Monday, September 20, 2010

BUDGET BUDGING: Council members try to shift city priorities

Final part of a series on the Columbia city budget
COLUMBIA, 9/20/10  (Beat Byte) --  The Columbia City Council tonight will vote to finalize a budget that became a maze of untenable choices.
Presented with city manager Bill Watkins' plan to cut firefighters in the chronically-underserved First Ward, Council members are instead cutting the budgets of several volunteer citizen commissions, including themselves. 
The choices remind of the 2008 sewer bond issue -- and myriad decisions before it that follow the same playbook.   Then, the city manager presented Council members with outlandish sewer rate hikes of roughly 450% over three years OR a $77 million bond.  As we're now learning, the bond will mean much higher rates -- just not as untenable as 450%. 
Though the end result of the Council cutting its own budget could be more power to the city manager, the move could equally well build moral authority for Council members who come into their volunteer elected positions intrinsically disadvantaged.
They get no pay, no staff, and no time relative to the well-paid, well-staffed city administrators they supposedly govern.  Council members also get most of the blame when things go wrong, and little credit when things go right. 
First indicators are promising:  If all goes according to the agenda, the firefighters are back in business and the police department gets an extra hand.   Council members will also reduce administrator travel and auto allowances, sharing the pain with the paid mucky mucks.  Good for them. 
The other cuts, listed here, are a mixed bag: more General Fund reductions; different Fire Department cuts; training budget cuts; a reduction in the Council printing budget (hopefully offset by digital technology). 
None of the numbers involve money in the millions:  Our Council members are still thousandaires when it comes to having real say over city money.
But it's a start that follows the city manager's own advice: the Council is trying to make the budget their own.   

No comments:

Post a Comment