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Initial Comments on Budget Document

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2018 17:38:47 -0700

I’m writing with some input into the draft 2018-19 City of MP Budget
document and the process. Unfortunately, I haven’t finished reading the
document so I will need to write again.

*Improving Community Input Process *

Regarding the process, I went to last week’s Budget Workshop where I picked
up a copy of the new budget. To my knowledge, the document was not
available to the public before that meeting. Thus, there were few
questions. For meaningful public input, with the City Manager and his
staff, the public needs to have access to the budget for at least one week
before the Community Meeting.

So I suggest scheduling at least one more community meeting on the budget,
with the City Manager and his Finance team (any anyone else from his staff
who wants to participate) -- before the budget goes to Council for their
“final approval” meeting.

*Need for a Long-Range Strategic Plan *

Unfortunately, MP lacks a long-range strategic plan which would
significantly aid planning for capital requirements over a 25-year (or so)
period. Having a long-range comprehensive plan is considered a municipal
best practice and I see that Palo Alto has one. It would be in the
resident’s best interests to have a long-range strategic plan. One would
also benefit staff because it would cut down on reactivity and changing
priorities. Would Council consider this making a commitment to implementing
a long-term strategic plan as a future Work Plan priority?

*Suggest two separate documents: Operating Budget and Capital Budget *

The City of Palo Alto develops two documents: Operating Budget and Capital
Budget <https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/64860>.
Although the PA Proposed Capital document is longer, I find it easier to
follow with the information at the right level of detail. Would Council
consider asking staff to split the budget document into an Operating Budget
and Capital Budget?

At minimum, can we put all Capital related information into one section?
The City Manager’s Transmittal Letter includes information pertaining to
Capital spending (pg. VIII). The casual reader might miss the details. A
relatively easy fix would be for the City Manager to separate his letter
into two versions: one to introduce the Operating budget and another to
introduce the Capital Budget.

*Add Project Detail Pages – like in the PA Example*

The Palo Alto CIP document includes project pages for each Capital project.
I brought examples of these to the last F&A Committee meeting where they
were well received as a concept for MP. The F&A Committee discussed
creating a template for use by MP Departments.

As explained in Palo Alto’s Capital Budget, “The project pages include
information regarding the project completion schedules (initial and
revised), descriptions, justifications, a summary of significant changes to
the cost or schedule of a project, revenue and expense information by
fiscal year, and operating budget impacts for each project. This allows for
the total cost of a project to be detailed.” The also include the relevant
commissions giving input into the project and/or overseeing the project.

I consider the Palo Alto Proposed Capital document a best practice for
presenting Capital spending-related financial information so that residents
can easily understand and track the projects.

*Who is the Community and What Exactly is Their Vision? *

Finally, I will comment on a few of the generalities used to justify the
spending priorities.

The “community’s vision” is referred to in multiple places as justification
for the spending priorities in the budget document. Further, the overall
theme of the budget document is “From Vision to Fruition.” The
high-sounding phrases and theme makes it seem as though the spending
priorities are part of a carefully vetted response to community needs.
Instead of these generalities, the document needs specifics and evidence so
that these claims are credible.

1. Who is the community? Residents? Business Interests? Staff? Even if
different groups, let’s define them and be more explicit as to how the
spending serves them.

2. What exactly is the “Community’s Vision.” This also needs defining
in a clear statement. I would also include any community engagement process
that led to a resident focused vision statement.

3. The document also needs to more explicitly (and credibly) show how
the spending priorities, especially the Capital projects, link to community
priorities.

Longer term, it would be wonderful to include participatory budgeting at
next year’s January budget workshop. As you likely know, *Participatory
budgeting* (PB) is a process of democratic deliberation and
decision-making, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a
municipal or public *budget*. Results of that type of process could
certainly support claims that a particular major Capital spending project
was, in fact, a community priority.

Lynne Bramlett
Received on Tue Jun 05 2018 - 17:39:37 PDT

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