A budget is a plan and plans change. Think of budgeting as a dynamic process that helps you define your long-range goals and map the strategy for managing your facility to achieve them. Good record-keeping predicates budget planning, providing the history on which future decisions will be based.

Start with revenues

Focus first on the big picture. Develop a list of all the fields and areas that are under your management program. Make sure you understand the expectations of the facility owners for those areas. While it’s assumed that all sports facilities want safe and playable conditions for their fields, the budget parameters must be adequate to produce that.

As in all good budget planning, start by identifying the revenue sources and funds available from each of them so you can determine total revenue and cash flow. You’ll need to know what you have to work with to accomplish your goals. In most cases, that information will be provided to you. At a new facility or in a new position, you may be asked to develop your budget plan without that information. In that situation, plan as though there were unlimited funds, but realistically, based on what you’ll need, rather than your wish list. Once you have a firm estimate of the revenues that can be generated, you can start looking at expenditures.

Developing the system

The budget layout is a series of columns and rows that work for you. Don’t get caught up in the terminology. It’s a spreadsheet whether you use a computer-based budgeting software program, develop your own system in Excel or write it out on paper.

Set up your annual budget planning by month for the entire year to help better envision your cash flow. On this annual budget, the columns represent the months; the rows are the items that require funding, both those related to materials and those related to personnel allocation. All materials that are typically used within a year are included in the annual budget, as are all personnel costs. Allocated costs for equipment usage along with operational materials, such as gas and oil, and repair items, such as parts, are also included.

You’ll include line items for materials such as seed, fertilizer, pest control products, infield mix, calcined clay, chalk, paint, etc. The costs for water may be tracked by potable and non-potable categories if different fees are involved. You also need to include line items for the heating, cooling and electrical costs allocated to your offices and maintenance facility.

The method of setting up labor costs may vary with the size of your staff. With a large crew and several employees at the same level, you’ll want to create one line item for the base salary of each position; a second line for facility-covered taxes, insurance and other overhead costs allocated to that position; and a third line with any additional fringe benefits. By combining these three line items, you can determine the hourly cost for each of your staff members and for yourself. With a smaller crew, you may set up one line item for the total combined costs for each individual. Include any seasonal full-time and part-time crew member positions in this budgeting process.

All lines will remain in the same position in the budget document year-round, even if they’re only used for a portion of the year.

Once the annual budget is developed, use it as a working document. Break it into expanded monthly segments and track it daily, recording expenditures as they are made. You want exact figures. If you wait a week or so to record expenditures, you take a chance on forgetting to enter something or relying on memory, rather than documentation. Check your actual income and expenditures against the budget plan weekly and monthly, so you can make adjustments to stay within your targeted spending levels.

Also, develop a daily log that follows the same general format as your budget. It can be set up as a separate form for each field, with a column for each day of the month, retaining the same rows that you’ve established for your annual budget for materials and other purchased items.

To more effectively track labor costs, you’ll want to develop a more detailed daily work log, breaking down each general area of maintenance as a line item for each field. Typically, that would include mowing, trimming, painting, pre and post-event setup, irrigation, aeration, topdressing, seeding, sodding, fertilization, chemical application, and skinned area prep for baseball and softball fields. You’ll want to add a line for miscellaneous labor to cover occasional tasks and lines for general landscape and hardscape maintenance of areas around each field, and any other repetitive related tasks that are part of your management responsibilities.

Allow space to note weather conditions. That could be nothing more than the temperature high and low and any precipitation or relative humidity, wind speed and direction, ET rates and anything else that might have influenced your field management program for the day. Allocate space to record field use, including special events, such as tournaments, and any other occurrences, such as water restrictions or an irrigation leak.

Don’t make it a burden. The whole point of the daily logs is to organize all your notes in one spot for a quick and simple reference for your decision-making, not to create a publishable document.

If you’re developing the budget and log on your computer, you can also build in automatic reminders for things like ordering materials or plotting the pre-tournament field layout schedule.

Over time, these documents become the history you’ll use to develop a highly accurate budget and back up your budget requests. When a situation comes up, you’ll be able to refer to your records to show how much labor and what materials have been needed in the past.

You’ll also be able to improve your purchasing process, looking for seasonal buys, quantity discounts or group buying of materials, as well as track your labor allocation by tasks and by field to find ways to improve your efficiency. With labor costs usually the highest percentage of the overall budget, improved efficiency makes a dramatic impact on overall expenditures.

The capital budget

The capital budget covers expenditures for items that have a longer usage life than a single season, including field care equipment, such as mowers, aerators, sprayers, topdressers and utility vehicles; field improvements, such as upgraded irrigation system controllers; transportation vehicles; and operational equipment, such as computers. Generally, major capital improvements involving new field construction or stadium renovations are covered through the facility’s capital budget process.

Calculations for the capital budget include the initial cost of the item and the interest on long-term payment options or included in leasing fees, and spreading the costs over the anticipated use-life of the item with an amortization (or depreciation) schedule. You’ll want to plan for operational and maintenance costs over that time. For example, you could plan on a specific mower lasting five years at the anticipated rate of use, allocating the total costs over that period. You may also want to plan to replace that mower at a point that will provide a good trade-in value for that mower that could be used to offset the costs of a new machine.

Long-term planning allows you to better determine the quality-to-cost ratio of the anticipated purchases over their usable life-span. You’ll be able track equipment replacement needs and plot your purchases for the pricing and timing to fit your program’s needs and budget parameters.

Plan for the unexpected

You can anticipate some price increases each year and build a percentage into your budget to cover those costs. Still, stuff happens. There are unexpected budget cuts, weather emergencies and greater than anticipated price hikes in insurance, gas, fertilizer. You’ll need to plan for some resources to fill as much of the gap as possible. That may require tapping into the long-range planning funds to make sure short-term management needs are fulfilled.

When funding is reduced, maintain basic safety levels on all your fields, always making sure the absolute essentials are covered. Direct a greater portion of your existing resources to the high-profile fields demonstrating that you can produce results with the appropriate funding. You’ll need to establish or retain the degree of confidence in your abilities and your program that will earn greater funding in the future. Scrimp as you must on other lesser used and less visible areas.

Look at the big picture and be aware of what you’re facing. Be prepared to keep your management program on track throughout tight times and crisis situations by acting now to build good rapport with all decision-makers. Keep them informed of what’s happening within your management area. If you’ve been accurate in budget planning, hitting within 1 percent of the total budget year after year, it shows you know what needs to be done and how to accomplish it. Be prepared to use that to prove your expertise, backed by that history.

Richard L. Miller is the lead instructor of the Green Industry Technician program at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, Wis.