At a Glance
Faced with decreased city revenues, the City of Littleton demonstrated the potential of program data when determining the city’s annual budget. By budgeting based on city priorities, Littleton was able to make informed recommendations for essential service increases and decreases.
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, the city needed alternative approaches to determining what services would need to be reduced in order to have the necessary resources to continue service provision. 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 fiscal reality of 2021 required reallocating funding to ensure essential services to residents weren’t interrupted.
City of Littleton, Colorado used/is using Priority Based Budgeting to address this/these challenge(s).
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. However, 2020 would provide new challenges. The shift in expectations and needs required flexibility and nimbleness. Due to their experience with PBB, the city team was able to quickly pivot 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
- Replaced line-item budget data with data informed by inter-departmental communication ensuring alignment with Council goals and organization strategic efforts.
- Implementation of Priority Based Budgeting in 2018 prepared them for the 2020 challenges of budgeting to meet community needs in response to COVID-19.
- Every city program was broken down to illustrate the resources, both human and operational, needed and its contribution to the successful achievement of the City of Littleton’s priorities.
- 2021 Final Budget that communicates clearly the data supporting each budget request through programs.
- Priority Based Budgeting was utilized in the budget process to ensure alignment with Council goals and organization strategic efforts.
- The PBB Community innovates and provides insight into ways to apply program data. Littleton's Pick 3 is now a training method for communities seeking actionable programmatic decisions.
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.