From debt-service to operational budgets, Marblehead’s fiscal year 2023 municipal budget registered around $110 million. Officials project a $114.5 million municipal budget for 2024, and $117 million for 2025.
As Marblehead’s budget balloons and becomes more complex, Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer believes the town should not only modernize how it assembles budgets but also open municipal finances to the public.
Enter ClearGov. Marblehead recently bought a subscription to the cloud-based budget and performance management software – and its implementation is underway. Kezer has characterized the town’s shift to ClearGov as significant because the town has spent years compiling the municipal budget in Excel spreadsheets.
“Rather than relying on traditional Microsoft products, such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint, ClearGov provides a centralized tool to manage the inputting of requests, facilitate running scenarios based on the financial choices we make and effectively present this information for the internal users, decision makers and the pubic,” Kezer told the Select Board. “The software avoids the hassles of collecting and collating various spreadsheets and maintaining version control through the budget process.”
Town and school officials and staff and Finance Committee members investigated a number of different software packages before settling on ClearGov.
“It was a clear consensus that though there were similarities [among] ClearGov and other like services, ClearGov was the more user-friendly option for all various participants that will use the software,” Kezer told Select Board members. “One of the key components of the software is its ability to produce a GFOA compliant budget document, allowing staff to focus on the content to be provided with the software handling the formatting and professional-looking presentation.”
Vinny Petracca from ClearGov told the Select Board the software aims to help the government build better budgets.
“We really do believe that every community desires and deserves a government that is employed to work as effectively and efficiently as possible,” he said. “We are trying to have our software have all the bells and whistles but still have a pretty familiar and easy-to-use user experience that doesn’t have too much of a learning curve.”
An onboarding process is playing out. Petracca said ClearGov is uploading about five years’ worth of Marblehead’s fiscal history into the cloud. Kezer has asked for budgetary and capital requests from department heads about a month earlier than usual for the next fiscal year, setting a Dec. 22 deadline.
“I’m hoping to use that information, one, to get a sense of where things stand because we want to be able to be ready to present a good picture in January,” said Kezer. “We are moving forward on the onboarding for ClearGov.”
He added, “The responses back will help us load data into the ClearGov system. That will at least get us using the system and start training and learning on the system.”
He hopes to identify what he called superusers who can train other staff members.
“When department heads or others curse me for bringing in this new system and they are struggling, we’ll have our response team fly in and help,” Kezer said.
ClearGov will cost the town $23,433.33 initially, which includes a $7,200 onboarding fee for setting up the system. The subscription fee will be $36,400 annually and included as an annual line item in the municipal budget.
A breakdown of service fees:
- ClearGov operational budgeting: $17,650
- ClearGov personnel budgeting: $16,800
- ClearGov capital budgeting: $11,500
- ClearGov digital budget book: $10,500
- ClearGov transparency: $9,650
The transparency function will allow the public to breakdown, interact and engage with the town budgets on a granular level; look at past spending, export graphs and charts among other capabilities. ClearGov should be in place before May’s Town Meeting, and the transparency feature may come in handy.
On Wednesday, Nov. 16, the Select Board opened the 2023 town warrant, an indicator that the slow march to Town Meeting has begun. The next Town Meeting will be a consequential one, as the warrant is expected to feature a permanent Proposition 2 1/2 override.
“The software solves a problem that we have: We have missing staff. We got people that are just overwhelmed,” said Kezer. “Though there is an investment in a learning curve to get into it, it will give us capabilities that will help us internally for decision making and for informing the public at large.”
Some 700 communities nationwide, including 75 cities and towns in Massachusetts, have adopted ClearGov systems.