The Art of the Ask - Getting Your Budget
Ask And You Shall Receive
For many assessors, the budget process is less about proposing a budget and more about taking whatever is given. To give yourself a better chance of getting the budget you need, or even growing your budget, there are three simple things you can do:
If you do these three things, the chances of getting the budget you desire increase dramatically – it’s difficult to deny something with strong advocates and clear benefits.
Start the Budget Process Early
Start your budget planning two to three months before the official budget process begins. Use those two to three months to accomplish the following:
- Think about your operational goals and fully consider the cost of achieving those goals. Discuss your goals with your staff and with the vendors that will enable your goals through new technology products or ancillary services. Your staff will provide feedback about any challenges to implementing your plans and will appreciate the opportunity to have a say in the planning process. Your vendors can carefully consider your goals and do a lot of the legwork figuring out the costs and economic benefits, which you can incorporate into discussions you have with your superiors and the people who ultimately decide if you’ll get the budget requested.
- As part of the planning process, you consider alternative sources of funding in parallel. Depending on if you require additional budget for operational or capital needs, you can approach different sources of funding. Corporate sponsorships like Bloomberg Philanthropies are willing to make city government more efficient and innovative by investing in streamlining a local government's operational processes. For capital investments, there are grant writers within your organization that can help you in writing your proposal and determining your strongest prospects of funding. For example, a foundation or government grant that finds your program beneficial for the community could be the perfect source of funding. If you are already a part of a consortium, you can discuss your funding strategies with your potential partners beforehand. Ultimately, present all the possible strategies to the stakeholders.
- Work through the tangible and intangible benefits constituents, the organization, and your department will reap if your budget is approved. This process forces you to consider your budget request from the point of view of all interested parties. It will allow you to anticipate questions and concerns stakeholders will have.
By the time you get to the actual budget process, you’re ready to advocate for yourself and your department: your goals are clear and they’re backed up with numbers and answers.
Engage the Decision-Makers
Finally, talk with key decision-makers throughout the entire process.
The government executive (the mayor, the city manager, the city council president, or the county commissioner), the finance director, and the treasurer all have decision-making authority at some point in the budget process before the final budget gets presented to the budget committee. When you discuss your plan with them, make sure you’ve framed your plan with their considerations in mind. They need to see that your vision is aligned with their needs, in addition to those of the constituents and the organization as a whole. Many times when you are talking to the decision-maker you are up against a political obstacle that they need to overcome to approve your budget requests. The best possible way to get around the problem is through contextually justifying it within the framework of the objection.
Articulate Your Benefits Clearly
Planning leads to a clear vision, one you can articulate succinctly and with clarity. As you begin the official budget process, make sure people you’re speaking with understand how you will be able to benefit the constituents, the organization as a whole, and your department directly.
The benefits to the constituent
Common benefits to consitutents
For most government officials, meeting the needs of the community is the primary goal. Any argument you make on behalf of your budget must therefore articulate how the community and individuals will benefit from your proposition. These benefits can take many forms. Perhaps you’re digitizing your forms, so it becomes easier for citizens to apply for exemptions or deferrals. Maybe you’re supplementing your current staff with outside vendors to help with data collection duties so that you can make sure your property data is current and your values are as equitable and fair as possible. Whatever you’re proposing, being able to articulate how the constituent benefits is key to getting buy-in from decision-makers. One of the benefits of your extensive planning process is that you will be able to easily outline the benefits because you’ve considered your proposal from the point of view of the constituent.
The benefits to the organization
Common benefits to government organizations
How does your government organization benefit? Will the budget you’re proposing help make the overall government operate more efficiently? Perhaps your changes will allow you to value property more accurately, which may result in an increase in overall property values and an increase in tax revenue without having to raise the tax rate. Maybe your budget proposal will protect the local government from key risks. Whatever you are proposing, there are key benefits the government organization will realize. Make sure you state these benefits in your proposals and presentations.
The benefits to the assessing department
Finish with the benefits to the assessing department
Finally, outline how your department will directly benefit. Are you requesting money for additional employees because your current staff is overworked and in danger of leaving? Is the new technology you want to invest in going to allow you to more easily stay in compliance with regulations? Perhaps the fees outlined in your budget go towards a consortium you’ve helped form, allowing your office to access aerial imagery that will help you keep your property records up to date. Again, thanks to your planning, you can tell people clearly how your department will benefit in both economic terms and more humanistic terms.
Putting Your Self In Position for Success
When you plan well and plan early, engage decision-makers, and can talk about your goals simply and succinctly, you've got a great chance of getting your budget approved. The people approving your budget know how constituents will benefit (a key political consideration), how the local government as a whole will benefit (an operational consideration), and how your department will benefit (which answers the question of what's in it for you). You've surrounded the problem and made it difficult to say know, while making it easy to say yes to your request.