Innovative budget process used by Muskegon county

In 2012, Muskegon county utilized an innovative, collaborative budget process to solve revenue shortfalls and build teamwork that has proven to be successful over the past few years.

Back in 2012, Muskegon County implemented an innovative, collaborative budget process. While this process was implemented in 2012, understanding their process and what happened has value for local governments and other organizations and is worth reviewing or revisiting again as communities continue to struggle with regaining a strong financial base.

The process was designed to be more collaborative than budget development had been in the past. The county also faced an approximately $3 million dollar general fund shortfall that needed to be resolved.

The anticipated shortfall was similar to amounts faced in previous years. Those budgets had been balanced using cuts across the board. This proverbial “low-hanging fruit” had already been used to balance those budgets.

Muskegon County Administrator Bonnie Hammersley, who now serves in a similar role in North Carolina, developed the process, citing two main objectives. The first was to make reductions in a more strategic fashion, and the second was to implement a team process to develop the budget.

Four functional teams were developed, with each of the county’s 20 departments assigned to a team. Each team included departments whose functions are interrelated. Those teams were: general government, human services, community services, and public safety. Budget targets were determined based on mandatory and discretionary status. Teams heavy with mandatory functions received a lower percentage of reductions.

I was asked, as part of my role with Michigan State University Extension, to facilitate the initial meeting of each of the four teams. Following that, the teams met independently on a weekly basis.

“The teams submitted thoughtful and collaborative budget reductions which included some tough choices, 25 positions were proposed for elimination, and nine of them are filled positions which will result in some lay-offs,” Hammersley explained. Other solutions included reorganizing IT services, shared equipment purchases and reorganizing Community Corrections.

As a result of this innovative approach, several accomplishments were noted by Hammersley when she presented the fiscal year 2012 budget to the Board of Commissioners. First, the budget target was met, and the budget was balanced. Another positive outcome was increased awareness of budget challenges at both the department and county level. In addition, increased understanding of the operations of other departments was reported. This was especially important, given the potential impact of the actions of one department on others within their team.

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