Our Opinion: Budgetary ‘Main Event’ will test City Council

For members of the Jefferson City Council, what might be dubbed “The Main Event” is about to begin.

The city’s 10-member governing body tonight begins the process of hammering out a budget.

The process this year will be a challenging task, not a perfunctory routine.

Why?

• Less revenue is anticipated. Both City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus and Mayor Eric Struemph have proposed budgets that projected revenues at $28 million, about a $5 million decline from last year. As 5th Ward Councilman Ralph Bray pointed out: “Every dollar is important.”

• The return of “pink sheets” will show the priorities established by city department directors. Council members must decide which, if any, of those individual priorities also are citywide priorities that merit a place in the budget.

• Choosing a priority won’t be enough. Council members this year have been asked to offset each budget addition with a corresponding budget cut. First Ward Councilman James Branch said: “It’s almost to the point where in order to fund something, you have to cut something.” His statement might be more accurate without the “almost.”

• Staffing issues lurk in the shadows of budget talks and likely will intercede. The city now has a number of vacancies — including department directors — resulting from past budget-balancing measures. At what point, if at all, does the city fill those vacancies? Fourth Ward Councilman Carlos Graham said: “We need to have some solid plan in place to move forward.”

We have criticized actions by city officials when we believe it is warranted, but that doesn’t diminish our respect and appreciation for their service.

As council members begin the budget process, we applaud them for the time, energy and effort they devote on behalf of city residents.

Crafting this budget will be demanding. The proposals advanced by the city administrator and mayor required close scrutiny and difficult choices.

Each council member will face that level of intensity — and more.

The first order of business will be arriving at a consensus revenue estimate. Let “The Main Event” begin.

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