Council spent four hours Thursday evening and all day Friday reviewing the budget. This year's budget review was much easier than previous years - I must commend administration for setting things out in an easily understandable way. It was also much more pleasant to work through - the chair went through the budget item by item, and questions and comments on each item were encouraged. This is a marked change from previous years, when it seemed as though the point was to rush through as fast as possible, and entire pages were dismissed without time being made for a single question. Even though we took the full time allocated, I think that the result was well worth it, and I think that most councillors would admit that they have a better understanding of what is actually in the budget now.
Part of that understanding is because of the detailed meetings we had with each department in the fall, which focused on where our status quo spending is. I still think that we have quite a bit of room to move in challenging some of that status quo spending in future years. For instance, we haven't made much effort to reduce staffing levels, and some positions created in the past several years don't have much rationalization for their existence. That's something that I'll be pushing for over the next year.
I'd also like to see better coordination between departments, as a way to increase efficiency and reduce costs. For example, I think that water main repairs need to be better coordinated with the people in Parks, who are responsible for rehabilitating the boulevards that are torn up. Often, the boulevards are left for quite some time after being torn up, allowing weeds to get a good foothold, and spread to surrounding yards.
Probably the biggest change that I felt this year was a sense of better cooperation from administrative staff. Questions were answered fully and clearly, without the defensive attitude that used to prevail, and I got the feeling that administration understand that it is council's job to set direction and make decisions, based on the information that administration provides. For the first time in a long time, I feel as though both sides understand their roles and responsibilities, and it's certainly a good feeling.
I also realize that there is a certain faction of the public that will complain mightily about any increase - you know, the anonymous commenters that are convinced that everyone on council is an idiot, even though we're the ones who operate and make decisions quite publicly. The reality is that costs for everything increase, and we have to develop a budget that recognizes this. Do I think that we've missed some opportunities for efficiencies? Of course, we can always do better, but I believe that we're trying to improve things. The process was better this year than last, which was miles better than the year before that. I'm sure that, as we continue to work together, next year's budget will be even better.
"The politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation." - Bill Clinton