Capital Metro’s budget process for 2012 is already underway, although it seems like 2011 has just begun. There’s a reason for that. Metro works on a fiscal year basis, and our “New Year” officially begins in October. There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then, and there’s a big part for you to play in the process.
Writing Capital Metro’s budget begins with each operating department making their requests to my department, Finance. That covers a lot of departments, ranging from Human Resources to the folks who operate our buses and trains. The Finance staff meets with each department to talk about their request and match it with our financial forecast for the year.
Right now, we are predicting a continued improvement in the sales tax, which accounts for 75% of our revenue. The rest of our funding comes mainly from federal grants and fares. We expect to have more revenue to work with in the coming year, but like a family, Capital Metro always has more needs than there are dollars.
In the coming months, we’ll be sorting out those needs. Metro staff led by President Linda Watson will be meeting internally for awhile working out the details, but this summer we’ll be asking the community for input. Look for a video as early as next week of Linda talking about Capital Metro’s budget. We are planning a budget “open house” that I promise will be more interesting than it sounds. We’ll also be holding an online community forum. We have other ideas for encouraging input that you’ll be hearing more about, too.
I can’t stress enough how important community input is to writing a sound budget. It’s going to be a challenge to meet our budget goals in coming years, which includes not only investment in our vehicles and facilities, but also in making sure Capital Metro remains on a sound financial footing. That means tough choices, and it’s important to us to understand what’s important to you. We can do all the planning in the world, but without public input, it could be off target.
In any case, once we have gone through our internal and public processes, Capital Metro’s board of directors will begin examining the budget in detail in August. This review process will go on for several weeks, and I can tell you based on last year, a lot of hard questions will be asked and changes made.
And then there’ll be another chance for the public to have a say. We plan a public hearing on the budget, based on the board’s input, for mid-September. Then the board will approve the budget based on public input and internal recommendations. The whole process will be done, we plan, by September 26, just ahead of our New Year’s day, October 1.
Then it is just a matter of keeping track of how the departments are doing against their budgets and starting to think about 2013—all before it’s even 2012 on the calendar.
Billy Hamilton is the interim chief financial officer for Capital Metro and a tax and fiscal policy consultant. In his 30+ years of professional experience, he’s worked on tax and fiscal policy issues from every angle. In 2006, Hamilton retired from Texas state government as chief deputy comptroller of public accounts of Texas. He writes a regular column on state tax issues for the national publication State Tax Notes, and he’ll be contributing a series of articles for Capital MetroBlog over the next several months about the development of Capital Metro’s FY12 budget.