County considering zero base budgeting

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By Stan Welch

The Anderson County Council spent much of its Tuesday night meeting seeking and receiving information about possible future actions.

Larry Finney, of Finney and Greene, a firm that has served as the county’s auditor in past years, gave a presentation on zero based budgeting (ZBB); an approach that begins each budget process with a blank slate and works through various scenarios to create a budget based on needs and priorities.

Finney explained that the concept surfaced back during the Carter administration, adding that it is often most commonly used during tough economic times. “Incremental budgeting, which is building from the previous year’s budget is popular in better conditions, but it is virtually guaranteed to produce a larger budget each year, whether it is a governmental budget, or a private sector corporate budget.”

Various levels or combinations of levels, of organization, i.e., departments, divisions, are known in the ZBB lexicon as decision units. These units usually review three levels of service that could be provided, and project the impact each of the various levels would have on the budget.

Finney pointed out that the ZBB process involves many more staffers, allowing for a better and more detailed look at what is actually needed. “Priorities become very important, and very detailed. This also helps avoid the “across the board” budget cuts that can often spread the burden unevenly across services that may be more or less important than others.”

Finney conceded that the process is extremely time consuming, especially the first two or three years, while the staff learns the method and how best to apply it. But he added that there are hybrid forms of ZBB that are more moderate. Service level budgeting, or SLB, sets missions and goals to be achieved in terms of services provided; the budgeting is based on completing those missions.

Target based budgeting(TBB) is a variation of that process, where targets are established by the decision making units, and then any projected expenditures above those levels must be justified.

The Council received the information for study and review, and appear to be considering the approach. The 2015-2016 budget process is about to begin; whether the ZBB will or can be implemented this year remains to be seen.

Several members of Council, including District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson requested that the Council instruct the county planning department to undertake a study on the creation of an overlay district to be imposed on the stretch of Highway 81, from Reed Road to Scott’s Bridge Road. The overlay district would implement regulations and restrictions designed to control and determine the nature of future development in the area. A similar overlay was created during the debate of the East west Parkway project, in order to reassure and placate area residents.

The constant argument in favor of the proposed overlay district, repeated by several Council members, was basically that no one wants to see the area become another Clemson Boulevard. “The purpose is to see this area develop sensibly and rationally,” said Wilson.