Sunday, June 28, 2009

Commentary on New Fiscal Year

Random image: Rainy June produced lots of mushrooms.

Soon the new fiscal year will begin and officials will start work on the budget for the year from July 1 to June 30, 2010. The SFY 2009 budget process for the year that ends next week was marred by miscommunications, delays and a $1.7 million error that wasn’t caught by any of the officials who signed off on the official document sent to the state Division of Local Government Services. A Citizens Budget Advisory Committee was highly critical of the administration and the City Council in a public presentation of its findings and recommendations.

Well, there’s always the next time. Council President Rashid Burney is calling for citizens to work on the new budget, which may be introduced as early as August, though an early start is no guarantee of timely passage. The SFY 2009 budget did not see final passage until April and residents were only spared a major tax hike through acceptance of a $2.7 million pension deferral plan.

The normal budget process has been to receive budget requests from department and division heads, which may be modified by the administration before budget introduction. Once the budget is introduced, it becomes the City Council’s budget to refine and amend before a public hearing and final passage.

But the process got a little blurry and amendments were formulated at a meeting where by chance no members of the public were present. Due to complexities with the state budget and other factors, the hand-off to the council was not as clear-cut as it may have been in the past.

In early 2009, with no fulltime finance director, the city brought in two expert advisers to help with the process behind the scenes. The city will enter the new fiscal year lacking a fulltime finance director and a permanent chief financial officer, which may trigger the need for extra help again.

The city only proposed one layoff, for savings of $10,000, in SFY 2009, but may have to join the ranks of municipalities that instituted furloughs, shorter work weeks and sometimes mass layoffs in the face of a general economic crisis.

The realities of the SFY 2010 budget process will be evident soon enough, and now that four of seven City Council members have blogs, residents should be able to follow the issues easily. Perhaps the most important unresolved item from SFY 2009 is establishment of an IT department and Burney has proposed another citizens’ committee to help guide that process.

Whether a resident commits to serving many hours on a special committee or just decides to pay close attention to the SFY budget process, input will be needed as the city makes its way through another challenging year. There may not be another one-shot means of reducing the tax impact and residents may need to declare what services and programs they can live without in the immediate future. Think about it.
--Bernice Paglia


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