Report Tells the Story of City Finances

May 9, 2012

While many cities in Georgia prepare a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to fulfill the state’s requirement that they publish a complete set of audited financial statements, several cities in Georgia also prepare a Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR). Often called a citizen’s report, a PAFR contains charts, graphics, photographs and easy to understand statements about a city’s financial status, services and projects.

“We prepare this report in addition to our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for various reasons,” said Hinesville Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Ryon. “The main reason is to provide our residents information about the city. Although the finance department spearheads the effort, each department has a large role in preparing this report each year. Every department has at least one page; some departments have two, for which they prepare the information that goes into the PAFR. They choose the topic they want to talk about and they prepare the copy. The purpose is to get information out to the public that they may not know about, from services we provide to awards we receive. There is a lot of good news to report about what we do as a city and we use this report as a means to get that news out to our residents.”

Residents are often are curious about their city government finances; however, consuming a large budget document — Hinesville’s budget documents is more than 200 pages — can be tedious. Those interested in detailed figures can read and/or download Hinesville’s budget online; those who aren’t that ambitious can review three pages of financial related information in Hinesville’s PFAR.

“These pages really break down our financial results in more user friendly terms,” Ryon said.

Hinesville along with the cities of Alpharetta, Griffin, Monroe and Winder were recent city winners in the Government Finance Officers Association PFAR award program. The program encourages local governments to present information that is readily accessible and easily understandable to people without a background in public finance.

“Although we do produce an award winning CAFR, most people don’t know where to begin to look for real information in it,” Ryon pointed out. “The PAFR provides a good snapshot of our financial information.”

Whether using a PFAR or not, when communicating financial information to the public Tracy Arner, a program manager with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, recommends cities include:
  • Cost by service for such services as public safety, administration, culture and recreation
  • Revenue by source, such as taxes, fines and forfeiture
  • Cost per capita for a service, for example, public safety cost divided by number of residents in the city
Arner also recommends cities present information graphically.

“Often financial information is easier to understand if presented visually,” she said. “Then, it is easy to determine which services are getting the majority of tax dollars.”

Performance measures are also important to include in a financial report for the public, Ryon noted. “For example, a city could supplement the cost of public safety information with number of fire calls, police calls and average response time.”

Ryon said most of the feedback on the Hinesville’s PFAR has been positive.
“We work hard to provide very relevant information about all of our departments and it seems like our departments are really addressing the questions they receive from the public in this document,” she said. “Many residents have told me that they actually read our PAFR from ‘cover to cover’ every year. It is only 24 pages long but, to me, it means we must be doing something right. I have heard a lot of ’I didn’t realize the city does (this) or provides (that)’ from topics they read about in our PAFR. It is a great way to inform the public of what we are doing.”