Budget Workshop thoughts

The budget veterans are P.C. Wu, John Jerralds, Ronald Townsend and Sam Hall. For Maren DeWeese, Larry Johnson and Megan Pratt, this is only their third budget which they will approve, amend or disapprove. For Brian Spencer and Sherri Myers, this is their first budget. The inexperience showed today. A lot of time was spent asking basic questions about policy and city operations. Very few of those questions came from the veterans -Wu, Jerralds, Townsend and Hall.

It is no coincidence that the more experienced council members bailed early today. They have few issues with the budget or the mayor’s vision.

For a rookie council member, you have to admire Sherri Myer’s candor and directness. She made it very clear that she would not support any ESP rate increase and shared with the council her personal story of how her mother struggled to get the house heated when she was a child. Myer’s is loud and, at times, comes across abrasive and angry, but her motives are straight-forward. I got no sense that she is playing politics and asking questions to simply set up some other political ploy later.

The only thing I saw lacking in her stand was she didn’t offer an alternative for paying for capital improvements. It was unclear whether she wanted to forgo them another year, take monies out of reserves or decrease the funds ESP transfers to the General Fund.

There does seem to be confusion over ESP rates and the millage rate. One council member-I can’t remember who-said that it was intellectually dishonest to lower property taxes and raise ESP rates. An absurd statement. ESP is an enterprise fund. Its rates have nothing to do with property taxes or the General Fund. Mayor Hayward isn’t raising ESP rates to increase the transfer to the City’s General Fund.

I chalk that statement to more inexperience on the council’s part. Some of them don’t understand the difference between property taxes and utility rates.

Few decisions were made today. The straw polls on the department budgets were introduced into the process after some of the members had left. BTW, straw polls have no legal standing, any more than the Iowa straw poll. I can’t remember any prior council using them as a way to decide the budget or any council policy.

The City Council didn’t seem willing to confront the Chief of Staff over the Mayor’s proposed reorganization. I wish they would have openly discussed it today and let everybody weigh on it, not just Pratt and Deweese.

So after a full day, little was really accomplished, except the council can check the box that it held a workshop. The more difficult discussions and votes have been kicked forward to another day….in the tradition of past city councils.