Fort Collins transformed its budget process in response to rising costs and a desire to include the community in decisions about how their tax dollars were spent. The city launched a citizen education program and incorporated citizens into budget review teams to create a budget that aligned with community priorities.
While the cost of providing city services was rising, revenue remained stagnant and the price of government services was fixed in the minds of much of the public. The city needed to educate residents about the financial challenges the city was facing, reduce spending, and still provide high-quality services.
Fort Collins launched Budgeting for Outcomes (BFO), a collaborative budgeting process to responsibly allocate funds and align resources with community priorities. With input from a scientific community survey and other sources, the city created a strategic plan. The plan, in turn, guided budgeting priorities. The city also formed cross-departmental budget teams that include citizen volunteers. The teams evaluated and ranked every funding proposal made by city departments.
The city also created other avenues for citizens to provide their input. Using online and in-person approaches like mobile budget booths and online budget simulations, the city worked with staff, volunteers, and partners to target a variety of communities, including low-income households, seniors, and Spanish speakers. The city set up mobile budget booths at a variety of locations throughout the community, including libraries, public transit centers, and schools. Citizens learned about the budgeting process and provided informed input about how they would like their money to be spent.
Fort Collins lowered the price of local government for its citizens from 6.5 cents to 5.6 cents of every dollar earned, while increasing the community’s overall satisfaction with the quality of local government services, according to the city’s 2017 Community Survey. The process also led to changes in city services, such as an increase in building code enforcement officers, additional courts around the city for sports, and a program that ensures every student has a safe route to walk or bike to school. The city is more transparent and accountable to residents, and BFO team community members serve as unofficial ambassadors between the city and the community. Citizens now expect to have a say in their city policies, and they have a better understanding of their city budget. The collaboration has led to a greatly improved relationship between the city and its people.
“The city opened the door. If you want to get engaged, there are so many avenues to get involved. I really did feel I was an engaged partner in this process.”
– Pat Murphy, citizen member of Budgeting for Outcomes team