Last Thursday, Master of Public Policy students attended a presentation by Rebecca Fleury, City Manager of Battle Creek, and Linda Teeter, Executive Director of Michigan Citizen Action. Both Fleury and Teeter have extensive experience in Michigan government at multiple levels. They shared their collective experiences and insights with a special focus on the importance of public budgeting.
Throughout her presentation, Fleury emphasized how budgeting and financial issues
underpin nearly all public decisions. Public finance affects all levels and types of policymaking. Financial information usually plays a key role in determining what policies are adopted and if and how they can be implemented.
As Fleury and Teeter noted, the resources available to local governments have been particularly strained in recent years. This presents a challenge to local officials as well as citizens. Both Fleury and Teeter work to increase public awareness of the budgeting and decision-making process.
Fleury considers providing relevant and accurate budgetary information to public officials one of her most important responsibilities. Although it takes place behind the scenes, this work is vital to the success of any government project.
In Battle Creek, Fleury’s financial team updates elected officials on a quarterly basis. This helps the team avoid surprises. By finding out about significant changes in earlier quarters of the year, officials and staff can better plan for future needs and make important changes. Major activities include revenue forecasting and legacy cost planning.
As an example, Fleury explained that she and her staff had determined not to presume reimbursement from the state for the loss of the personal property tax when planning the city budget. As it turned out, the City did receive reimbursement, but by not counting on this money, it was in a better financial position. She noted that planning like this involves a lot of strategic decision-making. Planning for future decisions by means of methods like reserve funding for capital investments is essential. It can also mean increasing reliance on revenue streams like the income tax.
Fleury noted that expenses related to personnel take up the biggest portion of any local budget. This is especially true for police and fire. Staffing and union negotiations are especially significant in determining local expenses.
Following Fleury’s presentation, Linda Teeter emphasized to students the importance of being involved in their communities, particularly at the local government level. However, she also emphasized the importance of being aware of state and national policies. She noted there is a great need for engagement, especially among young people.
Teeter explained how attendance at a local government meeting at first inspired her to get involved. Since then, she has worked as a Legislative Aide in the Michigan House, served three terms as a City Commissioner for Kalamazoo, and has lent her expertise to getting the public more involved in policy through MCA.
Together, Fleury and Teeter made a strong case for the importance of public finance and citizen involvement in government.