The city of Galveston got some real talent in Mike Loftin, its new finance director.
Loftin, a former city manager in League City, has a background in municipal finance.
During his tenure as a finance director and manager in League City, he did at least three things that Galveston would do well to copy.
First, while Loftin was in League City, the look and format of the city budget changed.
Actually, the entire budget process changed.
In many cities, the budget is a collection of spreadsheets.
Loftin’s budgets tied spending to departmental goals.
If the Public Works Department was expecting to repair x miles of streets and y miles of sidewalks, for example, the expenses needed to meet those goals would be listed in the budget.
The discussion wasn’t just a discussion about the cost of government.
The discussion was about the services that could be expected in return.
Second, the capital improvement plan became a real tool for solving the city’s biggest challenges.
The plan included a forecast of funding available in different categories.
If the city was planning to do something — solve its water problem or build a training facility for the fire department — there was an accompanying plan for funding it.
Third, such plans were possible because another significant thing happened during Loftin’s tenure: Projections of revenue became more accurate.
Many local government institutions, when budgeting revenue, look at last year’s report and start guessing.
Loftin’s estimates were based on sophisticated models that included many variables. The result was fewer surprises.
While Loftin was in League City, he prepared long-range financial forecasts that were detailed and interesting.
City leaders in Galveston ought to encourage him to do the same for the island.
Why is all this important?
Some cities have a propensity for getting bogged down in the problem of the day.
And there’s always a new problem every day.
If all the residents of a city can see detailed plans on what the city is planning to do to address its biggest challenges and how it is planning to spend public money to address them, those big plans magically grab the public’s attention.
Good financial planning can sometimes help people take the problem of the day with a grain of salt and keep their focus where it should be.
In a city like Galveston, that’s important.