Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) is the brainchild of Jon Johnson and Chris Fabian, two former county finance professionals who launched the Center for Priority Based Budgeting in Denver, Colo. several years ago. Since that time, PBB was identified by the International City and County Manager's Association (ICMA) as a "leading practice" and has also been endorsed by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA).
More than seventy cities and counties have adopted PBB as a means of better aligning available resources with local government priorities. In this time of increasing budgetary challenges, innovative approaches like PBB offer the hope of preserving vital local government services.
Gaston County began to consider PBB as an alternative approach to budgeting early in 2014 with the approval of the Board of County Commissioners. Fundamentally, PBB is designed to optimize the use of tax payer dollars and promote better alignment between programs and community values.
Unlike traditional approaches to budgeting which usually feature incremental changes to line item budgets, PBB allows for a more comprehensive review of all programs. Through the various stages of PBB, staff members and the governing body are able to engage in meaningful dialog concerning the numerous programs that comprise the activity of a typical local government and determine the degree to which those programs fulfill community priorities.
The goal of PBB is to identify those program areas that most closely align with Board established priorities and direct adequate resources to those areas. Conversely, programs determined to be less in alignment may receive less funding, be eliminated entirely if they prove to be duplicative or obsolete.
There is also the possibility that lower priority programs can be targeted for partnerships with other groups in the community that provide similar services. This process enables the local government to become more strategic in its approach to service delivery while conserving scarce resources.
PBB is an enlightening process for all those involved since it facilitates an objective prioritization process which provides better information on program efficacy. Unlike the private sector, local governments are mandated by the state and federal government to perform the majority of their programs. However, PBB also allows participants to determine just how much of a particular mandate they are obligated to fulfill.