Susan Meeks

]The City of Berea became one of six cities in Kentucky to win the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Presentation Award, it was announced recently.

The award recognizes excellence in developing the municipal budget as a policy document, financial plan, an operations guide and a communication device, enabling citizens to monitor how well the city is doing when it comes to meeting goals and providing needed services.

Finance Department Director Susan Meeks spearheaded the three-year effort to achieve the GFOA’s rigorous standard, noted to be the organization’s highest form of recognition for governmental budgeting. Meeks said reaching the goal is part of the city’s overall commitment to continue improving its level of service.

“We have a responsibility for continually pushing the bar higher and higher. I’ve always considered Berea a leader in many ways. And since there were only six cities in the state that received this designation in the last several years, I saw this as a way to continue making our mark. I think the citizens deserve this level of excellence,” Meeks said.

While Meeks is listed on the GFOA’s certificate of achievement, she noted that several people played a role in winning the award, including department heads, Mayor Bruce Fraley, the respective city administrators, as well as finance staffers.

“Both [former city administrators] Randy Stone and David Gregory embraced my vision for an overhauled budgeted document,” Meeks said. “Because so much of the required information comes from the respective departments and city administrator, a large part of the labors fell to them. So, to say we could not have achieved this without their support is an understatement. It simply would not have been conceivable otherwise, so this is truly a city-wide accomplishment, not simply a Finance Department award.”

What makes the current budget format special is the depth of information provided, whether it is the goals of each department, performance measures on whether those goals are being achieved, as well as a wealth of statistical information. That data is not only useful to citizens who want to learn how well the city is meeting its goals, it can also boost economic development, Meeks said.

“We want everyone to clearly understand how their tax dollars are being spent. This new budget document should allow residents to see and understand how their government manages programs and funding,” Meeks said. “But I believe it is also a good step for economic development Whether small businesses or large industries, these entities that are looking to locate in our community need to know if the local government will be able to provide the services they need. They need to know the strategic plan for the city as part of the decision come here. Communicating that in a professional document is beneficial.”

As it turns out, the new budget format can make an impression on prospective employees as well. When she was first applying to become city administrator, Rose Beverly said one of the first things she did was research the city’s website, which contains the new budget.

“I could tell immediately with all of the available budget information on Berea’s website that somebody was really doing a good job,” Beverly said, going on to praise Meeks’ work and diligence. “It’s a group effort, but she really spearheaded this. It’s a lot of work to get this award, and that’s why not everyone does it.”

Mayor Bruce Fraley offered his congratulations, citing Meeks’ longstanding commitment to integrity and public transparency.

“The City of Berea is very fortunate to have a well-trained, highly skilled and dedicated finance director like Susan Meeks,” Fraley stated. “It is often said that the budget reflects our priorities as a city and that transparency is critical in maintaining the public trust. Susan and the Finance Department are dedicated to the highest standards of integrity and transparency in all they do.

“She does a great job for all of us and I applaud her commitment to excellence in financial management, which made this impressive award possible.”

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