Online ‘Budget Tool’ Allows Users to Input
Alternative Revenue and Expenditures, Shows How They
Would Impact County’s Six-Year Budget Projections
ROCKVILLE, Md., June 9, 2015—Montgomery County’s Interactive Fiscal Plan, which features an innovative web-based “budget tool” that enables users to input alternative revenue and expenditure assumptions in the County’s six-year budget projections and see the potential impact, has been awarded a 2015 Achievement Award from the Public Technology Institute (PTI) and a Civic Education and Public Information Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo).
The Interactive Fiscal Plan tool, which was a combined project of the Office of Legislative Oversight and the County Council’s Information Technology staff, was launched in December 2014. Like an online mortgage calculator—which many people have become familiar with in recent years—the budget tool allows users inside government and from the public to experiment with figures of their choosing. This exercise helps users to better understand how structural changes in the County’s six-year budget projections can be impacted by significant changes in revenue or expenditures. The plan can be accessed
The project was inspired by the Council’s request for development of a method to measure the effect of structural budget changes. Led by its Government Operations and Fiscal Policy (GO) Committee, the Council wanted the interactive budget tool to help users better understand how recurring revenue and expenditure patterns influence the ability to achieve balanced budgets in future years.
“My committee has prioritized open government and the innovative use of data,” said Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee Chair Nancy Navarro. “I am incredibly proud of the outstanding work of the Office of Legislative Oversight for this recognition. The Interactive Fiscal Plan is about ensuring our residents not only receive excellent services from the County, but also understand how the decisions policymakers have to grapple with impact those services. I look forward to working with my GO Committee colleagues in seeking out new ways we can create the most transparent and effective government in the nation.”
Each year, the Council approves a six-year fiscal plan. The plan includes operating budget revenue and expenditure estimates for the upcoming six fiscal years based on projections prepared by the County’s Department of Finance and Office of Management and Budget. The Interactive Fiscal Plan measures the effect of inputting alternative revenue and expenditure assumptions. The budget tool calculates the cumulative six-year effect of adjusting the assumed average annual rate of change for major plan variables.
For example, if a user wants to assume more funding should go to a particular agency or program, the budget tool shows that the plan is unbalanced until the user determines from where an equal amount of funds should be decreased. A user could insert numbers showing projected revenue to the County being greater or lesser than the plan indicates—and would then show how the overall projections would be impacted by those assumptions.
“The Interactive Fiscal Plan is a great example of how technology can make government more transparent and user friendly,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer, the Council’s lead member for digital government. “Since the Council passed my Open Data Law in 2012, Montgomery County government has made great strides in making our data easily available and providing it in useful formats that people can understand. Stay tuned for many more developments as we continue to find new ways to use and present data to engage and educate our residents.”
The budget tool helps bring reality and accountability to the budget process. There are constant demands for increased funding in areas important to certain agencies or groups, but those demands often are not accompanied by plans that would show the impact on other areas of the budget.
“We used the budget tool this spring when Interim Superintendent of Schools Larry Bowers, Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard and I conducted a series of forums around the County to explain the budget process to residents,” said Councilmember Craig Rice. “It quickly proved to be a great help in what we were trying to accomplish and it demonstrated how this could assist anyone who is interested in any aspect of the County operating budget.”
The Public Technology Institute actively supports local government executives and elected officials through research, education, executive-level consulting services and national recognition programs. It is the only technology organization created by and for cities and counties. At its Oct. 11-13 Local Government CIO Summit in Salt Lake City, PTI will recognize the Interactive Fiscal Plan, as well as Montgomery County’s initiatives regarding its GIS Web Portal, its Criminal Justice Case Management System, its Financial Transparency Suite and its Tax Assessment System.
The NACo Award will be presented on July 12 at NACo’s Annual Conference and Exposition in Mecklenburg County, N.C.
The Interactive Fiscal Plan was created through the efforts of Aron Trombka of the Office of Legislative Oversight; Michelle Parsons, Nic Berry and Namita Acharya of the Council’s IT office; Shan Balasubramanian and Veda Raman of the Department of Technology Services; and Rockville-based contractor Technology Digest Inc.
# # # #