City budget discussions to go on the road

DeWayne Bartels
Fifth District councilman Pat Nichting, left, goes over preliminary budget numbers with city budget director Jim Scroggins prior to last night's budget discussion.

City budget discussions can be dry. But, that is not stopping city hall from taking its efforts at crafting a budget on the road.

The idea arose early on in last night’s budget meeting when interim city manager Henry Hollings brought it up.

Hollings said in the past the city has waited for public input on what should be in the budget at the end of the process in December. He suggested it come much earlier in the process.

The idea met with council favor.

“We’re willing to put in the time to make sure people get to talk to you at the proper time, rather than at the end,” Pat Landes, director of the city’s planning and growth management department, said.

At-large councilman George Jacob said he liked the idea.

“I think it’s an intriguing idea to take it to the public,” he said.

“Letting people weigh in makes sense.”

Mayor Jim Ardis concurred.

“We may get 10 people. We may get 100 people,” Ardis said.

Jacob, at the meeting’s conclusion, said the feedback he has been getting from constituents is that they want to understand the budget process, but do not.

The budget’s priorities, he said, should come from the public, but cannot if the public does not understand the process.

The information the council received on the budget is very preliminary at this point.

The city’s budget numbers are not completely good or bad, according to budget director Jim Scroggins.

Scroggins said one positive note is the fact the city’s fund balance — basically a rainy day fund — has risen from $19 million to $28 million in the past four years.

“That’s quite a feather in our cap,” Scroggins said.

He added that sales tax revenues, so far this year, are higher than anticipated.

But, that good news was tempered by his observation that expenses are growing faster than revenues.

“We’re not keeping up,” Scroggins told the council.

At the next budget meeting, scheduled for 6:15 p.m. July 29, the topic will be the capital improvement project budget.

Public works director David Barber said he wants to discuss where already approved projects stand and how money devoted to them might be re-appropriated.

Barber said the council needs to discuss the wisdom of partially funding projects and letting them sit idle.

Barber said he would also like to talk about moving the city’s bidding process to earlier in the year.

“I think there’s a lot for us to talk about next time,” Barber said.