The Balancing Act online tool enables you to learn about the city’s budget and offer feedback

By Mary Ellen Leonard, Director of Fiscal Services

In recent years, city leaders have juggled managing our day-to-day operations with the effects of the pandemic, a historic winter storm, supply shortages, and inflation on the city’s finances.

Understanding a city budget has become more complicated than opening a document and deciphering the numbers. That’s why the College Station City Council spends long hours in budget workshops each summer. 

Considering the complexities of a $380 million budget makes those tedious July workshop sessions challenging to understand. Thankfully, the city now has a more straightforward way for citizens to wrestle with allocating limited funds to almost limitless needs — and we can see how your feedback looks.  

Balancing Act is an online tool designed to simulate College Station’s budgeting decisions. It makes your participation incredibly easy with a computer, smartphone, or tablet and helps identify the services and programs you think are most important in our general fund. We always want to know what citizens think about our budget priorities, so Balancing Act also has a place for your comments. 

The handy tool can help residents better understand the city council’s decision points because the user gets to simulate those decisions. Fiscal Services staff combines your balanced budget and comments with other participants and provides the input directly to the city council. The result is more vital input than ever as we finalize the budget in July and August. 

When you enter the website, a short video describes navigating the program. You’ll also find specific descriptions of the categories and departments and more details about your choices. 

Once in the simulation, you’ll see the sources of revenue on the left. That’s where the money comes from for city services. On the right, you’ll find the spending areas. That’s where the money goes. If you aren’t great with numbers, don’t worry – the program will do the math for you.

Remember, the city must have a balanced budget. A big red or green bar at the top will tell you if your choices are balanced. If you’re successful, you’ll see a green bar that reads “You Are Balanced.” 

When you’ve adjusted and balanced the budget your way — or just entered your comments — click the submit button.

You can participate in Balancing Act through June 30. Meanwhile, we’ll check the website frequently for your comments and input. If you have questions about the city’s budget or the Balancing Act tool, contact me at mleonard@cstx.gov. I’ll be happy to help you or hear your feedback.

We encourage you to take advantage of this easy way to learn more about our budget process while expressing your priorities.  

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About the Blogger


Mary Ellen Leonard has been the city’s director of fiscal services since 2016. She previously was the chief financial officer for the Grub Burger Bar restaurant chain and operated her accounting firm for 14 years. A CPA since 1988, Mary Ellen has also served as a senior manager at Accenture and Arthur Andersen, CFO at Devereux Hospital, and senior financial analyst at Tenneco Gas Pipeline. She earned a degree in accounting from Texas A&M in 1986.

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