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Beginning-of-Year Checklist

The start of a new calendar year is a time for councils to complete several action items required by state law. There are other steps officials can take that will improve the budgeting process as well. Here are some things to consider as the new year begins: 

Annual notice
Public bodies, such as councils, committees and commissions, are to comply with the annual notice of meetings requirement in the SC Freedom of Information Act. It should provide notice of all planned regular meetings where a quorum will attend during the calendar year. This is useful not only for the public and media, but members of the public body as well. 

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

Also remember that cities and towns have 13 months after the completion of a fiscal year to complete an audit and submit it 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 a withholding of 100% of the city’s share of state revenues, including local option sales tax, where applicable. 

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

Mid-year budget review
For those whose fiscal year begins July 1, January is a great time to take a look at the budget to see how expenditures are lining up with it. This helps staff to bring needed adjustments to council for consideration. Because councils adopt the budget by ordinance, the only way to amend it is also by ordinance. 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 and other key leaders, 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 to address in the coming years. For councils who have not taken part in these sessions, participating in them at the beginning of the year can help them draft priorities and work plan items that will inform the budget process, including specific funding needs. Learn more about field services at www.masc.sc (keyword: field services).

The Handbook for Municipal Officials in South Carolina has more information on FOIA compliance and preparing, adopting and executing a budget. Learn more at www.masc.sc (keyword: municipal officials handbook).