In December 2020, the City estimated a $19.5 million revenue shortfall; a $4.8 million increase in costs related to COVID-19.
Still, thanks to emergency funding from other levels of government, healthy reserve funds, and a lot of hard work among employees in all departments (Guelph managed to reduce costs by $20.7 million to offset revenue losses), Guelph managed to keep the budget increase relatively low, and City Council approved a net tax levy increase of 2.25 per cent.
With the operating and capital budget forecast well in hand, Guelph can continue developing multi-year budgets and long-term financial strategy.
Guelph also completely changed how it builds the City’s budget and presents it to City Council for approval. Assembling the budget by pillar rather than by department increases transparency by showing all costs associated with streams of work. They’re no longer scattered across various departmental budgets; the costs for community priorities can now be seen in one place. It’s a smarter, more transparent, more accurate way of showing how the City spends.
For the first time, Guelph’s budget focused less on City departments, and emphasized how and when funds would be used for the projects, programs and services that contribute to the goals of the plan.
This progress report is also part of that performance measurement and reporting system:
Instead of copying financial data into books and binders for printing, Guelph built a platform to house all the information online. People could search and filter through financial data and explore budget summaries that explained the context and strategy behind the City’s proposed investments.
Because the website presents current data directly from the City’s financial systems, the proposed and approved budget were published automatically in a more open and accessible format. With financial information pulled directly to the website, the City had capacity to offer more in-depth education programs and discussions including workshops, town hall meetings and the City’s first podcast series.
The podcast was a conversation between the host and City staff about the services, programs, and pressures impacting the budget. City staff answered the questions while hundreds of people listened – all before budget night.
The City is continuing the podcast series through this year to share information about several complex, long-term plans and strategies.
Not surprisingly, web traffic on Guelph’s budget pages increased over the previous year, with almost 300% more page-views.
Feedback from City Councillors and employees suggests the new process was a success and generated even more ideas for improvement.
Looking ahead, Guelph will continue testing, learning and improving how the City develops and presents budget information. The goal is to support City Council in making well-informed decisions based on the City’s financial health, and make it easier for community members to understand how projects, programs and services are prioritized and funded.