Key Terms and Facts about Open Budget ATX
Open Budget ATX makes the details of the City of Austin budget more accessible than ever before. This means you may have some questions about specific terms, how certain budget information is presented, and how this information compares to the paper document. We have done our best to anticipate those questions in the responses below.
Revenue and Operating Budget
- Activity - A set of services performed by a department grouped together by a common purpose, which produces outputs and results.
- Actuals - Expenditures made in accordance with approved spending authorization.
- Amended Budget - Amended budget represents the original adopted budget plus any amendments passed by the City Council during the fiscal year.
- Debt Service - The amount of money required for interest and principal payments on an outstanding debt in any given year.
- Department - A major administrative division of the City that indicates overall management responsibility for an operation or a group of related operations within a functional area.
- Expense Category - The City summarizes its numerous expenses into seven categories: personnel, commodities, contractuals, expense refunds, indirect costs, non-CIP capital, and transfers.
- Expense Description - As used in expenditure classification, the expense description applies to the article purchased or the service obtained. Examples are wages, electricity, rental, maintenance, travel, office supplies, and computer hardware.
- Fund - A fiscal and accounting entity with a self-balancing set of accounts. It records cash and other financial resources, all related liabilities, residual equities and balances, and changes therein, which are segregated for the purpose of carrying on specific activities or attaining certain objectives in accordance with special regulations, restrictions, or limitations.
- General Fund - The primary operating fund of the City. It is used to account for all financial resources that are not required to be accounted for in another fund. It includes the following activities: general government; public safety; transportation, planning, and sustainability; public health; public recreation and culture; and urban growth management.
- Indirect Cost - An expense necessary for the functioning of the organization as a whole that cannot be directly assigned to one service.
- Non-Departmental - All transactions not directly linked to a specific department, such as tax receipts and payments resulting from economic incentive agreements, are classified as non-departmental.
- Program - A major line of business or division within a department. It consists of a group of common activities that provide services and produce results for citizens.
- Proposed Budget - The proposed budget represents the original budget proposal presented to the City Council for consideration before amendments are made during the adoption process.
- Transfers - The authorized exchanges of cash or other resources between funds. (More information regarding transfers can be found below.)
- Unit - The fundamental level in the City’s financial structure hierarchy. Each unit captures budget, revenue, and expenditure and is a component of the larger, more complex department budget.
- Active Project - A funded capital activity that is progressing toward completion through either the planning, design, construction, or post-construction phases. Due to the multi-year nature of capital improvements, projects are generally active over many fiscal years, including through the post-construction phase that can last longer than a year.
- Appropriation - A legal device by which the City Council authorizes the spending of City funds for specific purposes.
- Project - A group of related subprojects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control
that would not be available from managing them individually.
- Subproject - A stand‐alone capital activity that relates to the main project under which it is listed.
As you drill down into the details of each department budget, you will find that you can not explore past the "activity" level of detail for Austin Energy. This is due to the proprietary nature of their operations. Detail beyond the activity level would disclose details that may put the utility's competitive edge at risk.
The City has long reported Austin Energy budget information at the activity level in the paper budget document and continues to do so in this application.
What are transfers and how do they impact the budget?
One of the methods the City utilizes to properly allocate costs among the departments is transfers. For example, a department may utilize debt financing and is responsible for funding annual debt service payments that are made from a citywide debt service fund. The department must transfer the amount necessary from its fund to the debt service fund. As a result, this amount is an expense within the department's budget to complete the transfer and then the expense is also recognized in the debt service fund when the payment to the bond holders is completed. This also results in the expense appearing twice between the two funds, thus creating a double-counting situation. For the capital budget, transfers from the operating to the capital budget appear in one fiscal year, but those funds may not be utilized for capital projects until a future fiscal year due to the multi-year nature of capital budgeting.
The City follows this approach because it provides a more accurate reflection of the costs of each department when viewing them individually. However, it creates a challenge in Open Budget ATX.
Within the various "funds" you can view in Open Budget ATX, you will find one called "Interfunds Transfers Adjustment." This is not an actual fund but is the mechanism used to resolve the double-counting issue noted above. The fund has a large negative number to adjust for those dollars that transfer between departments and funds and causes the total budget you see on the Open Budget ATX homepage to accurately reflect the total All Funds Budget of the City of Austin. For additional information, please contact the Budget Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.