Prep for 2022 With a Beginning-of-Year Checklist

The beginning of a new year is a great time for councils to handle crucial action items. Here is a review of the annual meeting notice required by state law, and some things that can help improve the municipal budgeting and goal-setting processes: 

Send out the annual notice of meetings 

Public bodies, including councils, committees and commissions, must comply with the annual notice of meetings requirement in the SC Freedom of Information Act. The notice should indicate the date, time and location planned for regular meetings where a quorum will attend during the calendar year. This is useful not only for the public and media, but also members of the public body as well. 

Submit finance reporting

The beginning of the year is a good time to submit the Local Government Finance Report, which is due to the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office by March 15. The revenues and expenditures to be reported are those from the most recently completed fiscal year. Municipalities with a fiscal year that begins July 1 should have an audit of completed financial statements by January. Cities and towns that do not submit this report on time face the penalty of losing 10% of the municipality’s share of the Local Government Fund from the state. 

Also, remember that cities and towns have 13 months after the end of a fiscal year to submit a completed audit to the State Treasurer’s Office — February, for a city with a January 1 fiscal year start date. The penalty for not submitting this audit is the state withholding 100% of the city’s share of state revenues, including local option sales tax, where applicable.

Plan a budget calendar

Prepare a budget calendar, and have the council adopt it by a motion and vote. This calendar helps everyone understand agreed-upon dates, as well as council’s duties and responsibilities, when preparing the municipality’s annual budget. January serves as a good time for planning out a calendar because councils can do it while also setting the meeting calendar for FOIA compliance. 

Conduct a mid-year budget review

For those whose fiscal year begins July 1, January is a useful time to look at the budget and see how expenditures are lining up with it. Staff can then bring needed adjustments to council for consideration. Because councils adopt their budgets by ordinance, they must amend them by ordinance as well. It’s also a good idea to host a public hearing when amending the budget.

Begin the new budget process

The annual budget process can begin with a look at the current budget as it stands at mid-year, along with a request for the new budget’s proposed expenditures from department heads with deadlines for submission. Leaders can then begin the process of projecting revenues and refining them during the spring as current-year revenues come in and available information becomes more accurate.

Consider a goal-setting and planning session

The Municipal Association of South Carolina’s two field services managers, Charlie Barrineau and Jeff Shacker, help with goal-setting sessions for city and town councils — a way of combining the goals of each councilmember into consensus about what the council will address in the coming years. Participating in these sessions at the beginning of the year can help councils identify priorities and work plan items that will inform the budget process, including specific funding needs. 

The Handbook for Municipal Officials in South Carolina has more information on FOIA compliance and preparing, adopting and executing a budget.