The Winder City Council did the right thing last week when it held a real public hearing on the town’s FY2010 budget. It was reportedly the first time in many years that the council had faced the public during its budget process.
There are two intertwined aspects to any government budget system: First, there is the procedure used to set and approve a budget; second, there is the financial substance of the budget itself.
For some reason, Winder had fallen out of step over the years with its budget procedures. The city council had become disengaged from its own budget, acting only to approve what was presented with little public discussion and without following state law.
Even more troubling, the public had become removed from having input into the city budget. While many towns hold multiple public hearings on their budgets with the council and citizens, Winder had stopped doing that, relying only on staff reports.
But it’s important for the full city council and citizens to have the opportunity to weigh in on budget decisions, especially now when the city may face tough choices about budget priorities during these difficult economic times. If nothing else, direct public and council involvement helps to lay the groundwork if additional cuts are needed.
As for the budget’s substance, the Winder’s proposed FY2010 budget appears to be reasonable and a conservative projection of revenues for the coming year. Nobody knows exactly what the economy will do in the next 12 months, but it’s necessary to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
The one area of Winder’s budget that will require an ongoing look in the coming months is the city’s heavy reliance on utility revenues to supplement general city operations. During boom times, that system works; but during a drought and slower growth, the city’s revenues take a hard hit from the downturn in utility income.
Time will tell if the FY2010 city budget is accurate, but at least the city has taken a giant step toward greater openness in its budgeting process.