Politics add a new dimension to the budget process and while there is no way to exclude agendas, I think there is a better way to expose the consequences. Generally, City Council members do not look at the city’s finances with the same practical mindset that they use with their household or business. I think that the city could do a better job of laying out the expenses that are required for the city to meet its obligations, and how they grow if pushed off. I think the city should not be looking at only the next year’s budget but look at it as part of the process of providing the city with its ongoing needs. A five-year projection, as is done for the infrastructure, needs to be implemented for the General Fund, the city’s operating budget.
The City Council currently produces a five-year budget for infrastructure that shows not only what the proposed budget will be for the upcoming year, but also for the projects that need to be completed to keep the City on track. This year, the process has shown that the city needs to spend $1.5 million-$2 million per year MORE than it is spending, due to the city pushing these necessary expenses into the future.
However, this process isn’t done for the General Fund. The City Council should currently be looking at a five-year projection to show what future annual budgets will look like to meet the city’s needs. When looking at the present year’s budget, it is obvious what expenses are met, but it does not show what necessary expenses were not met, but must be met in future budgets. For instance, the lifeguards need more coverage and we’ve recently learned that City staff has 80 computers still running on Windows XP which is no longer a supported software. These are examples that need to be rectified in coming years but are not recorded in five-year projections.
The point here is that the City Council goes through the budget process considering only next year’s budget. They ought to specifically know what expenses are being met and what expenses will come up in the future, putting additional pressure on next year’s budget process. Once the needs are exposed, it will be much more obvious what plans can be made to meet them. Looking at expenses one year at a time does not show the City Council the full picture.