A major overhaul of how the town presents its 2024 budget to the public has lead to its first-ever distinguished budget presentation award from Government Finance Officers Association International (GFOA).

Town CFO Alvin Allim says it's a significant achievement for the town.

"It shows our residents, businesses, and Municipal Affairs that the town takes finances very seriously and we're all about trust, transparency and we want our budget document to be easily read and understood by our taxpayers."

It's not simply an award, it's a pragmatic exercise repeated annually. Each time a municipality makes an application, a report card is produced pointing out best practices.

Allim says the town was unsuccessful in its application last year, but the recommendations provided were taken to heart.

"We took our report card and we made quite a few adjustments in our documents to meet all the mandatory requirements for the award. It is a very detailed process, but in the end, it's very worthwhile."

He says the resulting award was due to a collaborative effort of his financial team, communications, and IT.

"I think this is a monumental achievement for the Town of Cochrane. It just strengthens our budgeting process and our financial reporting. I hope we continue to build our trust with the taxpayers, and I look forward to getting this award annually."

Allim is in the second year of a three-year term as president of the Alberta association.

GFOA Alberta was formed in 1979 to coordinate an annual conference for the province’s municipal finance employees. That role grew in the late 80s, early 90s to provide further professional development opportunities. 

Most Alberta municipalities are now members of the association. Allim says they are working on ways to include villages that may want to become involved but don't have the financial resources.

"Our mandate is to have 100 per cent penetration, and I think we're getting there."

The award was created in 1984. To earn recognition, budget documents must meet program criteria and excel as a policy document, financial plan, operations guide, and communication tool. About 1,800 governments, including states, provinces, cities, counties, special districts, school districts, and others have been recognized for transparency in budgeting.

Town councillor Alex Reed believes this may limit the impact of comments made by some residents attacking the town's handling of finances.

"I think it sends a message to those members of our community who have thought we weren't being as transparent or we weren't handling finances and budget processes appropriately," said Reed. "This award clearly puts those people to rest in terms of being able to move forward."

Councillor Tara McFadden, who encouraged the town to apply for the award to see how it measured up, called it an amazing accomplishment.

"I think your team was starting far behind the start line on this, so congratulations and thank you very much for your work on it. I think it's an accomplishment that I will be taking a great deal of pride in sharing with some of my other municipal colleagues across the province."

Allim says they aren't done yet. Besides aspirations to be presented this award annually, they have their eye on the Canadian Award of Excellence in Financial Reporting.

"That is another one we will be pursuing very soon for the town."

Allim joined the Town of Cochrane on May 1, 2023, as financial and information technology services director. He was appointed chief financial officer last October.