Budget Survival Tips

The yearly budget looks like enough money to make it through the year, but is it really going to be enough? There are a lot of unforeseen, unbudgeted items that pop up throughout the year. So, what are the survival tips for today's chiefs to make it last the year? To be honest, I do not have all the answers; it is a regimented methodology that will preserve your budget. Some I have learned from the school of experience, and others from budget combat...let's take a look.

Planning is the key

Before you go to council, research is the first step in planning. You have had meetings upon meetings with your staff members and the chief financial officer or controller of your municipality. Whether you like it or not, good research is the key here. Assemble all data. Know how much your professional insurance, your fleet fuel and such is going to cost. These may be projections, but you can get a handle on these for starters.

Estimate the costs of your employees' raises and projected retirements and promotions. Plug in the pay increases and incentives. Read your service contracts closely as well, especially if they are multi-year ones; some may increase year to year. Last year's numbers may not be this year's numbers, so don't just plug them in without knowing what will be required.

Daily Watch

Of course as the payroll, overtime and bills roll in, you and your staff watch the numbers, but how closely? I have several checks and balances that work for me. I get weekly printouts on the budget from the finance office. This spreadsheet displays all the line items as to how much has been spent to date, amount remaining and percentages. These columns all act as visual reminders. Remember what may be a cue or indicator for one person may not be meaningful to another. I know one chief that makes graphs and bar charts for the visual learners on his staff. Whatever works, do it! My weekly budget spreadsheet is shared with my executive assistant and the captain/deputy chief. The executive assistant has to enter the account information, and the captain has to monitor it operationally. It is imperative they are kept up to date on this information.

Additionally, on my workstation I have shared access to the spreadsheets of accounts that are entered by my executive assistant, so I have real-time accounts information. I do not have to wait a week to see where an account stands; it is at my fingertips.

Pushing down the budget

One of the biggest mistakes I have heard of chiefs making in this area is to keep the budget a "military secret." First of all, in most places it is a public record; why keep it from your staff? Chiefs often fail to train and develop future leaders. This violates what I was taught in the Army: to assure victory, you are always training your next in command to take your place . I know some chiefs are looking over their shoulders at those who want their job; maybe this is the reason why budgets are kept secret and some chiefs are paranoid.

Many junior staffers (sergeants and lieutenants) used to feel that the police department was the paternal big pocket; the fat, rich uncle who always would bail you out. Just go buy it, with no due regard for price or budgetary restraints. Without budgetary training and real-life experience, they will continue with this mindset.

What I say is, "push down the budget." You, as a chief, do not have the time to take bids or oversee the purchase of everything. You will task or delegate this....correct? Take this staffer, give them the budget, and explain to them the constraints that they have to work with. If there are bidding processes or vendor processes, then educate them on that, too. But, invest the time with them now, it will save you time in the future. As General George Patton stated, "Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results."

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