Business and municipal management consultant Pat Walker delivered a presentation, “Municipal Budget Overview,” to Cottonwood City Council members, employees and residents at the Cottonwood Recreation Center on March 23.
From the get-go, Walker established a realistic tone about the challenges of making the figures balance out. Nonetheless, she said that being fiscally responsible and providing a consistent quality of life for citizens are equally important tasks.
Sometimes, providing services to citizens means a city subsidizes the service, knowing that the community’s financial contribution won’t allow it to break even on the expenditure for some time.
“You’re never going to fully recoup your costs,” Walker said, adding that a common mistake is for cities to prioritize some services over others at the expense of essential services or those services the community deems truly important. “The police department needs are as important as finance department needs .... Are there conflicts? Yeah.”
Walker said that the key for Cottonwood is to make sure that all of the city’s departments evaluate their needs with a critical eye for the bottom line and necessary additions, while also keeping track of national trends. The presidency of Donald Trump, in particular, has made the recovery of the American economy more tenuous than in years past, according to Walker.
“Yes, people are spending, but we are in a complex time,” Walker said, adding that Cottonwood cannot afford to ignore the demands of an aging demographic, a service-sector-heavy economy and the ongoing struggle communities have to provide enough water. “We probably have a lot more growth-related issues than back East .... [and] we’re very reliant on sales tax because of low property taxes.”
Walker praised Cottonwood’s Finance Department, under the lead of Administrative Services General Manager Rudy Rodriguez, for its 15 consecutive years receiving the Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award. The award recognizes transparency, promoting municipalities’ use of budget presentation documents as a educational tool.
“The whole goal of the program is to get a communication device for the public,” Walker said, going down the list of criteria for the award: A policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide and a communication device. “I went through each of these [criteria] and you’re doing them .... Most smaller cities don’t get this award. It takes a long time and a lot of resources to prepare it.”
Cottonwood invests significant time and resources toward transparency, according to Rodriguez. To view the documents readily available to the public, visit cottonwoodaz.gov/168/Financial-Transparency.