Tovo proposes budget adoption process
Thursday, September 3, 2015 by Jo Clifton
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo on Wednesday signaled that she would like City Council to use a budget adoption process similar to the one used by the previous Council over the past two years.
Council Members Delia Garza and Leslie Pool immediately signaled their interest in using the same type of process, with Garza saying, “There are instances when we may not need to re-create the wheel” for doing the budget.
All three posted information on the City Council Message Board. Later Wednesday, Mayor Steve Adler responded with less than wholehearted approval and promised that he would present his own ideas for next week’s budget process “sometime Friday.”
In the past, Tovo wrote, Council members submitted their proposed amendments in advance of the meeting “so that staff could compile as many as possible into one list, and the Council had an evening to review. A few amendments did also come from the floor, and I believe it’s important to preserve that flexibility to respond to the Council discussion, staff information, etc.”
Tovo noted that budget adoption began with a motion to approve the city manager’s proposed budget, including any amendments offered by staff. After that, there would be a series of amendments related to both budget cuts and increases in revenue. That format allowed the Council to see how much it would be able to save in the proposed budget before voting on any potential increases in spending.
The city’s financial staff “kept a running tally of the amendments so that Council always knew where we were in terms of having a balanced budget,” Tovo wrote.
Although sometimes Council would go back and vote on an item again the next day if they had new information or a change of heart, Tovo wrote, “Mostly the process kept us moving forward pretty efficiently.” She concluded, “It would be great to have a sense of what process we ‘might’ use before we head into the three-day weekend.”
In his posting, Adler wrote, “There are aspects of past practice that appeal to me, too. But I want us to also consider process elements that recognize that for some on the Council, the choices we make about available revenue (through cuts or otherwise) depend in part on the choices we make about spending.
“One particular side of the equation or the other does not drive budget decisions for all of us. I hope to propose a process that accommodates the diverse perspectives on (C)ouncil, while being efficient, transparent, and fair.”
According to Council Member Greg Casar, fairness is the most important part of the budget equation. He told the Austin Monitor that he had watched Council discussions during previous budget cycles and “it seems like it has worked just fine in the past.”
Casar pointed out that because of the Labor Day weekend, Council members will not be getting together in person until Tuesday, when they are scheduled to begin taking votes on the budget.
“The question got brought up during the work session what process the mayor and Council wanted to use,” he said. He hoped that the answer to that question would be clear “before we go into the weekend.” For that to happen, he noted, a proposal would have to be posted fairly early on Friday to give everyone a chance to look at it and comment.
Garza wrote that Tovo’s proposed process was “similar to what I suggested during the budget meeting yesterday.”
“This process would provide some predictability and clarity for both our budget staff and our own staff as we prepare for the budget readings next week, while still providing this Council plenty of flexibility for how we’ll sort out our budget priorities,” Garza continued.
She added, “Knowing how much funding is available at the front end of the process makes intuitive sense to me, and may shift some of our priorities when we know our limitations.”
Other Council members, several of whom were in the lengthy Mobility Committee meeting, did not respond to a request for comments.
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