The city says it now spends less time gathering data, council meetings are shorter and staff can focus more on strategic decisions. Citizens can also access budget information more easily.
Ukiah is understood to be the first city in California to publish a fully digital budget.
The city, which has around 16,000 residents, used software from OpenGov to create the budget. It reports that it has saved an estimated 600 hours and $87,000 related to budget-building since implementing the new system for the FY 2019-20 budget, compared to the previous year.
OpenGov’s tool allows over 50 staff members across the city to collaborate on the budget and also ties together multiple departments’ budget tracking in one system. Due to the more streamlined process, the city says its cost to produce the budget decreased from $200,000 to $113,000, a reduction of 43.5 per cent.
The savings were calculated using a weighted salary per person and the estimated time each person spent developing the document.
A key driver for the savings is automation which reduces manual entry work.
The saved funds will be put towards “more detailed data analysis and daily work that often gets set aside during budget season". Staff and council members have also freed up time to focus more on budget strategy, rather than gathering and understanding budget reports, the city said.
Staff and council members have freed up time to focus more on budget strategy, rather than gathering and understanding budget reports.
"We were able to reduce time spent building the budget by about 600 hours since implementing the new system," said Daphine Harris, financial services manager, City of Ukiah. "Three years ago, the budget I worked on was just over 1,000 pages. We were able to reduce it to about 500 pages, and now we have gone completely paperless with an online budget."
"Since the city council spends less time gathering data, council meetings are now shorter and council members can spend more time on strategic decisions,” she added. "It was a great decision for the city. You have to rise up and pursue that vision when you can."
Residents can also access the budget through a user-friendly online format, where they can view the budget broken down by funds and departments, as well as change views using different report and chart styles. This aims to make it easier than manual methods which can include wading through hundreds of pages of complex data to find the required information.
"I have really enjoyed the opportunity to reach out to our community and provide them with information they did not have access to before."
"I have really enjoyed the opportunity to reach out to our community and provide them with information they did not have access to before," said Harris. "Being transparent helps us build trust with our community and increases engagement. Residents no longer have to attend a council meeting to access our budget information. They can view it prior to a council meeting and then decide if they would like to attend the meeting to ask further questions or, if they prefer, view the information online."
Harris said the city will expand the use of the product in Ukiah, with plans to start mapping strategic initiatives to performance measures.
Ukiah won an Innovation Award at January’s California State Municipal Finance Officers conference for the initiative.
Several cities are trying to make financial information easier to access and understand to demonstrate transparency and foster trust with citizens. Barcelona has an online Open Budget tool, for instance, while Atlanta’s Open Checkbook aims to give taxpayers the ability to see and track how city budgets are being spent.
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