By: Diane Benjamin
Since Alderman Hauman’s citizen budget group hasn’t been allowed to discuss their findings at a Council meeting, I want you to see their work.
(moving the library and a Welcoming Ordinance for illegals are evidently more important)
The group started with the items discussed at the November retreat. The retreat was the first time actual budget cuts have been discussed, David Hales went straight to public safety for cuts because he knew they would never happen and he would get what he wanted through tax increases. Of course, maybe that’s what he was told to do. We will never know.
See the findings here: Budget Group Summary Final
More is included in their report than is listed below.
Budget Considerations – Detail We consider the approach in the recent budget presentation by Steve Rasmussen to be in the right direction. The Council and staff need to continue to partner to identify and evaluate potential cost saving measures. The following are additional budget considerations beyond those already discussed publicly, some organizational considerations that the team believes will improve fiscal responsibility, and our evaluation of the 13 items identified by council at the November budget retreat.
Recommended Budget Considerations Beyond the 13 items identified by the Council, we request that Council and staff also consider the following.
Grossinger Arena: Investigate expanding the ice center, since that is a program which breaks even and is in high demand. If the facility is to remain heavily funded by taxpayers, increase its availability for use with community programs (e.g., farmer’s market, West Bloomington Revitalization Program, conferences, graduations).
Salaries/Benefits: It is unsustainable to provide a 2-3% increase in employee salaries, since cost of living has increased on average only 1% since 2009. Also, we recommend the city evaluate whether health care benefits are aligned with other public and private plans. Address pension spiking as soon as possible.
Enforcement of Developer Ordinances: Chapter 24 ordinances set requirements for suburban developers. Fees are not being billed at the maximum allowable level. Council should empower Public Works to start holding developers accountable.
SOAR: Investigate if the program can be transferred to a private agency that serves people with disabilities.
Organizational Considerations Beyond specific budget items, the team also reflected on some organizational changes which could encourage fiscal responsibility.
Reporting: Prioritize ongoing efforts to revisit department metrics to ensure they are based on outcomes, not activity. Link outcomes to the community benefit that drives government involvement. Make these metrics more accessible to the Council and public. In monthly department reports, include actual expenditures and revenue compared to budget, with explanation of deviations. To the degree to which this is currently done, increase transparency to the Council and the public. Reports should also include any significant ad hoc projects requested by council and citizens. Set expectations for when financial statements will be released. There is a pattern of these being provided late in recent years. Identify dedicated revenue sources for each program. The revenue and expenses for functions paid for out of the General Fund should be clearly tracked over time to show the net balance, which will promote long-term accountability.
Council Materials: Direct staff more frequently to present multiple (2-3) options to Council instead of only the recommended option. This reflects that the Council cannot be expected to have strong technical expertise in all subjects presented, and as such benefit from staff’s evaluation of an array of possible options. Also, consider a different approach to Council materials which would encourage focusing on the most pertinent topics; the length and organization of the current material can make it challenging for council members and the public to consume.
Increased Community Involvement: For special projects, make more of an effort to find qualified community volunteers, including university staff and students, prior to hiring consultants (especially out-of-town consultants). Developing the downtown signage is one recent example.
City Manager: Hire Mr. Rasmussen as City Manager as soon as possible. He has shown himself willing and able to drive out the accountability described above. With a qualified internal candidate, a search is likely to be a wasted expense.