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More on Arlington County Budgeting

Ten days ago, we growled that five county departments had exceeded their budgets in Fiscal Year 2007. Moreover, we showed that between FY 2003 and FY 2007, one department had exceeded its budget in each of those five years and three had exceeded their budget in at least three of those five years. All that despite the admonition from the auditors each year that “Management will ensure these departments develop better budget estimates in future years.”

The five departments that exceeded their FY 2007 budgets did so by a total of $2.4 million, or 2.2%.

A further look at Exhibit S-9 in the FY 2007 CAFR, the source for the FY 2007 “actual” and “budget” numbers for each department, shows eleven departments underspent their budgets by at least $1.0 million, or a total of $54.4 million. The average was 8.3%, and ranged from 2.2% and 28.6% in the county; on the schools side, the range went from 1.6% for the operating fund to 47.9% for PAYGO capital.

We congratulate the County Manager and the director of the Department of Management & Finance for assuring that so many departments control their budgets. However, it seems that if departments are counseled to “develop better budget estimates” for going over-budget by 2.2%, the departments that are “under-budget” by 8.3% should also be counseled about “better budget estimates.”

If departments are able to justify their budgets to the Manager and the County Board, fine. However, significant under-budgeting suggests the Manager and the County Board are not seriously "scrubbing" the Manager’s proposed budgets when they are released in February each year. Or is such significant under-budgeting deliberate in order to provide the County Board with an opportunity to be "generous" and spend “one-time funds" at the end of each fiscal year? Inquiring taxpayers’ minds would like to know.

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