City Must Make Steps Toward A Balanced Budget

Doug Champ, a city resident and retired Board of Public Utilities employee, made a good point recently about the City Charter’s requirements of the mayor’s yearly budget proposal.

The charter, as amended in 2006, stipulates the budget proposed by the mayor “shall be balanced in that total estimated expenditures do not exceed total estimated revenues.” That has not been the case the past two years, when the budget presented by Mayor Sam Teresi has proposed deficits of $878,736 in 2016 and $946,679 in 2017.

There are two ways of looking at this situation.

The first is that the mayor has been derelict in his duties by not balancing the budget before it is delivered to the council each October. What the charter seems to require is that the actions needed to balance the budget should be finalized by October each year rather than December, as was the case last year, or Nov. 27, as was the case this year. The logic would be that, with the budget balanced upon delivery, the council can then make adjustments based upon the input they receive during the several weeks of budget hearings held in October and November.

The second avenue is the one Teresi has chosen the past two years. Teresi has been transparent about the nature of the city’s budget problems and the solutions he is seeking from the outset. The public has been told from the outset that the budget is out of balance, that the city will spend time finding revenue — in both instances, from the state — to balance the budget and then pass a balanced spending plan at the end of the process. It isn’t the process outlined in the charter, but it is at the least transparent about the city’s challenges.

City officials shouldn’t make a habit of bucking the charter. In this case, one can make the argument they have done the right thing. It would be easy to follow the charter and propose a budget with spending cuts that can’t be achieved and increasing revenues to levels that will never be realized. The budget meets the charter stipulation to be balanced when it is delivered to the City Council, but is out of whack by the following July. Such a budget isn’t worth the paper upon which it is printed.

Proposing an unbalanced budget and violating the charter is minor compared to Champ’s bigger point when he told the council, “We’re looking at economics that don’t add up.” It is time for the city to begin making the types of changes that make the economics add up.