The City of Richmond is facing a serious budget challenge for next fiscal year 2015-16, and the budget compilation process has just started and will end with adoption in July. The Charter charges the city manager and mayor to prepare “…an annual budget for submission to the City Council..”
The budget process is a bottoms-up effort that begins with requests from each department that are then analyzed and modified by the city manager to recognize the resources available and the city’s priorities. While the city council has to ultimately approve the budget, the city council is supposed to be the last stop, not the first one.
But a disturbing new trend appeared at this weeks’ City Council meeting. Several City Council members introduced measures to place hundreds of thousands of dollars of items in next year’s budget as stand-alone measures.
The first was a $50,000 appropriation for the newly formed Youth Council. This organization, which is intended to offer young people an opportunity to get involved in an advisory capacity in City government is, on the face, a good thing. It was set up nine month ago to have up to eighteen members, but only fourteen people have applied, and all have been appointed. A far as I know, the young people on this Council are smart, motivated and prepared to discharge their duties admirably.
But what I have a problem with is that the City Council majority voted the Youth Council an unprecedented $50,000 budget for next year. The fourteen members will get $8,640 ($617 each) for clipper cards, $12,960 ($926 each) in “stipends, $3,240 ($231 each) in food, $10,400 for staff and $10,260 for “grants.” All this from a 2015-2016 budget that has not even been compiled yet and could well be millions in the red.
That was bad enough. The next item was a set of restrooms for the outdoor play area at Shields-Reid Park, estimated to cost $250,000. Shields-Reid Community Center already has restroom that are open when the center is open, Monday, Wednesday,Friday, 9:00am-5:30pm and Tuesday, Thursday 9:00am-7:00pm. The only time restrooms are not available is on nights and weekends. No City restrooms in parks are open at night. After heated discussion, the City Council directed that a porta-potty be provided at a cost of perhaps $100 per week. This is not about the need for a restroom, which is clear. It’s about the process, lack of research into options and costs, and lack of priority setting for similar needs in parks all over Richmond.
The final item was a memorial bench and plaque at the Nevin Community Center for a respected neighborhood volunteer who recently died. While such items can be procured for a few hundred dollars and are typically donated by friends and family of the deceased, a $4,000 budget was suggested. The Council eventually settled on a $1,000 budget.
None of the three items was budgeted in the current fiscal year, which is running a multi-million deficit. This kind of impulsive and profligate spending is not what the Charter envisioned, and it is an exercise of poor public policy.
Reposted from Mayor Tom Butt's E-Forum