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The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) announced this week that the City of Salida, Colorado, has received GFOA’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for its 2022 Annual Budget.

Distinguished Budget Presentation Award given by the Government Finance Officers Association to the City of Salida Finance team for its 2022 budget. Image courtesy GFOA

The award represents a significant achievement by the City of Salida. It reflects a complete turnaround from years when former staff struggled with budget timeliness.  Not only did City Administrator Drew Nelson and Finance Director Aimee Tihonovich bring documented processes, timeliness, and stability back to the department but plans were laid then to move steadily from “good to great”.

“Developing a budget document that met the high standards of GFOA was a goal posed by Administrator Drew Nelson in order to increase transparency and professionalism of the City,” said Tihonovich.

“It has taken a while to update policies and procedures around the budget development process and to gather the data necessary for achieving these standards, but we are pleased with the improvements,” she continued.

In order to receive the budget award, the City had to satisfy nationally recognized guidelines for effective budget presentation, following the highest principles of governmental budgeting. Beyond including comprehensive financial and demographic data, a secondary goal was to make the document more useful to residents.

“It was the vision of the City Treasurer to go with a modern and more “open” online version of the document which we think adds readability and allows interested parties to quickly drill down to areas of interest,” Tihonovich noted.

The GFOA guidelines are designed to assess how well the City’s budget serves as:

  • A policy document
  • A financial plan
  • An operations guide
  • A communications device

To receive the award, budget documents must be rated at least “proficient” in all four categories, and in the 14 mandatory criteria within those categories. The Salida budget received multiple “outstanding” ratings in select criteria.  Additionally, reviewers called out the “Reader’s Guide”, “…the use of dynamic charts and graphs”, and that “The digital budget book allows the reader to see what they want, quickly.”

Developing the report itself took a large effort, and made further challenging by embedding the content in the leading-edge, OpenGov Online Budget Book software platform.  While used by a growing number of government entities, like all “new” software, it is constantly evolving. It is expected that in future years the task should be less time-consuming, now that the framework is in place and the user interface is already making the placement of eye-appealing visuals even easier, especially for self-described “numbers people”.

“Meeting the dual challenges of producing an award-winning budget PLUS making it accessible and look good online was not easy, especially in the second year of a pandemic”, noted City Treasurer Merrell Bergin.

“Aimee Tihonovich and Assistant Finance Director Kristen Hussey met weekly with the software vendor to learn how best to use the tool and then worked long hours on it. At the same time, the rest of the ‘small but mighty’ finance staff joined hands to provide excellent customer service and keep the flow of utility billing, vendor payments and monthly reporting moving – this award goes to the whole team,” said Bergin.

Not one to rest on past achievements, Tihonovich asks for feedback from residents – anything to help make the “book” more readable and meaningful to residents in the years ahead.

There are more than 1,700 participants in the GFOA Budget Awards Program. Recipients have pioneered efforts to improve the quality of budgeting and provide an excellent example for other governments throughout North America.

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) advances excellence in government finance by providing best practices, professional development, resources, and practical research to more than 21,000 members and the communities they serve.

Tihonovich, Hussey and Bergin are all members of GFOA and its local affiliate the Colorado Government Finance Officers Association, taking advantage of their networking and educational opportunities to learn what other municipalities are doing to advance their practices.

Featured image: Left to right, Assistant Finance Director Kristen Hussey, City Treasurer Merrell Bergin and Finance Director Aimee Tihonovich at the Touber Building. Heather Wright/City of Salida photo.