The City Council
Let's go back to the budget cycle. Remember this:
"(Mayor Dan Mylott is) holding everyone hostage, but we are not willing to back down to threats this year," Councilor Jody Joseph said about the budget.
"I thought we made a mistake, and last year we should have sent it back," Councilor Stephan Hay said.
“The councilors that’ve been here for a while are as frustrated as they’ve ever been,” Councilor Thomas Donnelly said.
So, what happened? They backed down, they made the same mistake as last year, and they may or not still be frustrated.
The city announced this week free cash is short of expectations, and cuts are possible. While many knives have been sharpened for Mylott (see yesterday's post and comments), I still can't get over the City Council.
The council all but declared it was going to give the mayor's budget the big workover. The one budget power the council has is to cut budget items. It can look at the revenue projections and make cuts to fit priorities and the numbers.
Yes, state aid was bigger than last year and the city is cash-strapped. At this point, when basic services are flimsy, why save money? But the council was lured/forced/brainwashed into painting too thin a line between OK and out of balance.
The unanswered question: What changed the council's mind? Peace and goodwill? Some facet of the budget that they thought everything would be OK? Heated rhetoric gave way to slim cuts and the current situation.
So, now what? In the end, the amount of money we're talking here (less than $300,000) is small potatoes. The city should encourage department heads to keep a tight leash on spending and hope savings are realized between now and the end of the calendar year, which would be a good time to reassess the situation and then move forward. Chances are the money will be found to fill in the gap.
Beyond that, the City Council needs to figure out what its role is in the budget process, and how to best handle the budget next year. It could be interesting, if Mylott is running again and councilors are running against him. But this spring looked interesting, too, until the council backed off. The council needs to decide how tough it can and wants to be, and it has to commit to sticking by its guns. It rolled over in the spring, and the city lost.
Every so often, we stumble on an issue that put in the "don't forget this come campaign season" category. The $100,000 reduction in school spending by the city (that was eventually remedied) is one of those areas that we particularly remember for the mayor. This tough-then-soft budget stance will be remembered next year for the council.