For the first time and on its first attempt, the City of Aiken has received the highly regarded Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) hinted at the national award several weeks ago on Twitter, but official notification came through a letter to City Manager John Klimm.

Aiken is one of only 10 South Carolina municipalities to receive this national honor, Mayor Rick Osbon announced during a Friday press conference. The city’s operating budget was newly revised in July 2016 and submitted to the GFOA, the preeminent municipal government finance group in the country.

Fewer than 4 percent of South Carolina municipalities and less than 2 percent of all local governments in the country earn the Distinguished Budget Award.

“This honor belongs to City Manager John Klimm and Director of Finance Kim Abney, her department, department heads and several staff members,” Osbon said. “John and the entire team worked diligently to achieve a high level of professionalism in their first effort.

“They presented a budget that better communicates information to Aiken citizens, the community and elected officials,” Osbon said. “It directly reflects the city’s commitment to increase authenticity, accountability, transparency and quality.”

Until recently, the city’s budget format had not changed much since 1955. That year, the city hired its first city manager. With the exception of minor changes, the budget format has remained the same — a hard to read and even harder to understand incremental budget.

Faced with that realization, city council members made reforming the antiquated format its highest priority and directed Klimm to make the budget more straightforward and user friendly when he was hired in 2015.

After just 90 days on the job, he assembled a team of city staff members and employees who spent nearly a year overhauling the budget.

“I am honored to work for a city council that has made increased financial transparency and accountability the highest priority and was pleased to work with a team of professionals who really pulled together to make it happen,” Klimm said.

Finance Director Abney said Friday that the city will continue submitting its annual budget to the GFOA for review. “And we will continue fine tuning the document. We’re already working to implement additional changes the GFOA suggested”

Winning the award meant the city satisfied national guidelines for effective budget presentation, principles designed to assess how well the budget serves as a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide and an effective communications tool. An impartial panel of judges also rated the city’s documents “proficient” in all four categories and 14 mandatory criteria within those categories — also required to win the award, according to the GFOA.

The same organization has presented the city with 24 consecutive certificates of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, but the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award is a first, and winning it is difficult to achieve on the first try.

GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award

GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award

GFOA established the Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards Program in 1984 to encourage and assist state and local governments to prepare budgets of the highest quality. The association serves nearly 19,000 government finance professionals with offices in Chicago and D.C. Its Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards Program is the only national awards program in governmental budgeting.