canada, is leading the way in priority based business planning and budgeting. As the first municipality in Canada to implement online priority based budgeting, this will result in Strathcona County being more proactive, strategic and effective in program and service delivery.

Strathcona County is not only among the leading implementers of priority based budgeting who are driving this evolution; the County’s leaders in many ways are responsible for creating the evolution.

Heading into county budget 2017

Contributed by Strathcona County Mayor Roxanne Carr, Mayor, Strathcona County, AB

“Today, Council begins its formal budget discussions. I want to provide you with a snapshot of the progress we have made in applying a different approach to the budget — using a series of tools, including a priority-based lens to these discussions.

Council refers to this as the formal part of the process, because, in fact, we deal with budget decisions and strategic planning throughout the year. Whether we are discussing our community’s growth, looking at approving large scale projects — like the Multi-purpose Agricultural Facility — and/or determining service levels for residents, every decision Council makes has a direct impact on the budget.

Becoming Canada’s most livable community is no small feat. We believe it is only possible to achieve this goal if we have an engaged and empowered community.

Based on community feedback and our desire to plan for a high quality of life, Council set 12 prioritized goals in the strategic plan. This plan serves as the foundation on which the county’s corporate and department business plans, and priority-based budgets are developed.

In 2016, Strathcona County had one of the lowest municipal tax increases in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. At the same time, we were successful in maintaining service levels and improving infrastructure. We achieved this balance by focusing on priorities, holding the line on spending, finding efficiencies and allocating a portion of the 2015 municipal surplus to 2016 budget needs in our community.

Every year, Council incorporates the projected and actual municipal surplus into budget discussions. Surpluses of three to five per cent are a result of cost savings and efficiencies throughout the year. Council allocates those same dollars back to its residents in the form of lower tax increases and improved capital infrastructure. Allocating surpluses to capital infrastructure projects allows us to build more roads and facilities than would have otherwise been possible.

Strathcona County is one of only a few municipalities in Canada that has adopted the priority-based budgeting approach. This approach ensures every decision Council makes is viewed through a priority lens.

So, it’s safe to say, our county is certainly blazing a trail.

Council is very proud of our progress. This approach, together with wise investments and a prudent fiscal attitude, has allowed us to take advantage of opportunities. These include accessing available federal and provincial grants, entering into beneficial partnerships, and contracting work at reduced prices to economically advance infrastructure and other priorities.

Council has had a lot of forward-thinking conversations with administration throughout the year, giving them clear direction. This has resulted in proactive, prudent recommendations that support community priorities, and respond to a challenging economy.

We are acutely aware of the challenges facing our community, and continue to talk to residents, business and industry to ensure we know what they need, and what we need to do to help.

We have clearly identified the priorities — both current and future — and ensured more measures are in place so we can manage, evaluate and report on our performance and progress.

Late last year, as part of this process, we completed a detailed inventory of more than 300 programs we provide the community. We assessed each program according to its alignment to priorities. Council will make use of this knowledge in Budget 2017 to better understand program spending toward priorities, identify opportunities for efficiencies, and apply our resources to what matters most.

We now have the tools to make better decisions, based on solid evidence; we are focused on ensuring we deliver the right programs and services, at the correct levels and cost. Administration has gone to great lengths to identify efficiencies that will reduce costs without compromising our programs and services.

Council has received detailed budget information and will continue its open 2017 budget discussions on Nov. 23, 25, 28 and Dec. 1. Final approval of the budget is expected to take place in early December. Throughout these discussions, we will respect the unique nature of our municipality and work diligently together to maintain a balance of rural and urban service levels.

With these tools and prudent budget decisions, I am confident our municipality is well-prepared to weather the current economic storm and come out even stronger on the other side. In fact, based on my nine years on Council, I can say unequivocally that we are in the best position we have ever been to realize our goals.

I invite you to listen to our budget discussions in Council chambers, in person or via the webcast (www.strathcona.ca/webcast). You will see how planning for the long-term, while always focused on our community’s top priorities, is creating a bright future for you and your family.”

Click here to view the full 2017 Strathcona County recommended budget.

CPBB Puzzle

The following four stories illuminate the County’s pioneering innovations that have all become priority based budgeting best practices:

1. Business Planning and Budgeting – Strathcona County’s budget process provides a tool for allocating resources within a broader and all encompassing Strategic Plan and Business Planning framework. This is the most comprehensive integration of priority based budgeting within a policy-guiding Strategic Plan, and a Business Plan designed to drive organizational excellence. This budgeting process is a resource allocation tool that depends on strong policy vision and direction, and a mechanism to infuse policy into operations – Strathcona County’s implementation has set the bar at new heights in this regard.

2. Staff empowerment – ultimately, the “lens” the process establishes to guide resource re-allocation decisions is only a tool; the lens serves no purpose, but to serve the “trained eyes” of policy makers, executive administration, and ultimately citizens. Here again, Strathcona County took a completely unique approach, as they designed and implemented a County-wide training program to teach each department how to use the PBB tool suite, how to understand the programs highlighted as opportunity areas, and how to drive recommendations for resource reallocation. This approach is now being recommended to all PBB implementers using Strathcona’s training materials.

3. Capital Project Prioritization – many have talked about, many have desired to do it, but Strathcona County was among the very first to actually implement and integrate an evaluation of Capital Projects using this budgeting methodology.

4. Open Data – in the “Coming Soon” category of innovation, Strathcona County will once again lead the way as they plan to roll out an “open data” initiative, leveraging their budget data.

About Center for Priority Based Budgeting: The Center for Priority Based Budgeting is the creator of the priority based budgeting approach.  Based in Denver, Colorado, The Center is a results driven organization established in 2010, providing technical and advisory services to assist local governments, school districts and other non-profit agencies achieve Fiscal Health and Wellness through Priority Based Budgeting. Contact Erik Fabian (efabian@pbbcenter.org) to learn how CPBB can help your local government create its own Resource Alignment Diagnostic Tool and Fiscal Health Model to bring prioritization and a higher level of efficiency to your budgeting process.  Also see http://www.pbbcenter.org/

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Jurisdictions

County of Strathcona, AB

Center for Priority Based Budgeting; Englewood, CO

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