Budget History 101 — Are we really in the most austere time ever?

We know, we know, budgets are tight. It seems like that the age of austerity is an constant refrain in government.

But the real question is how do you manage in these tough fiscal times?

James Nardozzi is the Dean of Post College and Director of the Post University Master of Public Administration degree program.

He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program about the history of austere budget times.
Nardozzi’s 6 Quick Tips

1. Manage within the confines of the current collective bargaining agreement. Although the temptation may exist to “cut corners,” dollars saved now often can result in costly arbitration rulings down the road. You can’t afford costly grievances, so understand the parameters of your current agreement and stay within them.

2. Track your department’s finances daily. It is far easier to stay on budget with real-time tracking than by using month-old data from your finance department. I had spreadsheets to track every expenditure — from overtime and callbacks to sick time. As a result, I had more accurate and up-to-date numbers than my city’s finance department could provide, simply because mine were never more than three days old. Each business day that civilian personnel were working, I had them present me with the prior day’s expenditures and encumbrances by 10 a.m., which made it easier to see if we would end the month at a deficit or surplus based on our annual operating budget.

3. Don’t delay purchases unnecessarily. Waiting until the end of the third or even the fourth quarter of the fiscal year to make purchases can be dangerous territory. If you have not spent or encumbered your purchasing budget by the first week of February, your finance director may transfer your funds to another department. Or, outsiders watching your budget may think you padded it and will look to reduce your upcoming budget requests for line items not spent or encumbered by February. If something is needed and budgeted for, tell your staff to make the purchase sooner rather than later.

4. Work with union leaders to ensure your department comes in on budget on labor costs. Forging a solid working relationship with your union leadership is critical. I am also a realist and recognize that this, in many organizations, is easier said than done. However, it doesn’t hurt to try. For instance, if you’re at risk of going over budget, ask if the union will allow for overtime to be paid at straight time instead of time-and-a-half for a brief period. How else can you work together to manage unanticipated budgetary constraints in a mutually beneficial way? Perhaps future training opportunities can be a reward for meeting fiscal goals.

5. Ask a local university if they can provide experts to facilitate training at no cost. This could be an excellent alternative to paying professional trainers to deliver the same program.

6. Hold each division or unit commander responsible for labor expenditures under his or her command. During routine staff meetings, have each commander present his or her current budgetary status. Any commander running a deficit due to overtime or other reasons needs to explain the overages in front of his/her colleagues. This helps encourage accountability and transparency.

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