Budget Math

August 24, 2010 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Mayor Chris Beutler and the City Council want Lincoln to move to a biennial budget, and they’ll ask voters to approve the plan on November 2. One of their justifications is that City staff have to spend a huge amount of time every year prepping the budget. Spreading that process over two years will ultimately save time and money. That makes sense, of course. But one of the Mayor’s numbers threw me for a loop.

According to Mayor Beutler, he and his staff spend “an estimated 18,000 hours per year on the budget”. That’s a ridiculous amount of time. If you break it down you will find it is equivalent to 450 work weeks, or 9 full-time employees working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year just on the budget. Does Lincoln really have 9 FTEs working solely on the budget all day, every day? That seems high. There are four FTEs in the Budget Office (PDF), according to the proposed 2010-2011 budget, though one of those FTEs is devoted to grants. Is there enough work for five or six more FTEs elsewhere in City Hall?

To be clear, I’m not ruling out the possibility that it really does require 9 FTEs to put together a budget for a city Lincoln’s size. To this budget-ignorant observer it just seems a tad excessive.

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Gene August 24, 2010 at 1:53pm

That is a ridiculous amount of time. In addition to the 4 FTEs, we also have to consider all of the time that goes into it by the mayor and the heads of all of the departments, along with the departmental staff who work with the budget. It seems realistic to me.

Mr. T August 25, 2010 at 2:25am

That figure doesn’t seem far fetched to me at all. I work in a relatively small office of between a dozen or two dozen staff, and we have 2 FTEs alone who pretty much work exclusively on budgeting, accounting, etc.

Considering the size of the city government (it has what - 30 departments?), its budget, the multiple sources of financing, the equipment/infrastructure/capital it has to manage/purchase on a daily basis, the multitude of reporting requirements they have to deal with, etc., that number sounds very reasonable to me.

Mr. Wilson August 25, 2010 at 12:55pm

I think you’re conflating budgeting, accounting, and other “money-related” activities. I have no doubt that dealing with money is one giant pain in the backside for any government entity. Budgeting—which is what Mayor Beutler said takes 18,000 hours—involves a small subset of the activities you describe.

Mr. T August 26, 2010 at 12:47am

Its not that easy. Considering how the city budget has to be balanced by law, I would think that many standard accounting activities (monitoring expenditures, etc) would be budget related since budgeting does involve accurately predicting future expenditures based on past ones. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that city government staff spends a significant amount of time on those functions.

But since we are making guesses on the basis of one line reported in an LJS article, I wonder if a quick call over to the budget office wouldn’t be warranted to seek clarification on your inquiries. I’d be happy to give you that phone number by the way.

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