County of Ulster, NY
2023 Proposed Budget Analysis & Review
Read CMA’s Printed Report
View 2023 Proposed Budget
The County’s operating budget serves a number of functions. It designates purposes for which resources are to be apportioned among various departments and agencies and provides authority to County officials to both incur obligations and to pay expenses. It is an executive budget. That is, the County Executive serves as the Chief Budgetary Officer of the County. Together with the assistance of department heads and County officials, the Executive prepares and submits to the County Legislature the proposed annual budget, capital program, and accompanying budget message, which concisely summarizes the priorities, goals and initiatives of the budget. The Legislature holds public hearings and a final budget is prepared and adopted no later than the second Thursday of December each year.
Based on CMA’s review of the budget process, the County was found to generally follow industry recognized best practices.
Activities are accounted for in separate funds in order to show accountability. The County’s Budget includes a total of six (6) “major” funds, each of which is further described below.
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General Fund (A)
Community Development Fund (B)
Community Development Fund (B)
County Road Fund (D)
Road Machinery Fund (E)
Self-Insurance Fund (S)
Debt Service Fund (V)
The National Advisory Council on State and Local Budgeting (“NACSLB”) was established by eight associations of state and local government, including the Government Finance Officers Association (“GFOA”). The purpose of the NACSLB was to develop a set of industry recognized best budgetary practices. These best practices remain endorsed by the GFOA. GFOA has a national organization structure but is also organized at the state level. The GFOA has a very active and engaged operation and presence in the State of New York.
Herein follows a concise discussion of best budgetary practices and CMA’s findings relative to its review of the County’s 2023 Proposed Budget.
Best Practices in Budget Format. The presentation of the annual operating budget is critical. It should be informative yet easy to understand.
The GFOA recommends that municipal governments incorporate the below guidelines and practices to facilitate a broader consumption and greater comprehension of municipal budget documents.
Organization of Budget Document(s). Improving the organization of the budget document(s) reduces redundancy and fosters a better flow of data that is organized in a logical sequence. The GFOA has identified six (6) major sections which they have deemed as critical.
- Introduction and Overview;
- Financial Structure, Policy and Process;
- Financial Summaries,
- Capital and Debt,
- Departmental Information, and
- Document-Wide Criteria (Glossary and Statistical/Supplemental Section).
Source: GFOA Best Practices, Making the Budget Document Easier to Understand.
CMA Finding – Organization of Budget Document(s). For 2023, CMA’s review notes a continuation of a budget document that was redesigned and reformatted during the 2022 fiscal year. The 2023 Proposed Budget includes most of the sections and information recommended by the GFOA. The online addition of individual fund summaries with pie charts, bar graphs and narrative summaries of revenues and expenditures for each fund are positive additions which enhance fiscal transparency.
CMA Finding – Glossary of Terms. A glossary of terms, which CMA recommended in each of the past two years, is still missing from the 2023 Proposed Budget. Many individuals that review the 2023 Proposed Budget do not necessarily have a high level of experience with municipal finance, budgeting and accounting in general. It is important that all readers and reviewers understand the various terminology that is used in the document. Understanding terminology results in a much stronger review of the 2023 Proposed Budget’s contents.
CMA believes that the 2023 Proposed Budget would be more informative if it contained a glossary of terms. For example, terms such as: Undistributed Revenue; Intergovernmental Charges; Use of Money and Property; Real Property Tax Items; and Use of Money and Property, are just some of the items that would be part of such a glossary for a document with over 600 pages.
As an example, a glossary of Terms is being included as Appendix-C of this Review.
Statistical Information of Budget Document(s). The GFOA recommends inclusion of the following statical or supplemental information in the budget:
- Form of Government
- Geographical Map
- Community Profile Inclusive of a Historical and Perspective on Current Community Issues.
- Demographic and Socioeconomic Statistics
CMA Finding – Statistical Information of Budget Document(s). The 2023 Proposed Budget document still lacks any meaningful demographic and socioeconomic information. Inclusion of this data would make the document more informative and would provide context for spending decisions and revenue projections. As was done in the past two year’s Analysis and Review, CMA has included demographic and socioeconomic information in Attachment B to this Review. The information is similar to that provided in Official Statements of the County which has historically been prepared in November of each year.
Design of Budget Document(s). The design of the budget document should be simple and easy to use, but attractive. The GFOA recommends the use of hyperlinks between the Table of Contents and specific pages on electronic versions of budgeted documents.
CMA Finding – Design of Budget Document(s). The 2023 Proposed Budget document incorporates an online version. Although the online information was an excellent addition, the 600-page PDF version lacks hyperlinks.
Detail of Budget Document(s). Although the budget documents(s) should contain an appropriate level of detail to convey information, excessive amounts of data can hinder the reader’s understanding. The GFOA also recommends that budget information be presented in such a way that is consistent between funds and between departments
CMA Finding – Lack of Year-to-Date Information. The 2023 Proposed Budget contains dozens of charts that summarize revenues and expenses by funds, departments, source, subject area, etc. Most of the charts have columns for fiscal year 2019 actual, fiscal year 2020 actual, fiscal year 2021 amended budget, fiscal year 2021 actual, fiscal year 2022 amended budget and the 2023 Proposed Budget amounts. The charts have line by line breakdowns for budget items like supplies, fuel, travel, overtime pay, etc. The charts are the core of the budget document and are very informative. Nevertheless, the one column that is missing in the charts is the current year-to-date amounts for each of the items in the charts. Having the year-to-date amounts through August or September allows the reader/reviewer to evaluate the budget line knowing what was budgeted for the current year, whether the current year-to-date amount is in line with the current year budget, and whether it supports the amount being proposed for the upcoming budget year – in this case 2023. It provides the reviewer with a better and timelier perspective of the proposed budget amounts.
For example, the September 30, 2022 year-to-date Performance Report shows the Comptroller’s 2022 budget line for office supplies is $1,500, with $940.75 spent year-to-date (leaving $559.25 for the remainder of 2022). The 2023 Proposed Budget proposes $2,000 for that line. Having the year-to-date spent presented in the 2023 Proposed Budget document would strengthen the quality of any review or assessment of the amount proposed for 2023.
CMA believes the budget document would be stronger and more useful if the charts included a column for year-to-date spending (which is available in the County’s electronic information system in the Budget Performance Report-Fiscal Year to Date-Including Rollup Account and Rollup to Object). The most recent year-to-date information at the time the budget document is assembled should be used.
Summaries of Budget Document(s). Budget summaries as a supplement to the main budget document are a recommended best practice of the GFOA since the use of tables, charts, and graphs can assist in transmitting data and information.
CMA Finding – Highlights of Budget Document(s). CMA found the budget documents of the County to include an appropriate number of charts, graphs and tables to summarize the primary components of the budget. Nevertheless, a summary chart for total staffing would improve the 2023 Proposed Budget. The 2023 Proposed Budget has position summary charts, including limited information for each individual department, but lacks one overall position summary chart that contains the staffing total for each department with a total staffing number for the County. The chart should have one number for each department and the total for the County. At a minimum, the total number of employees in the Proposed Budget should be presented in the “Personnel Changes” narrative.
Best Practices in Budgeting – Public Engagement. Transparency and fiscal accountability should be considered a core value of the budget process. As a best practice, the NACSLB and the GFOA recommend local governments to encourage effective and well implemented public engagement processes.
CMA Finding – Public Engagement. CMA has reviewed the County’s Budget Timeline which is presented in the “Introduction” section of the Proposed Budget. The timeline outlines the County budget process. It provides ample time from the day the budget was released by the County Executive (October 1st) to the first of three scheduled public hearings (November 8th). The Legislature votes on the budget on December 2nd which is three weeks after the last public hearing on November 10th. The legislature has those three weeks to consider public comments and incorporate them into the final budget, as it deems appropriate. CMA believes the timeline and schedule of actions allow for ample public engagement. In order to further encourage public participation in the hearing process, the County should use its website to announce the public budget hearings on its homepage and list the hearings on its Events Calendar.