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How to Write a Staff Report

Some basics

  • Use simple sentence structure; avoid long, complicated sentences.
  • Write for the comprehension of the general public. While the City Council may understand the ‘government lingo,’ it is unfamiliar to most of the public.

The elements of a staff report

  • TOPIC: Use laymen’s terms to describe the topic of the report. For example, what might a newspaper headline read or how you might describe the subject matter to a fifth grader.
  • SUBJECT: Describe the action and subject of the report. If the action is to approve a contract, include the amount.
  • RECOMMENDATION: Provide actual wording staff desires the Council to use in taking action on an item.  If more than one action, list each.
  • EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: If the report is lengthy (5+ pages), please include a high level summary of what the report is about.
  • BACKGROUND: This section sets the stage for the report. If there has been a series of events leading to this point, a brief chronology should be provided. This section should identify any outstanding issues; if there is a provision of law, rule, policy, previous City Council or Manager directive that is applicable, it should be noted in this section. Reference any related programs or policies from the General Plan or other adopted plans or strategic documents.
  • ANALYSIS: A brief analysis of the situation should be provided, focusing on findings and justification of the recommendation(s). The analysis should logically flow from the background section. If there is an agreement, Ordinance, or Resolution to be adopted, the key features should be noted or explained. Include the pros and cons to various options. This section should also discuss the consistency or inconsistency with any adopted programs or policies.
  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH: Describe outreach activities (community workshops, required noticing, social media) conducted and summarize any feedback received from stakeholders/public. If the matter did not require outreach, do not include this section.
  • FISCAL IMPACT: If there is a cost or revenue to the recommended action, so note.  If the money was included in the current year’s budget or requires an additional appropriation, so note.  Identify the fund or revenue source.  If there is no fiscal impact, so note.
  • OPTIONS: List alternatives to the recommended action and impact of each.  Present a brief explanation of why the recommended action was chosen over any of the available alternatives; indicate alternatives that have staff support.
  • ATTACHMENTS: Attach any relevant documents such as resolutions, professional service agreements, correspondence (letters, emails, petitions), maps, etc. Make sure each attachment is labeled correctly.

Community Outreach / Correspondence

Describe any outreach conducted and include a summary of the results. In addition, include any notable correspondence received. If including correspondence from private individuals, be sure to redact any personal information such as home addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Fiscal impact

An appropriation is an authority to spend. The funding source of an appropriation can be:

  1. New revenues
  2. Existing, unappropriated (and,therefore, available) revenues
  3. Available fund balance

For items that clearly have no fiscal impact (e.g., informational reports, recognition, street closures, etc.), say “There is no fiscal impact associated with this action.”

For items with a fiscal impact, consider and include the following information:

  1. Are funds already appropriated for this proposed expenditure? (Has this expenditure been provided for in the current operating budget, or carried over from a prior budget or CIP project?)
    • If yes, say: “Funds have been appropriated in the {Name} Fund for this {contract/expenditure}.” If there are multiple funding sources, please refer to each funding source by fund name (including department, if general fund), and provide the allocation of costs to each source. If funds have been appropriated, but the funding source is being changed, consult Finance regarding the transfer of budget authority. (This may require a Council action, depending upon the nature of the transfer.)
    • If no, say: “Funds are available in and will be appropriated in the {Name} fund for this proposed {contract/expenditure}.” If multiple funding sources, refer to each funding source (by fund name), and provide the dollar amount of appropriations associated with each source.
  2. The spending of funds not already appropriated requires language in the Council resolution authorizing the appropriation of funds.
  3. The appropriation should include all costs (e.g., sales tax, reimbursables, contingency, etc.) associated with the contract, expenditure or project.
Already Appropriated Needs to be Appropriated
Fiscal Impact There are sufficient funds in the {Name} fund to support this purchase / contract / expenditure. Funds for this purchase / contract / expenditure are being appropriated from the {Name} fund.
Resolution Restate in one of the “WHEREAS” clauses. Include in a “NOW, THEREFORE” clause.
Examples A new contract that will be funded via existing appropriations, therefore only contracting authority is needed.
  • Appropriation of grant funds
  • Proposed use of new revenues
  • Mid-year changes to authority needed for new programs or projects.
  • Unanticipated needs within existing programs or projects.

 

More tips

  • If you use technical terms, provide an explanation.
  • Do not cut and paste from old staff reports; it can lead to mistakes.
  • Know what’s important and what’s not. If it’s not important – maybe it shouldn’t be in there! If it’s important – explain why we care.
  • Don’t use City or departmental jargon that the public won’t understand.
  • Explain all acronyms.
  • Double-check all dates and numbers.
  • Avoid using terms like “staff feels” or “staff believes.” Use terms such as “finds,” “determined, “concludes,” and “recommends.”
  • Use bullets and tables to break up large amounts of text.
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