Wednesday, April 11, 2012

As the weather warms, our thoughts turn to — budgets

Every year, as the trees begin to bud, the days grow longer and the water enters the canals, my thoughts turn to one thing: budgets.
We are now entering one of my favorite seasons, budget season. This is the time of year when municipalities and taxing districts get to work on setting their budgets for the next year, which generally starts in the fall.
In my estimation, believe it or not, the city of Kuna really does the best job of examining its budget, disclosing it to the public and shaping its spending for the coming year. As City Council members will tell you, nearly all of the credit lies at the doorstep of city treasurer John Marsh. When he was hired in 2008, he inherited one heck of a messy tangled budget that didn’t make a lot of sense and had budgeted expenditures outpacing budgeted revenues by about $325,000. Budget workshops consisted of a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.
Since then, though, the budget is presented very clearly with detailed descriptions of what certain expenditures are, the historic fluctuations of specific expenses and revenues, line item tallying of expenses and revenues, detailed explanations of why certain revenues and expenses fluctuate and proposed recommendations for the levels at which to set expenditures and revenues.
If I have one criticism it would be that the City Council members do not take adequate advantage of the budgeting process to discuss their priorities, their vision for the future of Kuna.
I have always held that the City Council wields the most power at budget time. Yes, council members pass ordinances and resolutions, set fees and hear complaints. But the most overarching impact that they have is when they set the annual budget. For the entire year, the budget determines the taxes you pay, the fees you pay, how efficiently or inefficiently the city operates and what services the city can — and cannot — offer.
Unfortunately, the budget process has been a matter of looking at what the city spent last year on a line item, assessing whether that line item will be more or less next year, then setting that line item higher or lower.

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