Inside Stories

Budget Meeting Recap: June 20, 2023

Strange night.

1. Should We Even Be Having This Meeting?

Things got off to a rocky start when it was revealed that the Manager’s Office provided the Council with 50 pages of corrections to the budget just minutes before the meeting began. A visibly frustrated Councilor Gitschier took exception with the last minute changes and sought an opinion from Corey Williams, the City Solicitor, as to whether proceeding would violate the open meeting law. Attorney Williams opined, in essence, that because the “bottom line” figures were the same, there is no violation of law.

Manager Golden explained that there were some technical issues when transferring data from Excel spreadsheets to the Word document that would eventually be published. The Manager also cited the recent “cyber incident” and rush to complete the full budget by June 6th as contributing causes.

This is understandable – up to June 6th. What’s less clear is why it took until June 20th at 6:30 p.m. to hand out the corrections. I can’t help but notice that late last week, Councilor Gitschier started point out errors in the budget on his social media:

Did these posts set off a scramble to make corrections in the Manager’s Office? As a citizen, shouldn’t we be allowed to see what the changes are before the budget is debated? As of this morning, I still don’t see this information on the City’s website. Ultimately, a motion to continue the meeting failed by a vote of 9-2 with only Councilors Gitschier and Jenness voting in favor. I guess I’ll have to take everyone’s word that the changes are no big deal and/or none of my business.

2. Parking Rates Still A Work In Progress

I’m tired of writing about parking rates. Moreover, I’m tired of people bitching about parking rates. To be fair and less Wednesday morning cranky, it would be nice to hear more detail as to how we arrived at the proposed changes to the parking rates:

Why are older persons getting hit harder than others on a percentage basis?  Why are the on-street rates so close to the hourly garage rates? Who can we yell at for all the dogshit decisions on parking garage construction? All good questions. The matter was referred back to the finance subcommittee for more discussion.

However, now would be a decent time to point out what I see as a certain type of martyrdom every time a Downtown resident steps to the microphone. Did I miss something? Did we institute a draft where people were forced to live in an urban environment in exchange for a lifetime of static parking prices? I get that it sucks to pay for parking, and forego other conveniences, but that’s kind of the deal, no?

3. Trust Us, It’s A Good Budget

The budget meeting is (usually) special, in that citizens get a chance to see and hear from almost all of the department heads at one time. It’s a great opportunity to see how the sausage is made in municipal government.  Usually, the budget is presented department-by-department and councilors have an opportunity to ask the department head specific questions about their monetary “asks” from the taxpayer. This can create an interesting dynamic and expose philosophical differences as to how a Plan E government should operate.

Point: A full examination of each department’s operations is essential to an open government and a civically educated populace. The City Council are trustees of taxpayer money and each department head should be called upon to defend each and every dollar they have asked for. Further, at the end of each and every year there are line items that are left unspent. The council should, nay, must identify these inefficiencies and eliminate them from the bottom line.

Counter-Point: Ryan, you ignorant slut. What do you or any Councilor know about the operations of, say, the Auditor’s Office? Calling out line items is mostly political theater, designed to provide cover for your non-stop calls for services that would logically hit the taxpayer in the wallet.

Further, shouldn’t we “let the Manager manage” under Plan E? Indeed, the management philosophy was spelled out pretty clearly in the letter attached to the FY24 Capital Plan Loan Order:

[I]t my intent and philosophy to empower the various department heads in the City. My finance team asked the various departments to update their list of priorities based on the aforementioned criteria. The department heads are the most knowledgeable in their particular area and are best suited to decide what infrastructure and equipment needs associated with their department are most vital to helping the city thrive. [emphasis added]

The Point/Counterpoint was played out – for a period – last night. We got through a few departments with a few pointed questions from Councilors – mostly Councilor Gitschier. However, about 2 and a half hours into the substantive meeting, Councilor Mercier decided that she’d heard enough and moved to adopt the bottom line of the budget without any additional cuts.

Councilor Mercier adopted the “let the manager and department heads manage” philosophy. Councilor Robinson cited the “Point” Argument, above, and called for more transparency and accountability from the department heads. Councilor Drinkwater cited the benefits of passing a budget in this manner (ie: not pinching every penny) in that it provides the City some flexibility in the coming year. The remaining Councilors who spoke on the budget expressed general satisfaction and there we have it.

4. The Rest

As I said, strange meeting. I’m still processing it.

4 responses to “Budget Meeting Recap: June 20, 2023”

  1. Ed Cawley says:

    Paying for parking Downtown is all part of the “Urban Experience” people were saying is so important for people to soak in.

  2. Peter richards says:

    As a downtown resident I understand I need to pay for parking and costs go up. However, can the reasoning behind asking a 62-64 year old to give up a discount they already have and see an increase of around $50 be explained?

  3. Bach says:

    Because no one asked, here’s how I would do the budget: Manager starts with a target amount for total budget and allocation for each dept. Dept heads submit budgets. Managers team presents to finance committee where stuff gets hammered out. Finance Com approves the draft. Draft is discussed publicly in front of committee. They go back maybe make changes maybe don’t. Present to Council for yay or nay.

  4. Robert Casey says:

    Re: parking. Do a little more homework, Ryan! The steep senior increase is only for 62-64 year olds; the rest of senior/disabled got a CPI range increase. You’ll not figure how how we got here with the questions you posed. Perhaps, you suffer City Council amnesia too. In brief, a recent CC gave away the rights to the (ugly, massive, poorly sited) garage that now sits smack in front of the Courthouse. All of that revenue goes in a private developer’s pockets. Then, in another lapse of judgment, the CC approved yet another new garage that sits within steps away from of the Courthouse garage. The empty, unneeded new garage is the main source of the revenue shortfall. I’m glad this CC sent it back for study. Expecting DTL residents and workers to pay for this mess is bad business.

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