County’s Zero-Base Budget Process Finds Savings for County Taxpayers

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Contributed by Prince William County Government

Zero-base budgeting provides a strategic approach to budgeting that allows organizations to analyze the budget to determine how money should be allocated to better accomplish the goals of the organization.

In Prince William County, zero-base budgeting is achieved by examining key areas of the budget line-by-line through a base budget review, which goes beyond the normal budgeting process. This process has saved the County roughly $27 million over the past four years.

Prince William County Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director, Michelle Casciato, said that the base budget review, which is conducted at the direction of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, provides assurances that taxpayer money is being spent effectively and efficiently to accomplish the desires of the community.

The foundation of the base budget review process, Casciato said, is to meet service levels set by the Board. While zero base budgeting can help identify savings, it can also help pinpoint services and programs that are underfunded to the point that they don’t meet goals set by the Board. “This is not about budget requests or enhancing services or budget cuts – it’s about whether a program or service is correctly funded for the service levels desired.”

Additionally, Prince William County’s process calls for analyzing how money has been spent in the last four or five budget cycles, Casciato said. “We’re doing a lot of different processes at the same time in order to bring forth a budget that starts first with savings, efficiencies and reductions; and then discusses what the Board would like to add to make sure that we can afford what we have funded.”

Formulating choices about how local revenues should be spent and defining how organizations can spend federal or state money, which often come with mandates or stipulations, is an additional benefit of zero base budgeting.

Casciato also said the process enhances accountability and increases transparency. “Beyond just publishing targets and actual measures in the budget book, we seek to understand what service levels are being provided and for what cost. This analysis provides accountability to the citizen. The transparency part is that the results are made public in a written report that is far more descriptive than the budget summary information.”

Visit the Office of Management and Budget web page here for detailed information on the Fiscal 2015 Budget process.

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