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2021 Budget Plan in Littleton, CO Prioritizes Communication & Reallocation in Response to COVID-19

Littleton, CO, USA
In Collaboration With
City of Littleton

Government Champion

City Manager's Office; Elected Officials, Budget Office


40 Thousand USD
25 Thousand USD

Project Status

Operational since 2021


Project Type

At a Glance

The City of Littleton demonstrated the potential of program data when determining the city’s annual budget. Through excellent leadership in the City and application of priority based budgeting, Littleton's 2021 Approved Budget communicated service needs and budget requests programmatically.

Problem Addressed

The City of Littleton's 2021 Final Budget communicates that the impacts of COVID-19 are ever-present. The intentions and plans for 2020 went out the door as COVID-19 forced the need to pivot to new expectations and make budget decisions accordingly. With City revenues greatly impacted by COVID shutdowns, alternative approaches needed to be explored in order to have the necessary resources to continue service provision and meet the demand of the citizens. It's never easy to make tough decisions, but it is made even more difficult if the only guiding data is the line-item budget.

For the City of Littleton, the reality of 2021 presented these same challenges, and they responded with a growing fluency and mastery of Priority Based Budgeting (PBB).

City of Littleton, Colorado used/is using Priority Based Budgeting to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

In 2018, the City began implementing Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) as a comprehensive approach for the city to evaluate and align city programs with council and community priorities. Priority Based Budgeting allows the citizens, city council and staff to evaluate the budget from a program perspective rather than a line-item or department perspective and to allocate resources to those programs based on the goals and values established by the community.

In 2019, the implementation of this budgeting method progressed with the creation of a PBB program review process, Pick 3, using the PBB Blueprint developed by ResourceX. Departments were encouraged to select programs for which they already desired to take a new course of action and/or which were strongly linked to the council-defined priorities for the year. Departments reviewed programs for the following opportunities identified by the PBB Blueprint: outsourcing, process efficiencies, changing service levels, implementing or reducing fees and charges, in-sourcing and grant funding. Upon completion of the review, departments reported back on the feasibility, budget impact and recommended implementation plan.

The intention for 2020 was to repeat the Pick 3 process identifying a variety of opportunities across their program inventory. The successful application of this process in 2019 provided a great intention for 2020. However, 2020 would provide new challenges. The shift in expectations and needs required flexibility and nimbleness. Due to their experience with PBB, the Super User team was able to refocus their efforts towards the specific goal of freeing up resources in less critical areas. By doing an in-depth program review, the entire Littleton organization was able to present data-driven recommendations for service-level increases and decreases based on their alignment with the city's priorities. Through the alignment of resources to priorities and Basic Program Attributes, and the direction from PBB peers in the City of Boise, the City was able to identify those programs critical to the City's well-being during the COVID crisis.

The data created through the OnlinePBB tools provided department leaders with a support system for backing the decisions they needed to make. According to Samma Fox, Assistant to the City Manager, the PBB data created a "safe space" for departments to communicate their needs through the budget request process. Their Pick 3 process in 2019 provided knowledge and understanding of how the data could be utilized.

"Thankfully, we already had the conceptual knowledge of what opportunities there were and the tradeoffs you can make and how to look at a program and understand it on a programmatic basis and analyze that. Having that vocabulary and knowledge of the concepts, we were still able to do a pretty impressive review of our programs."

Stacey Covington, Budget Analyst, City of Littleton, Colorado


  1. Line item budget data was replaced with data informed by inter-departmental communication ensuring alignment with Council goals and organization strategic efforts.
  2. The City’s implementation of Priority Based Budgeting in 2018 prepared them for the 2020 challenges of budgeting to meet community needs in response to COVID-19.
  3. Each program illustrates the resources, both human and operational, needed and their influence on the successful achievement of the City of Littleton's priorities.
  4. 2021 Final Budget that communicates clearly the data supporting each budget request through programs.
  5. Priority Based Budgeting was utilized in the budget process to ensure alignment with Council goals and organization strategic efforts.

Lessons Learned

  1. The first year of PBB implementation was about learning the tools, understanding the data & how it applies to communication with Council, & decision-making associated with budget requests.
  2. Pick 3 Approach: The Littleton team developed and presented a practical application of the PBB data designed to analyze programs for opportunities, as outlined in the PBB Blueprint.
  3. Pick 3 Description: Departments picked two programs they wanted to analyze for opportunities, and City Manager, Mark Relph, picked one program on which he wanted analysis.
  4. Looking to 2021: The city will continue to monitor and assess the economy. Staff will be poised to bring forward a supplemental appropriation to address service levels and program needs.

Something Unique

The City of Littleton created individual "e-baseball cards" containing the following program data: Program name, description, highlights, recommendations, costs (FTE + non-personnel), and contribution to outcomes.

These program cards formed the basis of initiating program level change discussions with Council. And ultimately, provided a critical program level data platform to initiate discussions to determine the future of each program.

Who Should Consider?

Any municipal government dealing with the financial ramifications of COVID-19 and is considering a data-driven approach to decision making.