Saturday, April 5, 2014

City budget time: Hearing & presentation Monday, April 7

City Manager Brian Kenner has released his proposed FY15 Takoma Park city budget, posted online. Your comment is invited at a public hearing, Monday, April 7, at 7 pm at the community center. The hearing provides a special opportunity to communicate your thoughts, focused on the year ahead, regarding city services and programs, taxes and fees, and the budget process itself.

Following the 7 pm public hearing, at approximately 8 pm, the city manager is slated to present his proposed budget.

Notes on the FY 15 Budget

The city manager's FY15 budget would hold the city's property-tax rate at 57 cents per $100 assessed value, same as for FY14.

And yes, it includes design and site prep for a new dog park, new Colby Park (Ward 2) and Sligo Mill Overlook Park (Ward 3) playgrounds, and new sidewalk construction to include the Pinecrest neighborhood and Boyd and Elm Avenues (Wards 2 and 3).

Kay Daniels-Cohen was impatient to see the dog park, playgrounds, and sidewalks become reality, as they will in the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.

Revenues, Expenditures, and Process

The FY15 proposed budget document is 200 pages in length, a lot to take in.

There will be multiple opportunities for public comment, in April and May. The council will hold the first of several budget worksession discussions on Thursday, April 10. The schedule of sessions is given in the city's Rolling Agenda. Additional public hearings are scheduled for April 28, and there are specific opportunities for comment at the May 12 and May 19 council meetings, when the council is slated to vote on the FY15 budget. Of course, you may comment at any council meeting, or relay your testimony to the council by e-mail to clerk@takomaparkmd.gov, and I'd be happy to discuss your concerns: sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225.

The city manager writes, regarding his proposed budget, "the total operating budget for all funds for FY15 is $26.6 million, a decrease of 1.3% from last year... The FY15 revenue budget is 5.3% higher than the FY14 revenue budget at $25.8 million," due primarily, I believe, to special grant funding.

"Total personnel costs are estimated to increase by 3% from FY14. The majority of this increase is due to growth in health care, benefit, and workers compensation costs. In addition, there is a small increase in staffing proposed from FY14 to FY15 of roughly 2.8 FTEs [full-time equivalent staff], however as in previous years, we have been careful to keep ongoing expenses funded by ongoing revenue."

Programs Versus Administration

I'll conclude by stressing that budgeting for the fiscal year is a process that starts well in advance of the release of the proposed budget. This year's budget is City Manager Brian Kenner's first -- the council's confidence in his budget-related competence was a key reason we offered him the job -- and Brian has taken helpful steps to improve the process.

This go-around, prompted by councilmembers' desire for advance discussion of program proposals, council and staff held two "retreats," public, off-site discussion meetings, and Brian organized two nights of council-staff "roundtable" exchanges, at the community center and televised. (Added April 7:) Brian and Deputy City Manager Suzanne Ludlow additionally met, one-on-one, with each council member, to discuss priorities city-wide and for the councilmember's ward.

We can always improve. I'm disappointed that the city manager has shifted Housing and Community Development (HCD) staff from program categories to a catch-all Administration category -- my council colleague Tim Male pointed this out to me, in the FY15 proposed budget -- just as last year Recreation staff were shifted from program break-outs to Administration.

I believe other council members also prefer the clarity provided by allocating staff expense to programs. Considering HCD, for instance, it's hard to know the cost of code enforcement, planning, economic development, landlord-tenant matters including rent stabilization, etc., when the salaries are placed under Administration.

In the course of our hiring a new city manager, last year's push-back got lost. We'll have to try again. Do you agree regarding allocating staff positions, and what other thoughts do you have about the city's FY15 budget? Please let the council know, at the April 7 public hearing or on another occasion soon.

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