A great opportunity awaits

Published 5:54 pm Saturday, January 4, 2014

A great opportunity to observe how the mayor and City Council influence the budget-making process presents itself Jan. 21 at the Washington Civic Center.

That’s when the mayor, council and city staff conduct a budget-planning session that plays a major role in developing the upcoming 2014-2015 fiscal-year budget. Such planning sessions are a tradition for the mayor and council.

The upcoming session is open to the public. Some people show up and observe the process, but usually the number of attendees is low, with rarely more than five “regular” people attending. That’s a shame. Over the years, the planning sessions have provided valuable insight as to how the mayor and council arrive at their budget decisions — how to, in their opinions, best spend taxpayers’ money. The sessions allow for frank discussions concerning the city’s future, how the city will pay for items that influence that future and show the difference views that each council member has regarding an overall fiscal policy for the city and concerning specific projects, programs and services the city provides or is considering providing.

Rarely, observers are allowed to participate in the discussions, but that can happen. Even without being allowed to join in those discussions, attending such a session results in observers becoming better educated about city operations. A well-informed observer often makes for a well-informed voter.

And an opportunity to voice one’s views on a proposed budget comes when a public hearing on that proposed budget is conducted. That’s when city residents can have their say regarding the proposed spending plan crafted by the mayor, council and city staff.

The mayor and council have made it clear they don’t want the upcoming budget, which takes effect July 1, to include tax increases and increases in rates for city services. The challenge for city staff is to draft a proposed budget that meets those desires.

Yes, the budget-planning session can be somewhat boring at times, but things can get heated up and, well, let’s say interesting when the mayor or a council member becomes passionate about a particular budget issue that surfaces during a session.

Tentatively, the Jan. 21 session is set to begin at 5:30 p.m.