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March 24, 2003

City Hall Rancor Absent From Budget Process - So Far

David 'Kip' Koontz

Several weeks ago Mayor Jennifer Dougherty told us that our city's economic outlook was pretty bleak. Lay-offs would occur. Programs and services may be cut. There were not going to be raises!

Things were not going to be good.

A week later, Mayor Dougherty presented her budget that, miraculously avoided the anticipated lay-offs, people's jobs would be shuffled around instead, there would indeed be raises and the only real cuts in services - so far, is that leaves and yard-clippings will not get picked up as frequently.

Now, there are some who are saying that Ms. Dougherty "set us up," or "she played pure politics with this by telling us the worst so when it wasn't true, she'd look good," and "how can she find all that money in seven days?" and other such things.

Well frankly, she was simply playing smart.

Even if she did it as a ruse to make things look better after we were anticipating the worst - it was a smart move on her part, one any elected official in any office dealing with such matters would put into play if given the opportunity.

It might even be that when she announced that times were going to be tough, she was doing so out of a genuine effort to soften the blow if things were, in the end, tough.

Fact is, going into the budget planning process Jon Angel, the city's budget director, was told to inform department heads that there were no additional funds coming their way. They were informed they needed to review their budgets and make cuts even, though not so much as to dramatically impact city services.

This administration took a proactive approach to the budget instead of hoping against hope that a miracle program or two would come along with money to help bail them out of a difficult situation.

The department heads responded in kind and, yes, while there will still be waste in city government spending, as there is in all government spending, it is nice to know that steps were taken from the get-go that prepared all for the reality that is -- there is less money to spend, so we must spend as wisely as possible.

There were a few things put on hold that would seem to be of some importance, however.

Police Chief Kim Dine had asked for six new police officers - something Mayor Dougherty asked for, but did not receive funding for, in her first budget.

Our police force does an excellent job, but are at times stressed in the amount of work they do - simply because man hours are at times very long and shifts can be short men or women due to vacation, illness, court times - those sorts of things.

Let's hope, that as enough money was found to fund a 3.3% step raise for employees, they, as this budget is continued to be worked, can find enough to fund these new police officers as well.

Additionally, the mayor had called for the need to increase the number of code enforcers and inspectors. Good, but they, too, seem to have been by-passed in the budget proposed. Again, much needed, so let's hope funding can be found there as well.

It also seems that some capital improvement projects are not being budgeted, though it may not yet be clear which ones they are.

Many hope the mayor has given up on the idea of the Masonic Temple building for use as city offices in order to look for a more practical and less costly venue for this purpose.

One thing we must keep in mind is that elected officials, in most cases, do not have complete control in revenues collected in order to fund budgets.

Frederick City's revenue stream has slowed down, as there has been no growth to help expand incoming revenue.

This is due in large part to the lack of water and a water delivery system (so there is no building going on) - a problem that unfortunately was 20 years in the making, but one we all must now pay for.

Yet, one thing that was not included in the mayor's budget was a tax increase to offset the decrease in incoming revenue.

That's not a bad thing.

It is said, though, that there may be three aldermen who may call for a tax increase to fund additional projects, police and so on.

Before we go there, let's hope that this group will look "outside the box" for ways to trim the fat, or raise additional revenue, that preclude the need for increased taxes.

Whatever has happened at City Hall, it is nice that, thus far, the budget process is proceeding with relative ease and no rancor -- unlike what we are seeing at the state level.

One thing though, during this past snow onslaught, a rather big pile of it ended up in the parking space on the street in front of my home.

Many joked they thought it was a sculpture of some sort.

I just hope that since leaf and yard-clipping collection is one thing we know is going to be cut back, that the parking space in question is not going to be considered as an ideal location for a mulch pile.

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