I have been more than a wee bit frustrated by the way the budget and financial decision-making has happened thus far. I want to make – want the Council to make – decisions which are principled, defensible (rationally, not just legally), and support citizen priorities. One tool we could/should use to help us here would be a set of well-thought out, formally adopted, and completely public budget policies. Like these:
What’s so great about Policy? If the Council could, perhaps with some expert guidance from our new Ad Hoc Financial Workgroup, develop financial policies, we would not have to make each decision starting from zero.
For example, if we had a policy on the use of fund balance, the staff and the Council would have guidelines for when and how the City could use fund balance for operating expenses. Then, when it is time to balance the budget, Council and staff would know if the pool of available dollars included using fund balance, how much, and for what purposes. For those of us who are not finance wizards (that would be the entire Council), we would have some frame of reference for assessing the numbers brought forward by staff.
Policy is really not such a difficult idea – it’s developing strategies to guide the City’s typical actions. There will always be particular situations which challenge the policy because they don’t quite fit, but for our routine decision-making we could use some help.