Whether you have new council members, a new ratepayers’ group or increasing cost pressures, communicating financial information effectively can make the difference between adopting a budget in three meetings or three months.
It can be tough though; people collapse municipal services and property taxes with other agency’s services and taxes, and services are easy to take for granted.
This budget season, let pictures do the work. Here are four images you can add to your budget presentation to help tell your story about why costs are increasing and how public money is spent.
1. Capital Has Changed
Why the increasing focus on capital? Local governments own most of the public infrastructure in Canada now – that means covering lifecycle costs, asset management, preventative maintenance and more. Try using this graphic depicting the transfer of assets to local governments to illuminate newer financial responsibilities.
2. Project Commitments: Funded and Approved
Looking for a way to connect council-approved projects with annual funding?
Senior Management Team, meet the iceberg. It’s a graphic metaphor one Canadian city manager used to describe the growing number of projects council approved, announced without a funding plan, (also known as projects that were ‘below the [funding] line’) and deferred. The image highlights which projects the council-directed tax increase pushes forward to future years and the risk that political talk does not match budget walk.
3. Demonstrate Value Through Better Billing
Are there special programs or project costs council wants to highlight? Separating an infrastructure levy from the operating levy on the tax bill can be an effective way to highlight costs. The City of Mississauga’s bill identifies three such levies for the City of Mississauga highlights three special levies: The Emerald Ash Borer Management Program (a tree pest), Capital Infrastructure and Debt Repayment and the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus.
4. Municipal Services are Bodily Services
Tired of comparing the cost of services to the cost of a cup of coffee to communicate that municipal services are good value for money? Try this instead: The services we provide are important because they support everyone’s bodily functions. Every shower, flush, cereal box and bike ride involves local services.
This budget cycle, give elected representatives the gift that keeps on giving: a metaphor about how far municipal tax dollars go with an hourly reminder from their own body.
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What other budget metaphors, pictures and visuals have you come across that help communicate specific program costs or macro/micro capital shifts?
Emily Harris has worked in municipal finance policy as an academic at Carleton University, as the Manager of Policy at the Municipal Finance Officers’ Association, as a Management and Policy Consultant in the Toronto City Manager’s Office, as a Financial Analyst in the City of Toronto’s budget division and as a private consultant, completing projects for Local Authority Services (LAS) and the Ontario Government ministries of finance and municipal affairs. As Director of The Policy Shop, she specializes in financial policy updates for local governments and can be contacted at [email protected].