Some people look at a mirror and like what they see. Others, not so much. Addressing the budget process, citizen fiscal reflector John Marshall Lee asked the City Council Monday night “Did you look at yourself in the mirror?” From Lee:
Is the budget process complete for 2017? Or are you waiting for shoes to drop in Hartford to see the effect on City funding? What words do you have for parents and youth regarding dollars for education? Are schools a Council priority?
How do you feel about this process personally, especially the five new members of the Budget & Appropriations team? Were you to choose a grade for results, what do you deserve? How about a grade for effort?
· Would your work have been easier if the material delivered to you had been in better form? Comparing 2017 proposed to past years, did you receive enough info to be sure about employment positions in the City and whether they were filled or not? What about positions titles and responsibilities?
· How did you handle the massive Police Department budget that proposed to spend $106 Million and according to the chart had 487 filled positions and 17 vacant? The material missed data for Narcotics and Vice and ignored totals ten divisions. How can you work with such information?
· Did you use service indicators that are used week in and week out by department managers? Perhaps if they were provided by each department, regularly throughout the year rather than just once per year, you would see trends that help you in your search for effective and efficient process? Metrics are important in oversight.
· The FINAL June 2015 Monthly Financial report still has not been provided to you. Who will ask? If it had been presented to you in the form of the last two years, you would have had full detail that you later receive in the Appropriations Supplement, but you would have seen it months earlier normally and had a better idea of trends than just the one year actual history with the budget. Remember out of the last 25 years we have been shown only two such reports as final and audited, 2013 and 2014.
· How helpful did you find the professional budget advisor you hired? Should he have been here earlier? Assuring that the data form you would receive was accurate and complete? Will you let him put you on a better footing for next year? Perhaps you can use the “Other Services” line item for a lesson or two on what is needed by your Council and Committee to more ably serve as public watchdogs and trustees of City land, property and funds each month? What advice does he have for you from a fiscal analysis viewpoint? Do you have a five-year funding plan for the City? Does the City? Why not develop one so that you see what kicking ‘expenses into the future’ is doing to the City? After all he has informed you the administration perspective and that of the legislative body, the City Council, are different.
· Capital budgeting was conducted but little if anything was heard from the public. Did you invite them or just post a legal notice? Did you “solicit” ideas from the community as the words in the Charter instruct? If a constituent asks you about Capital budgets, what can you tell them or better yet, show them? How about a simple report identifying the many current Capital projects, from various departments that have been approved, authorized and actually funded over five-year moving periods? There is no such document today, is there? Would it make sense? Is money ever left over? Are projects left incomplete at the end of five years?
· Everyone talks about cost cutting but where was this done this year? Relative to employment, if the same number of people is being paid eight months into the current fiscal year as before, where is the cost cutting? And if charts or tables of organization are not available to you or the taxpayer, what level of transparency and open governance is represented? How many City side employees are supported with grant funds either fully or partially? Where is grants info shown in the budget data presented to you? Should it be?
· Did you look at yourself in the mirror? At your own Legislative budget? Other Services budgeted at $90,000 year in and year out goes 70-80% unspent. Why? If it is so, why not cut out that budget item? It is a genuine “ghost expense,” isn’t it?
Would there have been a different result this year had you been monitoring a monthly financial report that provided actual current employment info in each department? Ask for what you need? Keep improving your skills as a goalie, rather than cooperating in kicking the ball downfield. Time will tell.