Sitting within San Diego County, Vista, California is a bustling community of just over 100,000 residents. Finance Director and City Treasurer Mike Sylvia and Finance Manager Matt McDonald help manage roughly $185 million dollars of outstanding debt.
When audit season comes knocking, it can feel like “the wild wild west” according to Sylvia. Over the years, staff turnover and short administrative periods have led to multiple “right ways of doing things”. Without the original team member who created the report available to explain all the nuances to their approach, the City was forced to rely on a number of scattered reporting methods throughout the organization. As the team loaded data into spreadsheets, simple typos in the data cascaded through multiple formulas and cells, requiring team members to devote long hours to reconciling the data. Apart from the time spent correcting the mistakes, the approach reduced the management team’s confidence in the data on the whole.
At the same time, the City had a goal to automate and modernize systems across the organization, and they turned to technology for help. The City wanted to increase efficiency in the organization so team members could perform their jobs more effectively and ultimately save the taxpayers money. As the finance team began to evaluate solutions to assist in their debt and lease management, they discovered DebtBook and quickly realized the platform had more to offer and was more affordable than other competitors in the market.
Historically, the City of Vista has used Excel spreadsheets to track and manage their debt obligations and payment schedules. As the finance department began to grow, this method became more and more risky. As Sylvia described the situation, “You’re living dangerously when you’re living in multiple spreadsheets and one person tweaks something without notifying someone else.”
Although they ‘didn’t want to reinvent the wheel’, Sylvia and McDonald knew action needed to be taken swiftly in order to standardize their reporting processes and establish best practices for the team to follow. While audit season may only happen once a year, every task — regardless of how often it’s completed — involves rules that define the scope, quality, and methods to be followed. Without this standardization, the finance team at Vista didn’t have complete insight into the quality of their reporting practices and potential for human error, which reduced confidence in the data.
Sylvia and McDonald knew there had to be a better way.
DebtBook provided the City of Vista with the framework and tool they needed to standardize their processes to reduce the potential for human error, bring clarity in their reporting process, and promote the finance team’s productivity.
Reduced Human Error
Once Vista was up and running on DebtBook, the team no longer had to perform manual data calculations or projections. Using a software solution to manage their debt obligation and payment reminders guaranteed quality because their process for financial reporting has now be pre-defined and optimized. The streamlined workflow and improved work product has boosted the team’s morale and has significantly reduced the amount of time the team has to devote to the process. McDonald estimates DebtBook has helped him eliminate at least 12 hours of work during audit season by removing the need to flip between a dozen Excel tabs, searching for discrepancies identified by their auditors.
As a former auditor himself, one big win for McDonald was the ability to grant read-only access to his external auditors. With a simple invite, everyone who needs to have access to their books can easily navigate the system and quickly locate the information they need.
“With a system as easy to use as DebtBook, I can feel confident giving my auditors access, knowing they will get the information they need without needing my assistance or waiting on a response from me. This saves me, and our auditors, a ton of time during audit season.”
DebtBook has empowered the Vista financial department to find the answers they are looking for quickly, without the need to ask around or comb through emails and files looking for the underlying document or schedule. Having a centralized hub for everything related to their debt management efforts creates time in their busy schedules, which is particularly valuable during the height of audit season.
Sylvia particularly praises DebtBook for allowing his team to “automate the debt note disclosures process”, especially around the holiday season when they are “under the gun” to move quickly. The “ability to see the spread of funding sources for each debt issue” also frees up his team’s time and allows them to focus on other important year-end tasks.
“During audit season, the ability to tie the trial balance to the software and give external parties full visibility into what payments were made, how they were done, and then download all the supporting documentation empowers our auditors and greatly improves my productivity, allowing me to focus on other items on my to-do list.”
With DebtBook, the finance department was able to turn every data set into one that they could trust, and it allowed them to start playing a very different game. Their analysis takes dramatically less time while fueling increasing data accuracy. But the most meaningful change is in how the platform enables external team members to start engaging with data and find creative solutions and ways they can serve their citizens better.
By investing in a singular reporting model, the City scaled financial reporting processes with certainty and can get more done with less resources. Future debt will be made easier to manage, and the finance team can feel confident in the accuracy and quality of that data.
The City is considering some debt refunding and consolidation to get better interest rates and reduce debt administrative burdens.
“We’re looking forward to pulling those rates into DebtBook to very quickly project the impact new rates would make on their payment schedules,” said Sylvia.
The City is also excited to implement DebtBook’s GASB-87 solution once they complete their audit season later this year. “Our decentralized purchasing process means we don’t even have spreadsheets with all our lease information,” said McDonald. “This will be a game changer for us to have all leases in one centralized place.”