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City of El Cerrito – Budget Advisory Committees Story

Case Story

Community:City of El Cerrito (Contra Costa County)

Population: 23,320

Summary: Financial Advisory Board

El Cerrito, located in the east San Francisco Bay Area, uses a financial advisory board with five members of the public who work with one elected official liaison and one staff liaison. The process started with each governing body member appointing a resident to the advisory board for a period corresponding to their term. However, the finance director reports that as trust in the process has grown, the governing body is changing the selection process to determine membership collectively.

The financial advisory board’s primary role is to review draft budgets — especially major proposed changes to programs, staffing and fees — and provide recommendations to ensure consistency and readability. The board also reviews the city’s comprehensive annual financial report, comprehensive financial policy and all debt issues.

Staff reports that the board offers a fresh set of eyes and helps staff anticipate elected official and residents’ questions. The open dialogue between staff and board members demonstrates that all budget issues are open to review. A well-staffed and well-informed board is a useful forum for testing new ideas. The board conveys community concerns and helps communicate what information residents need to feel comfortable with how public money is being spent.

While the governing body retains ultimate authority over policy, the board’s efforts save the council time and have reduced the number of questions at budget hearings.

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