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Our Opinion: "Parking lots,' "pink sheets' and budget priorities

Our Opinion: "Parking lots,' "pink sheets' and budget priorities

July 23rd, 2013 in News

Figuratively speaking, we support resurfacing the budget "parking lot" at City Hall this year.

The parking lot is the term for the area where City Council members park their budget ideas not previously included in budgets proposed by the mayor or city administrator.

When council members begin budget discussions next week, Budget Committee Chairman and 2nd Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte will request any proposed new expenses be accompanied by an "offsetting credit" elsewhere in the budget.

Schulte reasoned that council members "ought to have an idea where we're going to get the money from. (Otherwise) we could end up with a mess at the end."

We agree.

Ideas for spending money abound.

But spending is only half the budget equation.

Good governing requires establishing priorities. If an initiative deserves to be funded, where in the budget will equivalent spending be reduced or eliminated?

Other budget procedures - including some prompted by the city's reaction to a $1.68 million shortfall this year - include:

• Return of what the city refers to as "pink sheets," requests from department directors that may or may not be included in budget proposals. We believe the pink sheets help council members understand what the agencies are requesting, and why.

• Inclusion of actual budget numbers from the previous five years, as well as year-to-date information. This is a common-sense change from past procedures of looking only at budgeted numbers, which is the equivalent of guesswork based on past guesswork.

At some point, city officials also will need to discuss appropriate long-term staffing levels. Our readers will recall that decisions not to fill some vacancies - including department directors - and an early retirement program helped the city rebound from the budget shortfall.

Mayor Eric Struemph proposed budgeting for a full-time finance director, which we support, but city officials also must decide whether other positions must be filled quickly, eventually or not at all.

A conversation on staffing levels may be relegated to the parking lot during budget discussions.

In the interest of long-term budget stability, however, we caution city officials not to leave the issue stalled indefinitely.