The courage to make cuts

Published 12:28 am Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Since the current Washington City Council and Mayor Archie Jennings took office in December 2009, they have been anything but a rubber stamp when it comes to city budgets, which are crafted each spring and adopted – usually – sometime each June.

During budget sessions last year, Jennings and the council spent many hours going through the proposed budget, almost on a line-by-line basis. Last year’s budget process was probably the most intense budget-building efforts made by the mayor and council in recent years.

In fact, Jennings, when he was a council member, gave a foreshadowing of things to come in regard to city budgets as he continually raised questions and concerns about city budgets, questions and concerns not voiced too often by other council members. Of course, Jennings may have an advantage when it comes to financial matters, seeing how he works for a financial institution.

Jennings and the current council went on record early after being elected, saying they planned to reduce the amount of money transferred from the city’s electric fund to the city’s general fund, which pays for the city’s day-to-day operations.

In previous fiscal years, the annual transfer from the electric fund to the general fund was a little more than $1 million. The electric-fund transfer in this year’s budget amounted to around $973,000, about $200,000 less than transfers from the fund in the previous fiscal year.

Council members and Jennings have said they want to eventually wean the general fund off transfers from the electric fund.

In another effort to reduce expenditures in the upcoming 2011-2012 fiscal year budget, the council and Jennings are reviewing the city’s Capital Improvements Plan to identify projects that can be deferred until future years. Deferring some projects scheduled to be implemented in the next fiscal year would reduce expenditures in that year, which begins July 1.

The current CIP calls for spending $8 million during the upcoming fiscal year. Delaying some CIP projects until later fiscal years would reduce the city’s budget for 2011-2012.

“Just remember, because it’s in the CIP doesn’t mean it gets into the budget,” Jennings said.

Translation: If the city cannot come up with the money for a proposed 2011-2012 CIP project, it won’t happen during that fiscal year.

Some people will say Jennings and the council are not cutting enough from the city’s upcoming budget. Others will say they are cutting too much from the city’s budget, thereby adversely affecting some services provided by the city.

There is no denying that Jennings and the council are taking a close look at how the city spends money, making sure that money is spent wisely and efficiently. That’s a good thing for the city and its taxpayers.

Others may talk a lot about how the city spends its money, but Jennings and the council had the courage to run for office in hopes of doing something about it.

Their actions are proving louder than the words spoken by people willing to complain but not willing to become public servants charged with overseeing the expenditure of taxpayers’ money.

Continue with your budget efforts, mayor and council members. They are appreciated by some folks.