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Trustee Support Resources

Creating a Budget

The process for creating a budget, including deadlines, is defined by state laws. MRSC has created budget calendars that reference the RCWs governing the scheduling of budget-related activities while breaking down budget preparation into basic steps:

The budget is the mechanism by which the board ensures oversight of the library’s finances. The library board is legally obligated to monitor the finances of the library through:

  • Informed discussion and adoption of the budget.
  • Review of financial statements - how well is the library staying on track?
  • Use of an effective accounting system that is regularly audited.
  • Careful attention to financial audits.

Budgeting and planning are interwoven. The budget should be viewed as a planning tool, the map that the library follows during a fiscal period to attain its mission and planning goals. The budget outlines the library’s financial limitations and indicates the priorities that the board and staff plan to accomplish during a fiscal period. The board should maintain a broad perspective on the operation of the library and represent the community’s interest in the budget while ensuring that the budget reflects the mission statement, planning goals, and objectives of the library.

Major expenditure areas to consider when planning the budget include:

  • Salaries and benefits.
  • Collections (e.g., print books, print magazine subscriptions, e-books, databases, audiobooks, etc.).
  • Overhead (e.g., utilities, maintenance, insurance).
  • Technology (e.g., computers, telecommunications, software).
  • Capital expenditures (e.g., furniture, shelving, equipment).

While virtually all public libraries are supported by public funds, city and district library boards receive funds and relate to their funding authority in different ways. In spite of these differences, the budget processes are comparable. Trustees are encouraged to become familiar with the mechanics of both district and municipal budgeting, regardless of their library’s funding pattern. 

The Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (MRSC) explains the budgeting process in plain English in two helpful publications:

Help for preparing budgets, including calendars that include the RCWs pertaining to budgeting preparation schedules for city and county governments, revenue forecasts, as well as current initiatives that may affect budgeting, may be found in an annual publication from the MRSC entitled Budget SuggestionsBest Practices from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) provide guidance on developing budgets, fiscal policy, and other related matters.

Looking for help with general ledger accounts? Puzzled by accounting terms? Help is available from the Washington State Auditor’s Office: