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Water authority gets award for fiscal soundness

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

For the fifth year in a row, the Clayton County Water Authority has been nationally recognized for sound fiscal reporting.

Earlier this month, the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) gave the water authority its Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for its fiscal-year budget.

Since 1906, the Chicago-based GFOA has promoted the professional management of governments and quasi-governmental agencies for the benefit of the public.

In addition to his duties as GFOA Senior Manager of Technical Services, John Fishbein also oversees the GFOA's budget-awards program. He said 1,270 applicants, from across the U.S. and Canada, submitted their budgets and had them graded at random by three experienced finance directors, selected from a group of 400 finance directors.

"We have 27 criteria broken up into four categories ... policy, financial, operations, and communication," Fishbein said. "To win the award, you need a proficient rating or better from two of the three reviewers. Even if they don't win the award, the mere fact that they submit [an entry] is a positive. It's not mandatory.

"It [winning an award] is kind of a stamp of approval ... it's a good thing to have," he added. "For the public to be able to look at [a budget] and know that it's not just a bunch of numbers, it can be quite meaningful. It's good for citizens to have a budget document they can understand and make use of."

According to water authority officials, the agency received notification of the award by mail on Aug. 17.

Water Authority General Manager Michael Thomas said the authority has worked hard to produce budgets that not only include financial numbers, but goals, operation plans, major sources of revenue, and fiscal strategy.

"They [the water authority's finance department] created a document that tells you everything you need to know about the water authority," Thomas said. "It tells you all the information about the water authority facilities, our operation plans, our goals. It's not just a budget, it serves as a policy manual and an operations guide."

Thomas said that with revenues dropping and costs rising, due to the economy, it is vital that agencies like the water authority are smart about how they deliver services. He said being given a Distinguished Budget Award confirms for the water authority that its financial plans are "well thought out."

"If you aren't focused on the true needs of your customers ... you are going to get yourself in trouble financially, and won't be able to offer the same services as in the past," Thomas said. "We're aligning our expenditure plans with our goals and what we want to do as a business. It [the award] gives us confidence that we are putting a good budget document together."