Budgets: More than Just Numbers

Budgeting – the word strikes fear into the hearts of many. Not me. Call me crazy, but I like budgets. So much so in fact that I wrote a course on budgeting, and I’m teaching it to other library staff all over Ontario, from close to home all the way  to Rainy River.

I think budgeting is like doing a jigsaw – getting all the pieces in the right place is the only way to get a clear view of the big picture.  And If you have a strategic plan for the future, then you had a pretty good idea of what your picture looked like before you started.

Not long ago, I sat down with the senior staff of the library to plan the 2010 budget. The economy is tight, and we may have make some difficult choices. Instructions from City Council to all departments is to maintain service levels without increased costs. There may have to be sacrifices, and I knew it would be tough  – pulling hen’s teeth was the image that came to mind –  but the staff, as always, rose to the challenge.

At our meeting, we didn’t talk money, because a budget is more than numbers. We talked about prioritizing our programs, about maximizing our efforts, and about departments working together for best results; some compromises were made.

I translated the concepts that we discussed as a staff into a line item budget for the Library Board’s Finance Committee to review. This Board Committee examined our best efforts to reduce expenditures. Then the revised version – new and improved – was submitted to the Library Board as a whole at a regular meeting.

If you attend a Board meeting, you may find that the budget passes with little discussion. That’s because half the board are members of the Finance Committee, and had already examined it in depth in a lengthy meeting.  (The other half of the Board is on the Personnel Committee).

In a short time, we’ll have an opportunity to present our budget to the City’s Finance Committee, which is made up of staff and Council members, before a decision is finally reached by the City on the complex City budget as a whole.

In spite of belt-tightening, we plan to make continuous progress, small steps, but progress nonetheless. And we look forward to an improved facility as our revitalization project will be activated in September.

A budget s more than just numbers – it’s people and priorities, and it’s making progress toward a revitalized future.

– RD

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