It’s never too early to start the budget. NEVER.
It’s important to go into each budget season prepared. Prepare to explain every penny. Prepare the details of why something deserves an increase or to be created. Most importantly prepare all the answers for the questions you hope you don’t get asked.
I’m new to Library Management, as I’ve been a director only about four years, and I’m reminded how new I am during each budget cycle, as I continue to improve in my process and preparation. I’ve learned to treat it like painting, it’s never as easy as you think, and always takes more time than you expect. Preparation is key.
In my community, the next year’s budget is due about 6 months before it will begin, and we go through 5-6 rounds of review with the community administration, financial team, capital committee, town governance, and then a final vote by the annual town meeting (about 300 citizens). They all have different angles and approaches, with questions and needs for explanation, but ultimately the same endgame exists for each: What’s the bottom line?
With a new political climate in our country, and an economy that still hasn’t fully recovered from the crash in 2008, it’s safe to say that many of you building budgets will hear the phrase “based on a level fund scenario” (or something to that effect) when you are beginning your budget seasons. If you are new to budgeting, it’s important to realize what the folks saying this to you realize already that a “balanced budget” is really a cut.
Non-salary item costs will rise each year whether it’s convenient or not. It’s important to pay attention to these things like materials, supplies, maintenance contracts (both building, and smaller machinery like copiers, printers, security gates) and go into the creation of the budget knowing what could be done to make sure you have everything you need. If you overspent your budget for building maintenance or library materials, but returned half of the budget for utilities costs, that’s an opportunity for next year.
Those groups we spoke about earlier will certainly notice these things, so it’s important you do too. Perhaps you can utilize unused funds in the current year by asking for less in the forthcoming year, transferring that fund request to a spot where it could really help you, keeping the bottom line unchanged. Asking these questions will show you care about the overall community budget, not just your budget at the library, and that will earn you some points you need later when the rubber hits the road, or if the possibility of fulfilling “wants” exists.
You’ll need to think of other creative ways to shuffle around amounts between line items from one year to the next, as you will usually have less to work with than you prefer.
It’s needs versus wants, and sometimes that’s a difficult pill to swallow. You may think you “need” that extra position, because of all the things you could be doing but aren’t, but it just might not be a need in the eyes of the brass. Needs should only be what you require to perform as strongly next year as you did this year. That’s it. Your team of librarians will continue to push the bar creatively when building your collection and program offerings, but you need to keep it all in perspective. Every yes has a cost associated with it, and it will be you alone explaining this to those who hold the purse strings at budget time.