Grad Students Persuade Council, Mayor to Embark on New Budget Procedure

Downtown Haverhill. (Creative Commons.)

View of downtown Haverhill from the Merrimack River.

A group of five graduate students from Brandeis University seems to have accomplished what until now appeared an impossible task: selling the city on performance-based budgeting.

The MBA candidates from the Heller School spent several months studying Haverhill’s government and its budgeting process at the behest of City Council President John A. Michitson and Councilor Andy Vargas. Tuesday, they showed the City Council how Haverhill can change the way it assembles its budget to take residents’ priorities and municipal program successes into account.

Councilors voted to send the issue to their Administration and Finance subcommittee to begin the process of putting some of the students’ suggestions into action.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini praised the team’s work and said he agrees with many of their suggestions.

Student  Maria Bennett said Haverhill’s current budget process eliminates the opportunity for residents or even city councilors to get involved in crafting the city’s spending plan until it’s too late to have an impact.

“The council is voting on the budget without truly knowing departmental needs,” she said.

This year’s budget process ended with city councilors rejecting the mayor’s proposal.

“Obviously this was not an ideal situation for anyone involved, and we think we have a way to improve the process this time. I think it’s safe to say the mayor would prefer the budget be passed the first time around,” Bennett said.

The biggest differences between a traditional budgeting process like the one Haverhill follows and a performance-based budget are transparency and collaboration, said student Lena Muntemba.

“Performance-based budgeting is a year-round activity,” she said.

The practice does not require much spending, Muntemba said, just the salary of a data specialist who can track the performance of city departments and programs.

Rather than building a budget on the previous year’s expenditures, expected revenue and the mayor’s priorities, a performance-based budget takes into account priorities and goals of residents and city officials, as well as key performance indicators.

Programs that successfully meet the needs and goals of stakeholders are prioritized when the budget is assembled, said student Biructait Mengesha.

The students’ proposal, described as a roadmap for how Haverhill can implement performance-based budgeting, breaks the process into three phases.

The first would establish city priorities by surveying residents and analyzing calls to the city’s 311 help line.

Phase 2 would outline the needs of city departments and identify how City Hall employees and activities are paid for.

The third phase involves the actual process of putting the budget together, and includes setting up a calendar to allow public input to the budget earlier in the procedure.

4 thoughts on “Grad Students Persuade Council, Mayor to Embark on New Budget Procedure

  1. This great work will be lost on the Mayor. Why ? Because it takes control away from him. He will NEVER allow this to happen. He micro-manages like a dictator and treats people like one as well. Just ask around.

  2. Through the use of the traditional budget process the mayor taxman is literally stealing $3.5MILLION from taxpayers EVERY year. In the fiscal year 2013 budget the mayor raised taxes, but then ended the year with a $3.5MILLION surplus. Not only was that surplus never returned to taxpayers, the mayor never took that $3.5MILLION out of subsequent budgets in the following years. Zero based, or performance based budgets would have removed that $3.5MILLION from the new budgets. The mayor will never adopt this new budget process because he’s an incompetent thief who needs ways to rip off taxpayers to support his failed administration.

    • There’s proof of the Mayor stealing? Where is it Jack? I hope you’ve personally presented your evidence to the District Attorney! You’ve gone to the Boston media ,right?

      I wonder why, I haven’t heard about this? Oh …it’s because you’re full of crap Jack. It’s because you don’t like the mayor so you just make up lies.

      What a frustrated, impotent, shadow of a sad little man you are Jack. I hope that your family has the decency to bring you to a hospital. You really are a sick man.

      • MissK…I usually don’t spend time educating the uneducated, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

        When a government, or any other organization for that matter, bills you for something, collects your money, then it turns out what they promised to deliver with that money wasn’t needed, but they then kept the money and didn’t return it, what do you call that?

        If a government then never took the items out of the subsequent year budgets that had created the surplus and billed and collected taxes for those items EVERY year even though it’s already been determined the money isn’t needed, what do you call that?