Budgeting Should Reflect Policy and Priorities of the Real World

Guest Correspondence

It is local budget time. It is by far the most important time of the year for the taxpayer. This is when policy really gets set and you see who is actually representing taxpayers. You get to see who is only interested in the elected official title and who is actually representing you and setting solid policy.

Whether it be the County Commission, City Commissions, School Board, or Hospital Board, these legislative bodies should be active, aggressive, and very thoroughly holding their budgets up to a critical eye. If the legislative body is relatively silent and the budget meetings are brief and fast, then you have a legislative body letting staff set policy and not doing their jobs. These are the seat warmer officials. Another indication is if the legislative body spends more time praising itself and its staff than asking critical questions, you clearly have a problem.

If you have a legislative body asking questions about projects, making sure they know the capital project lists inside and out and how they were generated, verifying expenditures in the budget with results, questioning fees, reprioritizing, and verifying the measurables of success for departments, you have a representative legislative body who is analyzing and verifying for the taxpayer.

The City of Venice has been far ahead of all of the local governments in its budget work this year. They did not rest on COVID-19 as an excuse for lazy budgeting and less discussions, but instead, they used it as motivation to become more involved in their budget. They gave direction early and are being very cautious with taxpayer funds. Unlike other bodies, they aren’t budgeting based upon hope for a better economy or a guess that it will.

We are in a recession. We are having a dip in revenues, that is for certain. We have been in a recession since February. There are very few individuals, businesses, and organizations who have not reprioritized their goals and spending based upon what has happened. It is jaw-dropping that some governments have not reprioritized their goals for this year amidst COVID-19. You did read that right, some governments have not adjusted their goals at all. Those that have not, just don’t want to put the effort in, and the optics are not good. Make no mistake about it, we see you. Those that have reprioritized, are in touch with what is happening in the world outside government. The same world where unemployment is at 14%.

Watch your elected officials and governments closely now. See if they are putting in the time for budgeting and prioritizing based upon what is happening in the non-government world. Ask questions, see if they are just cheerleading and ceding policy setting to staff. Or, are they using their budgets to accomplish real changes in policy to help the community in a real time of need.

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