Is Your New Year’s Resolution a Budgeting Revolution?

Contra Costa County, CA

Contra Costa County Seal
Contra Costa County

★ GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award Winner ★

Primary Objective

Modernize the budget book creation process and eliminate manual, labor-intensive tasks in favor of a user-friendly digital budget book that makes the data more accessible and easier to navigate.

Challenge

Contra Costa County, California is one of the largest counties in California. The county manages a $5.5 billion annual budget to support the more than one million residents that call the beautiful San Francisco Bay area home.

Like many other governments, Contra Costa’s annual budgeting process has historically been very manual and labor-intensive. With such a large budget to communicate, the county’s PDF budget book exceeded 750 pages and featured more than 300 embedded spreadsheet tables throughout.

And they built it all in Microsoft Word.

It’s a laborious process, as any changes to budget data during the process ripple through the budget book and require manual updates and reconciliation. Around a dozen dedicated staff members work on the budget book each year. They are responsible for going back and forth with dozens departments and programs to amass the information required for their sections of the budget book.

On top of that, the county’s commitment to excellence in budgeting has earned them the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for 12 years in a row. But that award doesn’t come easy — a tremendous amount of work goes into ensuring a 750-page budget book meets the strict award criteria.

While the county’s process technically checked all the boxes and produced an award-winning budget book, they knew there had to be a more efficient way.

One of the reasons we chose ClearGov was because it appeared to be a very user-friendly, intuitive system that didn’t seem too intimidating. Going through and actually using the system confirmed that. It’s flexible, intuitive, and overall met our needs and helped us achieve our goals.

Cleargov Solution

The county began looking for a cloud-based government budget solution that would help them:

  • Reduce the overall number of hours spent producing the budget book
  • Eliminate the labor-intensive, manual process and make it easier to assemble the budget book
  • Modernize the process and get to a more user-friendly digital format
  • Make the budget book more accessible and easier to navigate for the public
  • Maintain a physical print version
  • Create charts and tables with a consistent look and feel more easily
  • Automatically update data across the book when changes are made

They chose ClearGov’s Digital Budget Book solution because the user-friendly infrastructure didn’t appear too intimidating. The county liked the visual feel of ClearGov’s web-based budget books.

Onboarding instructions were easy to follow, and ClearGov staff remarked that the initial data extracts were nearly perfect. Only minor restructuring was needed to view the data the way the county was used to. Staff quickly picked up the system after a couple of demonstrations and they appreciated that many pages were automatically generated and pre-populated with budget data. Contributors simply went in and added their narrative and any supporting resources to round out their sections.

The person primarily responsible for putting together and publishing the previous PDF book has lauded the functionality of ClearGov and how much easier it’s made her job. County staff appreciated the ClearGov team’s responsiveness when offering support and solutions, and agree the new system is user-friendly and provides a better and more efficient experience than their previous manual processes.

Departments are also excited about the ability to add supporting narrative in different formats, like videos, and link to their pages outside the budget book for more context. It’s prompted some to focus more on their online presence and keep pages fresh since they know the content will help the public understand how their tax dollars are spent.

Even transitioning to new technology, the county estimates it took about half the time to produce their budget book this year. In addition to the time savings, the county appreciates the newfound peace of mind of knowing that ClearGov pulls from a single data source, and any changes are automatically made across the entire book. There are no manual updates and no major reconciliation.

Regarding its 12-year streak earning the GFOA award, the county hopes the new digital budget book format continues the pattern. They immediately took to the built-in GFOA award criteria checklist feature in ClearGov. Staff remarked on how convenient it was to have a built-in glossary, census figures, and visuals all pre-populated to meet award criteria. With the checklist, they appreciated how it showed which criteria were met with automatically generated pages and which they still needed to work on. They also liked how hovering over the checklist criteria displayed language directly from the GFOA.

Feedback on the county’s web-based budget book has been very favorable. Many viewers have commented that the budget data is more accessible and focused in a digital format. The interactive charts make the data easier for people to digest in a way they’re comfortable with. The web-based budget book is easier to navigate and provides a better user experience than the PDF format.

The product has been helpful for us to transition from an old way of displaying information and move to a new one that enables us to change the way we’re doing things. The transition to the web-based format allowed us to think about our budget presentation in different ways and approach things with fresh eyes. The features and functionality of ClearGov built a level of excitement around the budget book process this year.

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April 26, 2023

Matt Benati

Matt Benati is Vice President of Marketing for ClearGov®, the leading provider of Budget Cycle Management software for local governments. Matt is passionate about helping organizations modernize their annual budgeting process by automating workflow, increasing collaboration, and improving transparency between governments and citizens.

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