Years ago, when the Town of Brighton was only managing a handful of debt obligations, the finance department was content tracking what was owed, what was financed, and when payments were due using pen, paper, and a binder.
According to Director of Finance Paula Parker, the town began to outgrow its paper-based system as it issued more debt to finance its infrastructure and large equipment needs.
“Over the past 12 years, we’ve started borrowing more and more,” Parker said. “It’s been increasingly difficult to plan cash payments for purchases of equipment. And as we issued more bonds, the budgeting process for those bond principal and interest payments became more and more intensive.”
The complicated world of debt management meant that manually tracking bonds was no longer an efficient option. Apart from the growing number of obligations, the complexity of the town’s debt portfolio also began to outpace its manual process.
“Most of our bonds are split across multiple purposes and functions,” Parker said. “It’s gotten very labor-intensive to manage the debt and pull reports together. We were looking for software that made it easier and more efficient.”
The Town’s search led the finance team to DebtBook, a solution that Assistant Director of Finance Suzanne Zaso characterized as bringing the town into the modern era of debt management. “We’ve moved into the 21st century.”
The Town of Brighton’s finance team was navigating multiple challenges in its debt management process:
Manual Data Management
After issuing additional debt to meet their capital needs, the finance department had to search through a physical book of data covering 15 to 20 different bond issues. This manual, cumbersome process made it difficult to quickly answer questions about what each bond financed or how much remained outstanding for any particular project. Spreadsheets presented their own problems, increasing the potential for error and making it difficult to collaborate across internal teams and outside professionals.
With multiple bonds issued to finance multiple projects and purposes, tracking, allocating, and budgeting annual payments became increasingly complicated. The complexity created fears about what the finance team might miss, from properly budgeting principal and interest amounts to payment dates to journal entries.
Lack of Access
Relying on a single, physical binder full of data made collaborating with internal stakeholders and outside professionals challenging and inefficient. Staff spent significant time extracting and sharing data in response to various requests, pulling them away from their core responsibilities.
“In government,” Parker said, “it’s always ‘do more with less’. We need to find ways to be more efficient.” When looking for options to make debt management easier, Parker and Zaso wanted a solution designed for local governments and developed to address their specific needs. The Town’s finance team highlighted the following features as being particularly useful:
Consolidation of Data
Being able to store all their data in a single, cloud-based location that was accessible for any member of the department was much more effective than relying on a binder of paperwork or static spreadsheets.
“DebtBook has definitely made managing our debt easier, more efficient, and more streamlined,” Parker said.
DebtBook’s email notification functionality with payment alerts makes it easy to know when a payment is coming due in order to avoid missing a deadline.
“We have a fear of missing a payment. It’s nice to get the email reminders,” Zaso said. “We can easily go in and check what’s due in the next 30 or 90 days and keep on top of that.”
“It’s hands down so much more efficient,” Parker added. “I get excited when I log-on and see the calendar with payment reminders or I get the email notifications. DebtBook is just a wonderful, intuitive program and a pleasure to use.”
Convenient, Shareable Access
With DebtBook, it’s easy to give access to those who need to see bond and lease information. They can easily log-in and run reports without having to ask the finance team for help. Parker said this will continue to be important to her team as they work to spread intradepartmental information.
“Down the road, we can also give access to our superintendent, and we have already given access to our financial advisor who is very impressed,” she said.
DebtBook allowed the Town of Brighton to shift from its manual approach to debt management to a smoother, more efficient, and more reliable debt management experience. The transition to DebtBook has reduced distractions and allowed staff to devote more attention to higher-value, strategic activities, creating opportunities to find better ways to meet their capital needs going forward.
“What I see happening is being able to better manage the process and let the supervisor or finance chair know, ‘Here’s what the debt is and here’s how it will impact us going forward,’” Parker said.
Parker and Zaso expect DebtBook’s benefits to grow with the Town and its debt portfolio.
“We are in the process now of issuing three separate series of bonds, and we are excitedly waiting to see the uploaded information related to each bond’s issuance by fund, purpose, and category both in summary and detail – instantly. Not only will we be able to see each principal and interest payment, but we can also download that information to multiple spreadsheets and reports, “Parker said. “That will save us time but also put information right at our fingertips.”
Parker is also excited about DebtBook’s cloud-based system, which allows the finance team to share direct access to the right data with the right internal and external teammates at the right time.
“I’m singing DebtBook’s praises at the top of my lungs,” Parker said.