By David A. F. Sweet Mark Krygeris is a Staff Accountant with the City of Lake Forest. A significant part of his responsibility is maintaining and processing the City's payroll, where he makes sure benefits, deductions, direct deposit information and taxes are up to date. But he also helps the assistant finance director with the annual audit, which helps create the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report, the Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) and the Budget in Brief. He was happy to answer questions about city finances from Lake Forest Love:
How does the Popular Annual Financial Report give residents more access to the City's financial information?
The Popular Annual Financial Report is a document intended to convey the financial results of the City's operations contained in our Annual Comprehensive Financial Report but in a more user-friendly way. It uses more broad strokes along with easy-to-follow tables and graphics that aid residents without financial backing in understanding the City's operations.
"All our work in the Finance department is to ensure the highest level of fiscal accountability and transparency for our residents," says Staff Accountant Mark Krygeris. I believe that is the crux of giving residents more access. It provides this access due to simplifying complex financial reporting data, which could be overwhelming to some without a background in finance.
How does the Budget in Brief help citizens?
Similarly, the Budget in Brief's main benefit is the accessibility for residents or citizens to get an easier-to-understand look at our budget process. It helps citizens understand where taxpayer revenue and expenses go. The Budget in Brief helps show the City's requirement to account for revenues and expenses using fund accounting. This (fund accounting) ensures that restricted revenues are used for their intended purposes. It is a neat report that gives a broad overview of the City's revenues and expenses and a finite view of each department's expenses – while highlighting the department's initiatives and programs for the upcoming year. It is a unique way of showing citizens what their taxes fund. Another valuable benefit the Budget in Brief provides is the general trends tracked for property taxes, service charges, etc. Additionally, we track and show the major capital improvement projects for the upcoming fiscal year. Again, a helpful tool for citizens to understand the budgeting process.
In what other ways is Lake Forest engaging in more transparency about its finances?
The PAFR and Budget in Brief are new ways of promoting what the City has already done with our third-party software system, OpenGov. Within our OpenGov portal, we have several reports, such as transparency reports, annual budget, city check register and annual tax levy. We build upon these reports to create the PAFR and Budget in Brief, allowing us to provide many engaging resources for transparency on our financial data.
What were some challenges in presenting these summarized versions of the budget?
The challenge is to walk the fine line of giving all the important information without overwhelming the report's readers. Again, the full breadth of our annual comprehensive financial report is daunting even to me. Without proper background knowledge, it would not be easy to understand it in its entirety. However, summarizing and simplifying the presentation can lose some nuances. I have tried to counteract those challenges with notes or specific highlights within the report. The OpenGov portal helps overcome these challenges because our stories give the reader the power to click and drill down further on areas of interest. Thus, making the summarized more finite and hopefully helpful to what a citizen finds interesting.
Are there any new plans to help citizens understand the budget when the next fiscal year rolls around on May 1, 2023?
Currently, the only plan I am aware of is to perhaps roll out a newer format to the Budget in Brief, to keep things fresh and explore more stories within a story. I know Communications Manager Dana Olson has been excellently promoting our new stories when they are ready for the public.
What's one thing people in Lake Forest should know about the budget process?
A theme I have touched on with the questions above is that all our work in the Finance department is to ensure the highest level of fiscal accountability and transparency for our residents. One thing that people in Lake Forest should know about the budget process is the great extent we here at the City self-criticize or put our work to the test. Lake Forest is one of the few municipalities that use an independent Audit Committee to oversee the annual audit for all the City's Financial records. Therefore, the residents of Lake Forest should know the level of scrutiny we put upon our financial records. Our main goal is to build trust. Trust is critical to any relationship and is a process necessary for any interaction. From a local government perspective, trust is necessary for a healthy relationship between us as good stewards of the public monies and our residents. For that reason, we place and maintaining trust with the community as one of our highest priorities. We attempt to achieve this by being not only fiscally responsible but by embracing fiscal transparency.