City fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee addressed the City Council Monday night urging the mayor to “BE GREEN, Mayor Finch, in more things … especially the “green” $$$$.” Lee’s commentary follows:
The City has many problems as you know. Financial issues loom large in almost everything that crosses your desk. The Charter and Ordinances as well as other external or internal rules govern your financial life, yet they are not always followed. And the public simply does not get the word, which as taxpayers is their due.
Let’s focus on the Charter required monthly financial report. It runs 88 pages or more often. As Mayor Finch indicated in his 2014 address to the BRBC, he is “finding ways to cut government waste.” Will the Council target this report for immediate reform?
• Eliminate ALL Public School budget info except for three or four summary lines that would include: Education (Lines 01800-01899), BOE Food Services (01900), BOE Transportation (01875), and perhaps Debt Service (01940) though this is paid by the City. BOE budget info is available on Public Schools site. This saves 20 pages.
• There are approximately 60 departments with personnel expense. Why not list each DEPARTMENT on one line, use the next five lines to summarize (1) Personal Services, (2) Other Personal Services (3) Fringe Benefits (4) Other Expenses and (5) Special Services? This is the format used in recent years with budget presentations to B&A. During the year Variances will be more easily spotted by everyone and necessary transfers (See City Charter Chapter 9 Section (5i) can be attended to easily.) This format can decrease 50 pages to 8 pages, eliminating special confusion in Police and Fire Department sections. Next to the Department title the number of current FTE as of that month can be reported as it does on the Public Schools site. That is not done today!!!
• A title page that indicates the month and year with a summary of where budgeted and actual stand and what variance is happening along with explanation of variances is necessary. Four to six pages per month total.
• The Revenue reporting pages currently run around 8 pages and are good as they are except for Line Item categories that remain empty all year. Remove these lines as they only fill space. Likewise BOE revenues can be compressed to single lines, where the City contributions of all kinds can be clearly identified. City Grants Managers may be encouraged to produce regular reports of their fiscal efforts like the Public Schools.
• And the simplified report should be made available monthly by the fourth Friday of the following month as called for in the Charter at the City Clerk’s office BUT ALSO PLACED ON THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT City site. Perhaps a Grants report for the City similar to the Public Schools needs to be presented regularly as well. The full report similar to current format needs to be available on the Finance Department site so that line item details eliminated in the Summary (1-5) format can be viewed.
More, better, and faster, the marks of the global economy!!! In summary City fiscal reporting can be reduced to about 21 pages a savings of printing and paper by 75%. The Council and public can better see what is happening by reading notes and observing variances in a format that will allow them to monitor the report monthly as their Agenda declares. And trees can be saved. Win, win, wins would seem in order. What will you call for? Time will tell.