I've had a couple of questions about the budget and where we are with it. Since we don't have a local paper anymore it seems as though this stuff has fallen through the cracks. This article over at insidenova.com is pretty much the extent of the coverage but it does contain some errors.
Where we are is as follows: The Council has completed it's budget creation/modification process. That's about 15 meetings followed by a mark up session. "Mark Up" is meeting where all of the "Open items" are considered. The open items list consists of a couple of things: anything that is new in this budget, any items in the budget placed on the open items list by a Council member and all of the tax rates are also automatically on open items. Each of the items on the list gets a roll call vote. This vote is a "straw vote" and not binding but it is unusual for someone to change their vote. As a practical matter it's pretty late in the game and you either support it or you don't.
This years Mark Up meeting went pretty smoothly considering the City Manager is leaving, our CFO is gone and our budget analyst had a family emergency at the last minute and couldn't make the meeting! It wasn't a huge deal though as Council members are very familiar with the budget and, as others have pointed out, I have awesome math skills. The main point of contention this year was the CIP. In summary, we bounced the public safety building and one of the fire stations into future years. We also eliminated several small neighborhood projects. They're nice to have but we need to spend on money on higher priority projects. As for the rest of the budget proposal, most of it was approved as well: all of the additions to City staff, most notably the creation of an Economic Development department, went through. There was a fair amount of debate on the Fire/Rescue front on the increases to that fund. I don't think that anyone is unhappy with the functioning of the Fire/Rescue system but it's been growing by leaps and bounds so I belive what you're seeing is a desire that the growth in that fund settle down some. A small merit raise was also approved.
As for the tax rates, the Council voted unanimously to leave the tax rate at its current level. We also voted unanimously to add 6.2 cents onto the existing rate for the CIP. This was the front-loading strategy that raises more money up front which allows the City to combine bond funds with our capital cash on-hand to reduce the tax increase. We can do this as we can avoid dedicating operating cash to debt service long enough that some existing debt will be paid off and we can use that free cash to help pay the bonds. In the end it's finance, not math, and it saves our citizens money. Now, if you opposed the CIP plan in its entirety, that probably doesn't mollify you but that's the way it went.
The transfer to the schools for both operating and capital funds was also approved unanimously.
The next step will be a public hearing a week from today. After that, the Council will have a work session which will be followed by the public votes (at a regular Council meeting) on the budget.