Can FY 2011 Budget Be Early?
The city’s fiscal year begins on July 1, but budget adoptions have consistently occurred as late as the third quarter, meaning most of the money has already been spent through temporary or emergency appropriations, and savings can only be eked out in the last quarter of the year.
The process is that department and division heads make known their budget needs early on, and the administration then may modify them. The City Council introduces the budget as presented by the administration, and then may make more changes before adoption.
But then there is the question of extraordinary state aid. The city usually asks for millions of dollars, but may only receive thousands. In the last round, the city requested $3.5 million and received just $250,000. Under Gov. Chris Christie, extraordinary state aid may not even be available as he works to meet a huge state budget gap.
Councilman Adrian Mapp, a certified finance officer with experience in dealing with Trenton, said Monday he strongly recommended not relying on state aid. Mapp said the benefits of early budget adoption “far outweighed” the state aid benefits.
The wait for notice of state aid flies in the face of a state-recommended timeline for budget introduction and adoption.
Although some council members supported early adoption of a “draft” budget, Councilman William Reid is one who wants the budget in place at the beginning of the fiscal year, at least by early September.
Councilman Cory Storch also said he thought there should be a draft budget by early August. As it was this year, the council had just three or four months to deal with budget cuts and Storch said, “That’s a disaster.”
But City Administrator Bibi Taylor said there were documents such as the annual financial statements from city auditors that were necessary before a budget statement could be produced, and also noted that once a budget is adopted, it cannot be amended (thus making the idea of adopting a draft budget unfeasible).
Still, a council majority agreed to urge early adoption, while also noting the lack of a chief finance officer and a finance director are hindering fiscal accountability.
The city has not had a CFO since 2007 and has had many directors of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services in the past four years. Taylor was the last one in 2009, and was to continue to Jan. 31, but no successor has been named.