Model City Charter—9th Edition: Article V: Financial Management


This article provides for the development of a comprehensive financial program, allowing maximum flexibility within the boundaries of sound fiscal practices. The budget and the budget approval process constitute the most visible and important activity undertaken by the government. The annual (or biennial) operating budget and multi-year capital plan are the products of the translation of disparate and often conflicting community goals and objectives into comprehensive financial documents. The financial planning process establishes a set of short- and long-term goals for the community and aids in resolving disagreements that arise in the execution of the operations of the government.

The complete financial plan involves two major elements: 1) the current annual (or biennial) budget, and 2) the multi-year capital program which is coordinated with the budget.

Section 5.01. Fiscal Year. 

The fiscal year of the city shall begin on the first day of                      and end on the last day of              ___.


It is strongly recommended that the fiscal year be set so that fiscally sound municipalities will not have to borrow for short terms in anticipation of taxes except in emergency situations. It is recognized, however, that before changes in the fiscal year can be made consideration must be given to the fiscal patterns of the other taxing jurisdictions affecting the city. The dates when the state usually pays significant amounts of grants in aid to the municipality should also be considered in developing an advantageous fiscal calendar.

Section 5.02. Submission of Budget and Budget Message. 

On or before the                    day of                  of each year, the city manager shall submit to the city council a budget for the ensuing fiscal year and an accompanying message. 


The specific submission date will depend upon the fiscal year but, in any case, it is suggested that it be at least 45 days prior to the beginning of the fiscal year to allow time for public input and council deliberation.

Section 5.03. Budget Message. 

The city manager’s message shall explain the budget both in fiscal terms and in terms of the work programs, linking those programs to organizational goals and community priorities. It shall outline the proposed financial policies of the city for the ensuing fiscal year and the impact of those policies on future years. It shall describe the important features of the budget, indicate any major changes from the current year in financial policies, expenditures, and revenues together with the reasons for such changes, summarize the city’s debt position, including factors affecting the ability to raise resources through debt issues, and include such other material as the city manager deems desirable.


The budget message should clearly present the manager’s program for accomplishing the council’s goals and priorities for the community for the coming year as translated into financial terms. Programs of the various city departments should be explained and the city’s debt position summarized. From a careful reading of the budget message, members of the council and residents should be able to obtain a clear and concise picture of what the manager expects to accomplish in the coming year, the estimated cost, sources of revenue and changes in the city debt.

In Section 5.04. Budget. 

The budget shall provide a complete financial plan of all city funds and activities for the ensuing fiscal year and, except as required by law or this charter, shall be in such form as the city manager deems desirable or the city council may require for effective management and an understanding of the relationship between the budget and the city’s strategic goals. The budget shall begin with a clear general summary of its contents; shall show in detail all estimated income, indicating the proposed property tax levy, and all proposed expenditures, including debt service, for the ensuing fiscal year; and shall be so arranged as to show comparative figures for actual and estimated income and expenditures of the current fiscal year and actual income and expenditures of the preceding fiscal year. It shall indicate in separate sections:

(1) The proposed goals and expenditures for current operations during the ensuing fiscal year, detailed for each fund by department or by other organization unit, and program, purpose or activity, method of financing such expenditures, and methods to measure outcomes and performance related to the goals;

(2) Proposed longer-term goals and capital expenditures during the ensuing fiscal year, detailed for each fund by department or by other organization unit when practical, the proposed method of financing each such capital expenditure, and methods to measure outcomes and performance related to the goals; and

(3) The proposed goals, anticipated income and expense, profit and loss for the ensuing year for each utility or other enterprise fund or internal service fund operated by the city, and methods to measure outcomes and performance related to the goals. For any fund, the total of proposed expenditures shall not exceed the total of estimated income plus carried forward fund balance exclusive of reserves.


The budget is the translation of disparate and often conflicting community aspirations into a comprehensive financial document that reflects the governing body’s goals. It is a complete financial plan for all funds and activities that includes both revenues and expenditures. Expenditures for current operations and capital outlays should be shown separately with the source of financing indicated.

The Model does not provide a detailed classification of revenues, expenditures, and specific funds because classifications will be developed by ordinance or administrative order, if they are not established by state agencies concerned with local finance as part of a uniform accounting system. Proposed current expenditures are to be presented in terms of the work programs of the respective offices, departments, and agencies; this approach is the fundamental feature of program or performance budgeting.

Traditional performance measures used in the budget may include input, output, efficiency, and outcome measures with comparisons over time to encourage the government to benchmark its performance for continuous improvement. However, cities should consider adding new performance measures around social equity, particularly in terms of the measurement, allocation, and impacts of resources. The city should determine whether there is equal access to programs and services, the same quality of services for all groups and all parts of the city, and fair and consistent law enforcement.  A city should strive toward development of outcome measures which reflect actual impact of a program, service, or project on its residents, as well as the equitable distribution of impacts. Community members, council, and city staff should work together to undertake performance measurement subject to the year-to-year needs and demands of the community. 

Section 5.05. City Council Action on Budget. 

(a) Notice and Hearing. The city council shall publish the general summary of the budget and a notice stating:

(1) The times and places where copies of the message and budget are available for inspection by the public, and

(2) The time and place, not less than two weeks after such publication, for a public hearing(s) on the budget.

(b) Amendment Before Adoption. After the public hearing, the city council may adopt the budget with or without amendment. In amending the budget, it may add or increase programs or amounts and may delete or decrease any programs or amounts, except expenditures required by law or for debt service or for an estimated cash deficit, provided that no amendment to the budget shall increase the authorized expenditures to an amount greater than total estimated income.

(c) Adoption. The city council shall adopt the budget on or before the day of the _____month of the fiscal year currently ending. If it fails to adopt the budget by this date, the budget proposed by the city manager shall go into effect.

(d) “Publish” defined. As used in this article, the term “publish” means to print in the contemporary means of information sharing, which includes but is not limited to, one or more newspapers of general circulation in the city, and, if available, in a web site.


The only restrictions placed on the council with respect to action on the budget are those governing the adoption procedure, the requirement that certain mandatory expenditures may not be decreased or deleted, and the requirement that total authorized expenditures may not exceed the total of estimated income.

No specific date as the deadline for adoption of the budget has been included. Setting a deadline for adoption does not preclude the earlier completion of action on the budget with ample time for public hearings and council consideration of the budget if the manager submits it early enough.

When amendments are made following public hearing but before adoption that result in significant changes in the budget which the public would not have anticipated, the council should consider holding an additional public hearing to consider the amendments.

The Model promotes a favored course of action for dealing with the failure of the council to adopt the budget by the prescribed deadline. It recommends that the budget as submitted by the manager be deemed adopted. Among other possibilities in such a situation are (1) for the amounts appropriated for operations in the current fiscal year to be deemed adopted; (2) for the manager’s budget to be deemed adopted but with amendments by the council being permitted during the first month of the new fiscal year; (3) to authorize the council to make temporary appropriations for a period not to exceed one month, during which time it would presumably complete adoption of the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year; and (4) to provide that the budget of the preceding fiscal year should be applicable automatically for the first month of the ensuing year, with the presumption that action will be completed during that time.

The city is required to publish and make the budget publicly available. In doing this, as with any publishing, the city should also consider translating the budget into other languages to communicate better with residents if necessary.

Section 5.06. Appropriation and Revenue Ordinances. 

To implement the adopted budget, the city council shall adopt, prior to the beginning of the fiscal year:

(a) an appropriation ordinance making appropriations by department, fund, service, strategy or other organizational unit and authorizing an allocation for each program or activity;

(b) a tax levy ordinance authorizing the property tax levy or levies and setting the tax rate or rates; and

(c) any other ordinances required to authorize new revenues or to amend the rates or other features of existing taxes or other revenue sources.


The previous edition of the Model in the adoption subsection provided: “Adoption of the budget shall constitute appropriations of amounts specified therein as expenditures from the funds indicated and shall constitute a levy of the property tax therein proposed.” It took note that some states required that appropriations and the tax levy be by ordinance. Alternative language to cover that requirement was included. This edition specifically calls for appropriation ordinances and revenue ordinances and that appropriations be by department, fund, service, strategy or major organizational unit within each fund. The appropriations for each department or unit would not be broken down in the same detail as the budget. There would be a property tax levy ordinance and other revenue ordinances authorizing revenues from non-property taxes.

Section 5.07. Amendments after Adoption. 

(a) Supplemental Appropriations. If during or before the fiscal year the city manager certifies that there are available for appropriation revenues in excess of those estimated in the budget, the city council by ordinance may make supplemental appropriations for the year up to the amount of such

(b) Emergency Appropriations. To address a public emergency affecting life, health, property or the public peace, the city council may make emergency appropriations. Such appropriations may be made by emergency ordinance in accordance with the provisions of 2.15. To the extent that there are no available unappropriated revenues or a sufficient fund balance to meet such appropriations, the council may by such emergency ordinance authorize the issuance of emergency notes, which may be renewed from time to time, but the emergency notes and renewals of any fiscal year shall be paid or refinanced as long- term debt not later than the last day of the fiscal year next succeeding that in which the emergency appropriation was made.

(c) Reduction of Appropriations. If at any time during the fiscal year it appears probable to the city manager that the revenues or fund balances available will be insufficient to finance the expenditures for which appropriations have been authorized, the manager shall report to the city council without delay, indicating the estimated amount of the deficit, any remedial action taken by the manager and recommendations as to any other steps to be taken. The council shall then take such further action as it deems necessary to prevent or reduce any deficit and for that purpose it may by ordinance reduce or eliminate one or more appropriations

(d) Transfer of Appropriations. At any time during or before the fiscal year, the city council may by resolution transfer part or all of the unencumbered appropriation balance from one department, fund, service, strategy or organizational unit to the appropriation for other departments or organizational units or a new appropriation. The manager may transfer funds among programs within a department, fund, service, strategy or organizational unit and shall report such transfers to the council in writing in a timely manner.

(e) Limitation; Effective Date. No appropriation for debt service may be reduced or transferred, except to the extent that the debt is refinanced and less debt service is required, and no appropriation may be reduced below any amount required by law to be appropriated or by more than the amount of the unencumbered balance thereof. The supplemental and emergency appropriations and reduction or transfer of appropriations authorized by this section may be made effective immediately upon


Supplemental appropriations, which can be the bane of any good budget procedure, are restricted to situations in which the manager certifies to council the availability of money in excess of the total revenues estimated in the budget. Another possibility for use of such “windfall” sums is to require their use in the succeeding year’s budget as revenue, which would have the effect of reducing the tax levy. Supplemental appropriations may be made only by ordinance and all the provisions regarding publication, notice of hearing, etc., applicable to other ordinances must be followed. Emergency appropriations may be budgeted in accordance with the procedure for emergency ordinances.

Provision is made for reduction of appropriations when the manager believes available revenues will not cover appropriations and a deficit is likely. The primary responsibility is clearly the manager’s, but it is his or her duty to inform the council and then implement any ordinances or resolutions the council may enact.

With appropriations being made by departments, funds, services, strategies and major organizational units and not by objects, the manager has the freedom to make transfers from unencumbered balances within departments of units but must notify the council of transfers. When an unencumbered balance exists in one department or unit, all or part of it may be transferred to the appropriation of another department or unit by council resolution.

Section 5.08. Administration and Fiduciary Oversight of the Budget. 

The city council shall provide by ordinance the procedures for administration and fiduciary oversight of the budget.


The council will by ordinance establish the procedures and controls for implementation of the budget. The council is entrusted with the fiduciary responsibility for the city and as such must provide review and oversight of the budget. The city manager administers the budget and manages the work programs and spending by departments within the policy goals and appropriations set by the council.

Proposed work programs and requested allotments should be submitted to the manager by department heads following adoption of the budget. The manager should review the programs and allot portions of the total appropriation based upon the work expected to be performed during a particular period of time, usually three months. As chief administrator, the manager must have the authority to revise the allotments at any time during the year and for any reason.

Section 5.09. Capital Program. 

(a) Submission to City Council. The city manager shall prepare and submit to the city council a multi-year capital program no later than three months before the final date for submission of the budget.

(b) Contents. The capital program shall include:

(1) A clear general summary of its contents;
(2) Identification of the long-term goals of the community;
(3) A list of all capital improvements and other capital expenditures which are proposed to be undertaken during the fiscal years next ensuing, with appropriate supporting information as to the necessity for each;
(4) Cost estimates and recommended time schedules for each improvement or other capital expenditure;
(5) Method of financing upon which each capital expenditure is to be reliant;
(6) The estimated annual cost of operating and maintaining the facilities to be constructed or acquired;
(7) A commentary on how the plan addresses the sustainability of the community and the region of which it is a part; and
(8) Methods to measure outcomes and performance of the capital plan related to the long-term goals of the community.

The above shall be revised and extended each year with regard to capital improvements still pending or in process of construction or acquisition.


The Model’s multi-year capital program provisions should compel long-range, goal-oriented, regionally sensitive planning of capital improvements. They should also help develop a meaningful relationship between capital and current operating expenditures. Finally, they should provide adequate time for systematic consideration of capital projects by the council.

The Model requires that the manager submit the capital program three months prior to the final date for submission of the budget. This gives the council an opportunity to review the proposed projects and their cost and the methods of finance before the manager submits the annual budget. Actual capital expenditures are carried each year as the capital outlay section of the current budget. These expenditures may be in the form of direct capital outlays from current revenues or debt service payments.

A sixth edition innovation continued in the seventh and eighth editions requires that the capital program include estimated operating and maintenance costs of proposed capital facilities. This forces more realistic projections of expenditures, because sometimes the operating cost of a facility will exceed the amortized annual capital charge. It also discourages neglect of maintenance.

Section 5.10. City Council Action on Capital Program. 

(a) Notice and Hearing. The city council shall publish the general summary of the capital program and a notice stating:

(1) The times and places where copies of the capital program are available for inspection by the public, and
(2) The time and place, not less than two weeks after such publication, for a public hearing(s) on the capital program.

(b) Adoption. The city council by resolution shall adopt the capital program with or without amendment after the public hearing and on or before the day of the     month of the current fiscal year.


The capital program’s adoption, which must be preceded by required publication, notice and hearing, means a positive commitment by the council to undertake a scheduled multi-year capital improvement program. The methods of financing the improvements will be detailed. Bond issues authorized by either a bond ordinance or by a popular referendum will finance major improvements. Most projects requiring bond issues will extend over a period of more than one year.

Other projects, to be financed from current income, also may extend over more than one year and will normally involve construction contracts with adequate safeguards for both parties. Still other capital projects may be completed within a single fiscal period as part of the work program of various city departments. In all cases, actual disbursements for capital items during a single fiscal year, whether in the form of debt service or direct outlays, are carried as the capital outlay section of the budget for that year.

The requirement that the capital program each year be submitted well in advance of the budget enables the council to consider the proposed improvements, the methods for financing them, and the recommended priorities in sufficient time to make decisions on capital items which will be subsequently reflected in the budget. The fact that most capital improvement decisions must be made well in advance of actual disbursements means that the bulk of the capital items in a particular budget will be the result of decisions made several years earlier. Changes, often of a relatively minor nature, may be made each year.

Because all states regulate borrowing for capital improvements by general legislation, no article on this subject is included.

Section 5.11 Independent Audit. 

The city council shall provide for an independent annual audit of all city accounts and may provide for more frequent audits as it deems necessary. An independent certified public accountant or firm of such accountants shall make such audits. Such audits should be performed in accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS) and Generally Accepted Governmental Auditing Standards (GAGAS).

The Council shall designate no fewer than three of its members to serve as an Audit Committee. This Committee shall:

(1) Lead the process of selecting an independent auditor;
(2) Direct the work of the independent auditor as to the scope of the annual audit and any matters of concern with respect to internal controls; and
(3) Receive the report of the internal auditor and present that report to the council with any recommendations from the Committee.

The council shall, using competitive bidding, designate such accountant or firm annually, or for a period not exceeding five years, but the designation for any particular fiscal year shall be made no later than 30 days after the beginning of such fiscal year. The standard for independence is that the auditor must be capable of exercising objective and impartial judgment on all issues encompassed within the audit engagement. No accountant or firm may provide any other services to the city during the time it is retained to provide independent audits to the city. The city council may waive this requirement by a majority vote at a public hearing. If the state makes such an audit, the council may accept it as satisfying the requirements of this section.


Since the value of independent audits is directly related to the caliber of those who conduct them, it is provided that certified public accountants be retained, except when a state audit is required.

Selection of a professional accountant or firm does not lend itself to the usual requirement, however, of choosing the “lowest responsible bidder.” While the council should not disregard cost, this is a case where the factors of competence, reliability and reputation are more significant. For an audit to be most beneficial, some of it must extend over the entire year, which necessitates designation of the auditor during the first month. If the state conducts periodic audits of the city’s finances that meet council-established requirements, the state audit may be an acceptable and money-saving substitute for an audit by a private firm.

While the Model emphasizes financial audits, the council also has a responsibility to institute performance and management audits to evaluate the operations of departments, services, and programs.

Section 5.12. Public Records. 

Copies of the budget, capital program, independent audits, and appropriation and revenue ordinances shall be public records.


In addition to compliance with the formal legal requirement that copies of the budget document and capital program be made available, many cities prepare and widely distribute popular summaries, which provide residents with essential general information.

Return to Model City Charter—9th Edition: Table of Contents

Some Related Posts

View All

Thank You to Our Key Partners