Budget Season 2011, part 2

If you want all the details about the proposed levies, see the previous post.  If you want to read the latest Northfield budget documents, see the City website here.

I have two questions:

Are tax dollars are being spent efficiently and effectively?  We don’t ask you to pay taxes, we demand that you do, so elected officials better be sure we know where the money goes, whether city operations are as productive and economical as possible, and that we spend wisely for the long term.  City staff are diligent about answering this question as they cut costs, streamline services, and adapt the budget to the shrinking tax base, unpredictable state aid, and increasing needs.   I give Northfield a B (I’m a tough grader – I went to college when a C was an average grade).

How are tax dollars being used to implement the policy decisions made by the Council?  Hmmm.  I don’t know.  I could give Northfield an F, but I think I am still optimistic enough to assign an Incomplete to this question.

In my budget utopia, the Comprehensive Plan would be the foundation of the budget with programs evaluated for their consistency with the Comp Plan and new initiatives derived from the Plan.  After that, the other policies of the city (we’re part of the GreenStep Cities program, for example, and have a Comprehensive Economic Development Plan) would be used to guide spending.

Regular readers know that I think the vision and policies of the Comp Plan provide a framework for more compact, denser development which will be more cost effective in the long term (see, e.g. my post on an economically healthy Northfield, and follow up to a Strong Towns presentation).  Because I think the fiscal health of Northfield as well as its sense of place, natural environment, and quality of life all can benefit from attention to the Comp Plan, I am frustrated by my own inability to help turn the budget conversation around to address the long term, more taxpayers per acre, less car-dependent vision.  I give myself a D+ for this quarter.

2 Replies to “Budget Season 2011, part 2”

  1. #1… for the most part, I think the Council does a fair job of balancing the needs of the Community against the available dollars.

    But one place I see a huge disconnect is on the subject of the Public Safety Center.

    It hardly needs to be stated again that these are hard economic times; and the multiplicity of new tax dollars being requested is daunting, and especially for commercial property owners.
    People don’t seem to realize that commercial property owners have but one place to get the money to pay their taxes; from the revenues of their building.
    With all rental deals being negotiated down in the last few years, and no new tenants in sight if a commercial tenant leaves, any additional taxes are nothing but impossible.
    One must accept the fact that there is sometimes: no more money!

    Are residential properties feeling the same pressure? I would assume that most are not, at least not so severely, as their tax burden is so much less.

    But the final dollar amount to be spent on a new Safety center must be as low as possible; that means not a “Northfield proud” building but a Northfield efficient building, one with enough space to operate safely and with great efficiency, but if it’s a bright red pole barn with a bell on top… that’s fine with me.

    #2 … If the Comp Plan is THE basic ‘touchstone’ for policy decisions, and is supported by the other basic financial, trail/open space, etc. plans, then I would have to give the City a pretty low grade in this area…. and there’s been too much time passed to consider an incomplete, which could be made up!

    Councilors all talk ‘big’ on this issue, but when it comes to the vote, the Comp Plan is never the number one guiding priority. You, Councilor Buckheit, thankfully, tried to start from this point on the defining vote on the site and single/double facility, a couple of meetings ago… but that concept of using the CompPlan for guidance on this most important issue didn’t seem to carry enough weight with enough of the Council.

    So what is the use of it? It cost years, and untold amounts of the PC’s time (also staff time) , and it gets “thrown under the bus” when put to the test as THE guiding principle.

    Sad … we keep adopting more and more good quality of life plans, i.e., Green Steps, Complete Streets, etc. but it appears to be for the most part window dressing, unless the represented values become the guiding standards.

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