State Legislature Brings Added Flexibility to Local Government Budgeting

October 8, 2019

It was not long into my tenure as County Administrator that I found a disproportionate amount of time being spent by supervisors and staff on the preparation and implementation of the annual budget. In turn, the window of time reserved for a thorough evaluation of the individual program areas funded in the budget is rather limited. Year in and year out, it seems as if county officials begin laying the groundwork for the next budget only weeks after passing the annual budget for the current fiscal year.

By doing this, local governments cannot determine what is actually working — or not working — and adapt. I learned that passing a budget every two years, just like the state, would increase your county’s ability to measure outcomes and cut inefficient programs. 

Rep. Rick Gundrum (R – Slinger) and Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R – Brookfield) worked closely with the administrations of Washington and Waukesha County to create the framework to achieve this goal. 

Earlier today, the Wisconsin State Senate unanimously passed Assembly Bill 193 (AB 193), which had passed through the Assembly in June. The bill will now be sent to the desk of the governor for final approval. AB 193 improves the flexibility of the local government budgeting process by establishing an optional mechanism for local governments to adopt a biennial (two-year) budget — the approach long utilized by the state. 

Advocates of biennial budgeting tout the benefits of being able to allocate the first year of the budget cycle primarily to the budget-writing process, freeing up time and resources for a more thorough evaluation of government programs and services during the second year of the biennium. 

The leadership of Washington County welcomes the addition of another option in the budgeting toolbox that will place our staff in a stronger position to identify additional opportunities for efficiencies and cost savings in the day-to-day operations of the county government. 

Despite the limitations faced in the current budget process, I am proud of the inroads that have been made during my six years as County Administrator to prioritize spending while maintaining or improving the quality of services available to the citizens of Washington County. Thanks to the leadership of our area legislators, Washington County will be able to turn to an additional strategy to continue the path toward long-term financial stability. 

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