Follow the money.
Budgets can be boring. Until you know what you’re looking at.
If you want to know where your tax dollars are going, checking the budget will get you a long way down the trail.
Fiscal Year vs. Calendar Year
Some government agencies, like Fulton County, use calendar year budgets that run from January 1 through December 31. Others, like Clayton County, use fiscal year budgets, which you may see abbreviated as “FY” followed by the year (for example, FY2023).
The fiscal year generally ends every June 30, which means the new budget year starts on July 1. In Hampton, the city’s fiscal year starts every October 1 and ends September 30. Governments have to propose budgets and give the public at least two chances to comment on the budget during public hearings.
For calendar year budgets, that process happens in December. For fiscal year budgets, it happens in May.
This is the time of year when finance departments assemble proposed budgets, present them at public hearings, and turn them over to your elected officials to make any changes and to vote on the final approved budget.
Yet almost no citizens show up for budget hearings.
That signals to elected officials that no one is watching their spending choices.
First, you have to find it
Finding a copy of a governmental body’s annual budget shouldn’t be hard. In many cases, it is:
- In Forest Park, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to find the current budget link.
- In Riverdale and Stockbridge, the last budget we found was from FY 2022 because their budgets are approved later in the year.
- College Park publishes budget discussions in five broad areas. We didn’t see a comprehensive document combining those results.
- In Lovejoy, we found only two passing mentions of the budget in City Council minutes.
We’ve made it easier for you to look through the budgets that mean the most to Clayton County residents. Below, you’ll find each proposed municipal budget, the Clayton County budget, and (for our friends on the county line) proposed budgets for Dekalb County, Fulton County, Henry County, Hapeville, College Park, Stockbridge, East Point, and the City of Atlanta. We’ve also included school system and MARTA budgets.
How’d they do last year?
Another document, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), goes into even more detail.
You can find many past budgets and financial reports at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government’s TED Center at the University of Georgia. But you definitely won’t find them all.
These documents can run dozens or hundreds of pages. One way to tackle them is with a friend or a group of like-minded citizens or neighbors. Divide up the workload and then compare notes to see what you find. And if you find something interesting, share it in the comments below!
Fulton County (Calendar year 2022, already in effect)
Dekalb County (Calendar year 2022, already in effect)
Henry County (FY 2022-2023, adopted, in effect July 1)
Atlanta (FY 2022-2023, proposed)
College Park’s website shows a series of departmental budget meetings
East Point (FY 2022-2023, proposed)
Forest Park (FY 2022-2023, proposed)
Hampton (FY 2021-2022, in effect)
Lovejoy (FYE 2023, adopted; no copy found on website)
Morrow (no copy found on site)
Riverdale (last budget we found on site was from FY 2022)
Stockbridge (FY2022, in effect)