At a Glance
Facing an immediate need to support essential services, it was crucial for Battle Creek to ensure that resource application aligned with the community's needs. Through program budgeting, City leaders and staff prioritized transparency when allocating resources so as to engage citizens, staff, and decision-makers.
The City of Battle Creek first implemented Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) in 2019 under City Manager, Rebecca Fleury, to help the City decide how to spend its money based on the community results residents want to see. They built a program inventory, allocated their budget to those programs and then evaluated their programs against a set of results to determine which programs were most aligned with the overall vision and values of the City, thus aligning their budget with their community's values. Typically, the set of results stays relatively constant for several years, similar to any strategic plan. Hence, a PBB best practice is to maintain the same set of results and update alignment when programs change or new programs are added, but 2020 and 2021 were anything but typical.
In Battle Creek, like most cities around the country and the world, the City struggled to keep essential services running, City jobs were lost, businesses closed, residents suffered food and financial insecurities, school was run via remote technologies, people were left without any direct contact with other people, and most tragically, people lost family and friends. It was a crisis, and City leadership worked together and came out the other side even more convinced that the prioritization framework of PBB was the best way to provide accessibility and accountability to both City staff and residents.
As they faced the challenges of a budget with significant anticipated decreases in total revenues, the City of Battle Creek recognized the importance of transparency and communicating the thinking behind budget decisions with the community. To help re-prioritize programs through a post-COVID lens, the city returned to the PBB framework and decided to develop a new set of results and re-score all programs.
City of Battle Creek, MI used/is using Priority Based Budgeting to address this/these challenge(s).
Priority Based Budgeting provides a repeatable process for tying the City of Battle Creek's resources to their community's priorities by providing a framework for evaluating their programs. Through PBB, Battle Creek determines the programs it provides, the resources needed to provide them and how they align to the results important to the community. It will also provide data on how each of their programs contributes to their Environmental, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion goals.
The new set of results was developed in partnership with Polco, a community survey tool, to ensure residents' voices were included in the final set of results. Based on this survey and in consultation with ResourceX and the City's team, issues related to the Economy, Safety, Utilities, Recreation, Transportation, Community Design and Arts and Culture will be used as budgeting priorities. The effect on the Environment and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will be a factor in each decision.
Not only will these new results and the resulting scores provide tremendous insight into the programs most positively impacting the City, but they will also shed light on where ARPA funds are needed. They will also help determine what areas of the City's programs were most impacted by COVID and need to be restored, and to what degree, and what City programs residents have learned to live without and could be retired. "We need to make sure we keep that long-term view in mind," Fleury said. "Right now, we're working to make sure we understand what some of those most important services are."
And now, with the much-needed funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, there is a movement towards economic recovery. However, cities and counties must move forward with deliberation and care. These funds are a one-time infusion and must be invested wisely to create long-term sustainability. "That's my concern. We don't want to create a general fund we can't sustain," said Fleury. The new results and resulting prioritized programs will significantly influence how ARPA funds are distributed to City programs.
- The City can now evaluate each program against a set of results approved by their elected officials and contributed to by citizens and organization staff.
- Program data ensures a deliberate and collaborative approach in deciding how best to utilize its resources to enhance community wealth.
- Utilization of The Citizens Priority Survey ensures a partnership between citizens and public servants to shape and implement a bold, equitable, and inclusive vision for the future.
- The City Commission worked with the City Manager to ensure that each result was tailored to be an actionable part of the City Manager's Workplan.
- The establishment of new results to prioritize programs while assessing the application of ARPA fund allocation was very timely and will serve the City well.
The new results were identified through a very collaborative process. The City Commission listened to the citizens, the staff, and each other in creating the new set of results.
Who Should Consider?
Any municipality looking to use resident input to evaluate and prioritize programs to maximize their existing resources and/or American Rescue Plan Act funds.