Municipal Budget Part 4: Your role in the municipal budget process

Allow your voice to be heard in the municipal budget process for your community.

Municipal budgets are prepared by municipal officials each year, and there are opportunities for residents and community stakeholders to engage in the process and have their voices heard regarding the programmatic and financial needs of their communities. The municipal budget might be the most important document prepared by municipal officials because it determines how municipal funds will be spent each year.

A municipal budget is both a financial plan and a policy document. It guides everything that the local unit does, and without a budget, those responsibilities and obligations that government units are responsible for cannot happen. The budget is a financial plan that outlines what the local unit of government plans to accomplish. The budget is a policy document because it sets the direction for the local government and its departments. Governmental budgeting priorities are demonstrated by what is and what is not funded in a municipal budget. Therefore, it is critical to attend budget meetings to hear the proposed budgets from municipal officials, and listen to and give public input and feedback. Some communities also mail or email surveys to gather public input and feedback.

Listed below are some of the responsibilities and obligations of municipal governments. This list includes but is not limited to:

Providing clean water as well as sewage and garbage disposal and maintaining city facilities, such as parks, streetlights, and stadiums. In addition, they address zoning and building regulations, promote the city’s economic development, and provide law enforcement, public transportation, and fire protection. Municipal governments typically rely on property tax revenue, user fees from trash collection and the provision of water and sewer services, a portion of sales tax receipts, and taxes on business. (Source: Lumen Learning American Government (2019).

A key consideration of the municipal budgeting process is how to allocate scare revenues among competing municipal needs and state-mandated responsibilities. Examples of competing municipal responsibilities include infrastructure improvements, pensions, benefits, courts, etc. It is important to remember that the budget is a policy statement and your budget will identify your community’s priorities. Therefore, your municipality may say a program or issue is a priority, but unless it is sufficiently funded in the budget, it probably is not.

Commit some time and attend your municipality’s budget hearings to see and listen to how your municipal officials’ propose to appropriate funds in the budget, and hear the logic behind the appropriation decisions. The final annual municipal budget will be the policy and financial document that will determine how funds will be spent in your community.

If your municipal budget has been approved, commit some time to look up the budget on your municipality’s website. This will provide you with an overview of how funds have been appropriated in your community. The budget will also provide you with an overview of your community’s policy statements.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county.  Contact your local land use educator for more information.

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