By Meredith McCulloch
A new way of looking at Bedford’s finances is now available on the Town’s website. Finance Director Victor Garofalo recently unveiled to the Selectmen the “Visual Budget” which displays graphically the sources of income, the distribution of expenses, and fund balances by the Town over 10 years. This basic tool will help people understand town finances and the historic trends back to 2006. It can be found on the new Budget/Financial tab on the town website at https://bedford.visgov.com.
According to Garofalo, “The visual budget provides full transparency on the local government budget and helps taxpayers know where their tax dollars are going.” The charts break out expenses, revenues, and shows levels of special funds and reserves. Within those areas interesting details can be found. Very helpful to those who do not normally follow town budget are pop-up windows that provide explanations and definitions of some of the terms. It is best understood by spending a few minutes exploring it.”
Using the tool, taxpayers can see how their tax dollars are being spent. For example, with a tax payment of $8,000, the chart for FY2016 shows that $3,392 goes toward schools and $2,005 to support the town’s general government expenses (Selectmen Budgets). (Dollar costs are rounded up.) For greater clarity, it should be noted that some expenses that actually support the Schools and Town are tracked separately within the budget – insurance and benefits for school and town employees, utility costs for school and town, and capital/debt service on school and town buildings. Exploring the site one can see how budgets have changed over the 10 years or look at the highs and lows of various lines, such as of town debt.
A closer look at the school expenses shows that in our example $2,581 out of the $3,392 will support salaries. Drilling down farther the taxpayer can see that $99.51 pays for transportation (school bus service.) On the Town side that same taxpayer will see that the largest amount goes toward Public Works ($998) with $32.56 for snow removal in 2016, a year with less snowfall. Selecting FY13, the snow removal costs for the taxpayer is nearly double at $63.91. The Library cost to that taxpayer in FY2016 is $106.00 and the Board of Health is $24.00
On the income side, the charts show the many sources of income beyond the tax bills. Amounts received from state aid, local receipts, water and sewer fees can be seen as well as the changes from year to year.
On the fund and reserve side the charts show many of the fund and reserve balances, which include Stabilization Fund, OPEB, Sewer Fund, Free Cash, Cemetery Fund and others fund balances.
The visual budget was built on software developed by a Finance Committee member of a neighboring town and draws on existing budget records, so the cost of completing and maintaining it is minimal. Most would agree that though low in cost it is rich in information.
Editor’s Note: The Visual Budget can also be reached from the new Budget and Financial Information web page – https://www.bedfordma.gov/finance/pages/budget-and-financial-information. There visitors can also find Annual Town Meeting handouts from prior years; PDF copies of the Town’s Annual Reports; audited annual financial statements; the town’s bond rating; official statements about the Town’s financial health; and information about OPEB, Bedford’s Other Post Employment Benefits.