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Budgeting method resulted in $133,000 in personnel costs

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Zero-based process required for library, Human Services lauded by commissioners

By Emile Hallez

Staff Writer

Jefferson County paid employees about $133,000 this summer to assemble labor-intensive zero-based budgets for the library system and Human Services Division, exercises that may not necessarily be repeated next year.

Effectively, county staff spent an estimated 3,475 hours at the behest of the county commissioners, creating budgets that came to the same conclusion — each department needs more money next year than it was allocated in 2011 to maintain services.

The zero-based budgets, which assessed financial needs without using prior budgets as starting points, are separate from the traditional budgets departments submit every year, including those of the library and human services.

“That’s a lot of hours,” Commissioner Faye Griffin said after the Courier provided a rough estimate of the total staff hours spent on the two zero-based budgets. “With that input, I don’t know if I’d be for all these people attempting the zero-based budgeting,” she added, regarding whether more county departments would be required to undertake the exercise next year.

But despite the largely unanticipated workload for staff, both the commissioners and representatives from the two departments indicated the exercise was a helpful endeavor. Employees gained an intricate knowledge of operating costs, and consequently the commissioners received a surfeit of data at a series of meetings with leaders from each department, officials said.

And although what was partially intended to be a cost-savings measure resulted in budget requests substantially larger than the those of the current year, Commissioner Don Rosier said the exercise nonetheless yielded information about potential new efficiencies. Specifically, the library’s decision to alter its operating hours in lieu of potentially shuttering its three smallest branches can be attributed to the process, he said.

“I believe, through zero-based budgeting, they were able to figure out how to stay open on Mondays and keep those three libraries open,” he said. “(The process) allowed us as Jefferson County to look at where all the dollars go and drill down.”

The library’s allocated expenditures for 2011 were $26.9 million, $1.26 million of which was to be spent from its reserve funds. Though the revenue requested through the 2012 zero-based budget was more than $1 million less than that of 2011, requested expenditures ranged from $27.3 million to nearly $28.4 million, depending on the library’s level of service and amount of reserve funds spent.

Human Services was approved to receive about $15 million this year from the county, though its overall budget is much larger due to state and federal contributions. Its zero-based budget indicated the department will need $7.3 million more in county funds next year to maintain current service levels for residents.

“(In) Human Services, it was also a very successful exercise,” Rosier said, explaining that the commissioners gained a clearer understanding of the department’s numerous programs, which must adhere to strict guidelines set by the state or federal governments. “It allowed us … to see where each program is,” he added, noting that the commissioners now know which programs are “unfunded mandates.”

Further, Rosier said he would advocate for a similar exercise next year. Though the zero-based budgeting process is extraordinarily labor intensive, staff would be more prepared to handle it in 2012, he said.

“It was a way for me to get fully engaged,” he said. “When you do anything like this for the first time, there’s always a learning curve.”

Though Griffin noted the process is not remarkably different from what the county would be doing anyway, she said a zero-based budget would likely be more practical if done every few years rather than annually. The budget presentations were helpful, she said, though they were likely of more benefit to Rosier and Commissioner John Odom, both of whom took office this year and have not previously handled a countywide budget.

“It was a good learning experience,” Griffin said. “It was costlier I think than anybody realized, but it was beneficial to all three of us in learning about those two departments.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.