After years of budgeting on paper — and after enduring a contentious 2018 budget process — Grand County is going digital with a new accounting software program called Caselle Advantage.
“In the past ... [Clerk/Auditor Diana Carroll] would print up information out of Caselle on paper and bring that to the budget meetings,” said Chris Baird, who is running unopposed for the position of clerk/auditor. Baird is currently working part-time in the clerk/auditor’s office to learn the ropes. “We would have worksheets that would have you fill out proposed budget numbers ... we would fill them out just with a pen or pencil, then she would take all that back to our accounting software. The difference with [Caselle] Advantage is it’s all on our server, so all the financial information is available and [department heads] can create reports without requesting that information from the budget officer.”
Baird said a significant amount of work is needed to get the new system running and to train staff on a new software program. He has great hopes, however, about its future impact on the county’s budget process.
“The whole system is more automated and it’s going to be a major improvement to the efficiency and the accuracy of the process in the long run … we’re definitely moving into modern times with the budgeting,” Baird said.
Council Member Jaylyn Hawks, who is familiar with the software through her work on the Grand County Budget Advisory Board, concurred.
“It will add transparency to the finances of the county and the budget process,” Hawks said. “I think it’s critical that department heads have access to be able to work on their own budgets. I think it will give them greater accountability and ownership over their budget. I think it’s a great thing that the county council, each member will have a separate login in a read-only account, but they will be able to check on any questions they have. I just think in general anything that adds greater transparency ... to the budget and funding of the county is just a great thing.”
Hawks and other county council members participated in a drawn-out and contentious budget process through the end of 2017. Council members complained of miscommunications with Carroll, who was budget officer at the time, and sometimes had different recollections of decisions made in their many budget meetings.
Caselle Advantage will eliminate some uncertainty, according to Baird.
“At the end of a meeting everyone just kind of assumed that this is what it was going to be like, but everybody had scribbled down different notes and nobody had agreed ultimately on what was decided because there was no real record of decision,” Baird said. Now with the software there’s going to be a record of decision. Every time that the budget advisory committee gets together and finalizes a budget we’ll hit a button [to submit the budget] and it will show up in the system.”
The new software also has a visual component, Baird said. It will alert department heads with a red flag if they are spending their funds too quickly. To make the budget more comprehensible, the system can produce charts to illustrate where money is going.
“One of the things that put that the council to sleep in the past is the budget is a big thick pile of numbers … nothing that is easy to take in just by looking at it. This budgeting software provides a whole bunch of different charts and graphs and trend lines … that will make it easier for people to just look at it and visually get a better understanding of what’s going on,” Baird said.
Baird is new budget officer for county
Chris Baird is the new county budget officer, a role that was previously, briefly filled by Grand County Council Member Patrick Trim.
“Now that Chris Baird is a part-time county employee and he’s running unopposed as a candidate for the Clerk/Auditor, I think it just makes sense for him to assume budget officer responsibilities … he’ll be taking it over anyway,” Trim said at the May 15 meeting of the Grand County Council.
The council discussed whether the budget officer role would put Baird over the 29-hour-per-week limit for part-time county employees. Baird said that in addition to budget officer duties, he is spending a significant amount of time implementing a new budgeting software program for the county.
“I just want you to be aware that and in an of itself is probably going to require more than 30 hours a week and so I’m definitely going to have to shift over to that and somewhat away from training [with current Clerk/Auditor Diana Carroll]. It’s something to think about, whether or not to make it into a full-time position once the budget process starts. It’s not something we need to talk about right away. I’m certainly willing to do the job as best I can at 29 hours a week ... [being budget officer] is going to be a pretty substantial time commitment,” Baird said.
Council Members Curtis Wells and Jaylyn Hawks agreed that at some point, it might make sense to change Baird to a temporary full-time position.