Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Budget Process

Over this past week I have been sitting in with the Mayor to hear the department heads present their proposed budget needs for 2012. So far, I’ve been the only Mayoral Candidate who has been in attendance (of the 3 Alderman who have access to these meetings) to get a head start on what we will be faced with in October. Last year I sat through this process which was important in order to have a full grasp of the needs for each department. This year is the first time that we will have a 2% tax cap in place which will make this budget nearly impossible to meet without deep cuts or sacrifices.

Health insurance costs, pension, retirements, raises, and other contractual obligations are going to push us over the edge and I am wondering how we are going to survive without significant changes. The mayor has already hinted that he is considering taking trash removal out of the budget in order to balance things out. This coming Monday I will be there to hear the DPW’s budget request and it will be interesting. One of the other candidates is boasting that his cuts will lower our taxes however some of those cuts are impossible to achieve. It is written in the Charter that we must have an Economic Development office yet this candidate’s proposal is to eliminate it. Our annual audit is a key component as well as a requirement which is also included in his cuts along with the elimination of a central purchasing agent. My point is this, running a City and working within a budget is not as easy one thinks and cuts just can’t be made without repercussions. Instead we need to evaluate each department and its way of doing business to find ways to be more efficient. If we hiring a consultant to do the job that should be covered with staff then perhaps it is time to either hire someone who is qualified, or allow a consultant to do it (without paying the benefits, insurance, etc.). Each year we pay consultant’s fees when we also have employees who should be capable of these responsibilities. (Waste Treatment Plant is one example, and the Assessor’s office is another) It is in these areas we need to focus our attention in order to cut our budget. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the astronomical amount of money we pay outside attorneys to fight our union grievances and tax assessment court cases when we already have two Corporation Counsel representatives for the City.

Let’s look at the bigger picture here; we must have cooperation with staff, the unions, and our constituents in order for us to get through this economic tsunami.

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