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Last updated: 3/19/19

How the Budget Works

Preparing the City's budget takes more than six months from start to finish. Watch the video below to learn about the process in two minutes.

 

  

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Budget
1 City Hall Square
Room 813
Boston, MA 02201-2037
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How the Budget Works
Credit: Budget

How the Budget is Created

The Mayor's Role

The chief executive officer of the City is the Mayor.

Martin J. Walsh, the Mayor of the City, was elected to serve his first term beginning in January 2014 and was re-elected to serve a second term that began in January 2018. The Mayor has general supervision of and control over the City’s boards, commissions, officers, and departments. He directs the preparation of the budget, covering all departments and operations.

Boston Public Schools is the one exception that follows a different process. The Superintendent of Schools proposes the Boston Public Schools budget to the School Committee. Once the School Committee approves the Boston Public Schools budget, it is submitted to the Mayor. The Mayor then submits a recommended budget, including the Boston Public Schools budget, to the City Council.

City Council's Role

The legislative body of the City is the Boston City Council, which consists of thirteen members serving two-year terms. Four councilors are elected at-large and nine are elected from geographic districts.

The City Council may enact ordinances and adopt orders that the Mayor may either approve or veto. Some ordinances and orders can be enacted by the City Council over the Mayor's veto by two-thirds vote. Orders for the borrowing or authorization to spend funds cannot be enacted by the City Council over the Mayor’s veto by two-thirds vote.

The City Council may reject or reduce a budget submitted to it by the Mayor, but may not increase it.

BUDGET TIMELINE

ACTION REQUIRED

CITY CHARTER

FY20 TIMELINE

Departments' proposed budgets submitted to Office of Budget Management. No requirement 1/14/2019
School Superintendent's proposed budget to School Committee on or before 1st Wednesday in February. Ch. 613 Acts of 1987 2/6/2019
Departmental and Mayoral meetings to discuss funding, policy, and performance. No requirement January - March
School Committee action taken on budget on or before 4th Wednesday in March. Ch. 613 Acts of 1987 3/27/2019
Mayor's recommended budget and capital plan submitted to City Council on or before 2nd Wednesday in April. Ch. 190 Acts of 1982, as amended by Ch. 701 Acts of 1986, and by practice 4/10/2019
Public Hearings held prior to budget adoption. No requirement April - June
City Council action on budget on or before 2nd Wednesday in June. Ch. 190 Acts of 1982, as amended by Ch. 701 Acts of 1986 6/12/2019
Mayor's approval of FY20 budget adopted by City Council on or before July 1, 2019. No requirement 6/26/19 (Last regularly scheduled Council meeting before FY20).

 

ORGANIZATION OF THE BUDGET

DEPARTMENTAL OPERATING BUDGETS

The operating budget funds personnel and non-personnel expenses so that departments may provide important city services.

Activities and services of the City are grouped into programs for budgeting and management purposes. The operating budget for each department is presented by program. A “program” is defined as a group of activities directed toward attaining one or more related objectives, and the resources to execute them.

A program can consist of direct services to the public and neighborhoods of the City (e.g. police patrol or tree maintenance), or traditional city staff functions (e.g. administrative services or engineering and design). Some City activities may not be defined as separate programs, even though they may be self contained operations. For example, a fire station is not a separate program, although for accounting purposes it is a cost center within the Fire Department’s Fire Suppression program. Program budgets serve as the basic building blocks of the budget. There are three additional organizational levels above the program level in the budget. The three levels are:

  • The Cabinet Level, which includes functionally-related departments.
  • The Department Level, which includes departments, commissions, and other offices.
  • The Program Level for units within departments.

DESCRIPTION OF ORGANIZATION AND DEFINITION OF CATEGORIES

This section outlines the information reported within each department and program in the budget.

DEPARTMENT OR DIVISION LEVEL
  • Department Mission: The mission statement is a fundamental statement of purpose.
  • Performance Goals: These goals represent stated aims for which the department or division is held accountable.
  • Description of Services: The description of services provides an overview of the department and its responsibilities. It lists examples of major services provided.
  • Authorizing Statutes: This section lists statutes and ordinances that create departments as well as endow them with legal powers.
  • Operating Budget: The operating budget presentation includes a table displaying total operating and external budgets by program beginning with FY17 actual expenses through the FY20 budget.
PROGRAM LEVEL
  • Program Description: This section presents a general overview of a program. It includes its responsibilities and major services provided.
  • Program Goals: Each program identifies the department goals related to the efforts of the program to further the department’s mission.
  • Performance Measures: Performance measures demonstrate a program’s progress in implementing their strategies. Performance measures may gauge workload, effectiveness, efficiency, or productivity. Some performance measures also show the changing context in which programs are working.
FINANCIAL DATA

The financial data tables identify the major groups and expenditure account codes (for example, Personnel Services/Overtime, Supplies and Materials/Office Supplies), historical expenditures in each, and the proposed appropriations in each group and account in FY20. Two financial data sheets are provided for the FY20 operating budget: Department History and Department Personnel.

DEPARTMENT HISTORY

Expenditure account codes are listed within six expenditure groups. Dollar amounts are shown for:

  • FY17 actual expenditures,
  • FY18 actual expenditures,
  • FY19 appropriations,
  • FY20 budgets, and
  • The difference between the FY19 appropriation and the FY20 budget.
EXTERNAL FUNDS

The external funds budget describes the projects and programs that will occur in the next fiscal year using funding from the state, federal government, or other non-general fund sources.

The budget book shows historical expenditures and the proposed appropriations in these accounts in FY20. External Funds Projects lists a description of each project’s mission.

CAPITAL BUDGET
The capital budget funds:
  • new construction or renovations to existing city-owned facilities (e.g., police and fire stations, school buildings),
  •  infrastructure improvements (e.g., roads, sidewalks, lights), and
  • major equipment purchases such as fire-fighting apparatus.

The capital budget section of the budget book provides an overview of projects and major initiatives for departments charged with managing facilities and major equipment assets. Dollar amounts are shown for:

  • FY17 actual capital expenditures,
  • FY18 actual capital expenditures,
  • FY19 estimated capital expenditures,
  • FY20 projected capital expenditures

Following this overview are capital project profiles, including descriptions of each project mission, the department managing the project, the status and location of each project, and if there are operating budget impacts. A table summarizes the total capital funds authorized for projected expenditures in FY20 and for future years, as well as whether the source is City authorization or other funding such as federal and state infrastructure grants or trust funds. A listing of actual and planned capital expenditures in comparison to authorized dollars is also provided.