City Council has decided to retain control of line item budgeting within city departments.
Mayor Glenn Broska said he and Finance Director Jenny Esarey proposed giving more control to administration officials by allowing them to transfer money from fund to fund within departments "several meetings ago," at which time Broska said Council seemed amenable to the change.
Under the proposed system, Broska said "each of the department budgets would be broken down into two buckets, one being benefits and wages, uniform allowances and things like that, and the other being all the operating stuff, the training, equipment and supplies."
That structure would enable department directors to transfer money within their own budgets without Council approval, he explained. That power most likely would have been used toward the end of the year when some line items are running short on cash while others are overfunded for one reason or another. The current system requires Council approvals of any transfers, even within department budgets.
Council's finance committee voted 6-1 Dec. 23 not to send the ordinance authorizing the change to Council of the whole for a vote.
Council member Steve Michniak said the change would throw out "16 or 17 years of precedent" in which Council had always maintained total control of the city's purse strings.
In theory, he said, with the change, once the budget is passed, the mayor could do whatever he desired.
"Suppose the service department has a project you really like in its budget and then in February the mayor zeroes that line item out," he said. "If you pass the ordinance, he could do that."
City Council President Julie Field said the new system of reappropriating money would have upset the balance of power between Council and the mayor's office.
"Our new finance director is doing a wonderful job; she brought this concept to us," said Field. "It would indeed save us time and be more efficient. However, it would take away a big part of Council's responsibility to make sure the city's money is spent wisely."
Broska said the requirement to get Council approval of every departmental transfer creates more work and a bottle neck in the city's operations.
"Say hypothetically, we have a meeting on Dec. 23 and something comes up that needs to come out of a specific line item on Dec. 24," he said. "We would have to wait until Jan. 13 to get that approved and [the money] moved over."
Broska said Council has been cooperative when the administration has sought transfers.
"They still want us to come back and do [transfers] through Council motion," said Broska. "Although I don't think it's necessary, I do understand where they're coming from."
Michniak acknowledged the so-called "bucket system" would simplify things, administratively, but it would come at a cost.
"Sure it would make it easier -- because there's no oversight," he said.
Council member John Ruediger, who voted to send the ordinance to full Council as the dissenting vote, said he believes the change would "have its good and bad."
"The biggest advantage it would have was allowing the administration to do more of the day-to-day operations without having to come to Council," he said.
However, he said the charter set up the city government as "more of a Council-controlled system."
"The charter would have to be changed, basically, to give less checks and balances to Council and more to the administration," he said.
City Council member Jeff Allen, who served on the 2012 charter review committee, agreed that this type of change should start with a charter amendment, including a vote at the ballot.
"This ordinance is essentially making a strong mayor, weak Council form of government," he said. "If we're going to change this, we need to restructure our charter."
Allen also said the current system makes Council members more "fiscally responsible."
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