Little did anyone know while crafting our budgets last summer and fall what the first quarter of 2020 would bring. Our new reality consists of questions and uncertainty that can turn well-laid plans upside down. The common question many are asking is “How should we proceed with planned spending this year and what should we consider for next year’s budget?”
It’s safe to say that school and business closures will result in revenue shortfalls. Although the extent and timing of the shortfalls are unknown, we need to develop a plan to absorb revenue loss. Declining revenue combined with public expectations is a difficult challenge to face. Avoid an initial knee-jerk reaction to cut broadly across departments or deplete fund reserves. The fluidity of the current situation and the unknown fall-out in the coming months or years begs a more managerial approach to financial decision making.
First, consider the short-term. The suspension of late payment penalties for May tax bills will likely result in a June property tax settlement significantly lower than anticipated prior to the pandemic. Monthly cash flows will help you determine if temporary loans are necessary to bridge funding gaps. Borrowing externally can take 30 days or more, so determine sooner rather than later if cash flow deficits are eminent.
Next, focus on the long-term with an analysis of existing strategic or capital spending plans. Include departments and stakeholders in the process and reevaluate and refine what is most important to your community. Rank priorities and examine the trade-offs, both positive and negative, of delaying action. Look not only at the near-term implications of delaying a priority, but also the long-term effects. For example, deferring critical maintenance projects may result in higher costs in the long run. Or, choosing to deplete reserves or rainy day funds this year could leave nothing for next year to cover continued revenue shortfalls.
When developing a budget strategy consider constraints, context and consequences (the three c’s):
The average length of a recession is ten to fifteen months. Be proactive to get ahead of revenue shortfalls. Avoid drastic changes in the short-term, identify potential cash flow deficits over the upcoming months, and develop a long-term financial plan. Strive to make decisions to create a softer landing with a focus on future sustainability.
If you need assistance with cash flows analysis or long-term financial planning, please contact our team.