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What’s Your Role In Government Finance & What Are The 4 Seasons?

 

Welcome to the BIAS Sum It Up Blog, it’s made especially for the government finance role YOU!

If you’re a new employee working for a small local government involved in financial operations, there’s A LOT to know! The GOAL of the Sum It Up Blog is to break down complex topics and make them understandable. As topics evolve, hopefully those of all experience levels will pick up a trick or two to make life easier.

The Sum It Up Blog will focus around the four major seasons that are frequently encountered by those working for government entities. These are Maintenance, Budgeting, Year-End, and Annual Reporting. Additional topics outside of these seasons will also be covered. Before we go any further, let’s define each of these seasons.

  • Maintenance: The season when all the tasks that were put off due to more important items get completed. This occurs after you have recovered from Annual Reporting during the summer months.
  • Budgeting: During this season, budget information is compiled, analyzed, and put together for elected officials to approve and make decisions. Budget season generally occurs during the fall months.
  • Year-End: W-2’s! 1099’s! January is an important month for tax form preparation.
  • Annual Reporting: If you work for a government entity in the State of Washington your Annual Report is due to the State Auditor’s Office by May 30th.

The Sum It Up Blog will go in depth further discussing the topics in each season.

Welcome to your journey working for a government entity! Your job may involve payroll, utility billing, payment processing, reconciliations, and many other tasks. We will build from the ground up. Each week will build upon the previous as we discuss topics fundamental to the financial operations of small government entities.  

Let’s set the scene. You have recently been hired by a small local government as a Clerk-Treasurer, District Secretary, or other finance position. As you walk into city hall, fire station, or other office, you may or may not know what the job entails. Serving the public is rewarding! This may have been one of your deciding factors for taking this position. However, being involved in the financial operations of a small local government will be unlike any other job you have had.

There are reasons why working for government is different from working for other entities. The mission of a government is significantly different from for-profit organizations. The goal of a government entity is to provide services to citizens and to efficiently use public funds. As someone intimately involved in the financial operations, the responsibility for keeping track of the finances falls onto your shoulders. Don’t be alarmed by this! The key thought within this statement is keeping track. As someone who isn’t an elected official, this is critical to understand. Cost tracking and the accuracy of records is critical to your success. There may be increased pressure on you to know exactly how dollars are being spent. Throughout the Sum It Up Blog you will be provided with tools and practical applications to assist in this endeavor. Remember, always leave the decision-making to the elected officials!

Now that the can of worms has been opened regarding elected officials, it is important to understand who elected officials are and how they become elected. You MUST know what their role is in your government. Elected officials may be Mayors, City Council Members, Commissioners, or others who have been “elected” by the vote of the public to oversee their jurisdiction. You need to understand these roles so that the responsibilities of elected officials isn’t placed on your shoulders. If this occurs, you MUST speak up!

Elected officials are responsible for establishing and approving the budget, passing ordinances and resolutions to ensure the health and prosperity of the government, and other high-level decisions related to your government. What about the Mayor? Your type of government may dictate the Mayoral role. Governments with a City Administrator will typically have a Mayor with a limited role. The City Administrator will function as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the City. If the town or city functions as a Mayor-Council entity, the Mayor will perform the Chief Executive duties. Fire Districts and other Special Purpose Districts, don’t feel left out with all this talk of cities – you’re next!

As the District Secretary or someone else involved in the financial operations of your special purpose district, you are governed by a board of Commissioners who are elected by the voters of the area that your district presides over. The roles of Commissioners are like those of a City Council. Approving budgets, passing resolutions, and making high-level decisions regarding the district. Additionally, a Fire Chief or other Administrator could be hired to perform CEO duties and oversee day-to-day operations.

These roles are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the duties of elected officials. It’s important to understand that there’s a line between what elected officials and other executives do and your role. Now that we have identified some roles and duties that elected officials play, we can identify the role that you will play in the successful operation of your small local government!

As someone involved with the financial operations of a small government entity you will wear multiple hats throughout the coming days, weeks, months, and years! The Sum It Up Blog, as well as many other resources available, will help you climb what may seem like a mountain of work. Let’s start breaking down the different tasks that you may be involved with. We will go into further detail with many of these topics, so stay tuned!

Tasks you may be called on to do may include:

  • Payroll processing and many other tasks associated with payroll
  • Paying vendors and recording of expenses
  • Budget preparation and compilation of data
  • Receipting and processing of payments
  • Bank reconciliations
  • Utility billing
  • Preparing an Annual Report

This is just a snippet of the tasks that you may need to complete. The actual tasks you will perform may be far more extensive. The Sum It Up Blog will cover these topics and more! One of the goals with the Sum It Up Blog is to help you identify what you don’t know!

Now that you’re a public employee, you will inevitably deal with the public.

This could be a significant change if you’ve worked for a non-government entity. You may be constantly interrupted and it may be challenging to be productive. Something that you should consider seeking is a quiet place to perform the most critical tasks. Even if you need to be at the front counter most days, being able to go somewhere when you’re processing payroll or doing utility billing should be considered.I want to provide you with ammunition to ask for the quiet space and time you need to complete critical tasks. By being able to complete critical tasks in a quiet area, you will become more efficient. If you’re able to be efficient with these critical tasks, you can then move onto other tasks. Additionally, the accuracy of your work will improve.

If having a dedicated area for performing critical tasks is impossible there are other options. You may want to consider establishing a time when you put out a sign that indicates what you’re doing and that you request to not be interrupted. Be consistent with the posted times and let the public know so that you can perform critical tasks with fewer interruptions than you would normally have.

A final interesting scenario significantly different from any non-government role is the fact that pretty much everything is public record! This includes email, financial records, and correspondence. Most of your work product will be subject to the Washington State public records law. This topic can be discussed extensively and there is free training available so you can learn how to properly receive, store and recover items that may be requested from the public.

As you begin your public service journey working for a government entity in a finance role, the Sum It Up Blog is here by your side each step of the way. There are many other resources available to learn about small local government. Association of Washington Cities (AWC), and the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), are two great resources to check out if you want to learn more about government. For Fire District Administrative Support, be sure to check out Washington Fire Administrative Support. Most entity types have a related member-driven association that can provide additional support. Also, if you’re a BIAS user, check out the Knowledge Base article titled, “Resources Beyond BIAS.”

Author:
My name is Seth. I am a Professional Service Specialist at BIAS Software and currently working on my Master of Accounting Degree from Florida Atlantic University. To clear my mind, I love to get out of town and go fishing. I would appreciate your feedback. If you have a suggestion or a topic you’d like me to cover, please send it to me at seth@biassoftware.com
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