Infrastructure (CIP) Correction Offered by a Citizen Critical of the Budget Process II

March 28 — Esteemed Mayor, Councilors, and Citizens’ Budget Committee members:

The budget process in Ashland is badly broken.  Here is a simple idea to help improve it:

Prepare the CIP on alternating years, not concurrent with the biennial budget.  Have council consider the CIP on even numbered years since the budget is considered on odd numbered years.

According to the code, the purpose of the CIP is to justify SDCs [AMC 4.20.080].  Of course it’s an extremely useful tool for planning, and should be continued.

But as it now stands, the council does not have sufficient time to review the CIP.  The budget is already prepared by staff by the time the council gets the CIP.  The assumptions in the CIP are baked into the staff’s budget.  Then the Budget Committee has to deal with the budget that was prepared on what are often faulty assumptions of what the city’s CI needs are, and the Council’s policy goals. Some are legacy projects carried forward year after year, many of which should be eliminated or reevaluated.  As it stands now there is no time for the council to give the CIP due consideration.  The CIP needs to be approved BEFORE staff prepares the budget.

Council sets policy.  Staff implements those policies.  As it stands now, the Council is reacting to the budget prepared by staff instead of giving direction to staff. 

I have searched the charter and the code, and see no reason why this can’t happen.  Council can pass a resolution to this effect.

Alternate the CIP and the budget years.  Starting next year, 2022, have the council take up the CIP early in the year and spend enough time on it to analyze and evaluate it.  Staff can either prepare a revised CIP for 2022, or they can carry the current document forward with revisions.  Whichever, that would be the basis of the 2023 budget deliberations.  The next new CIP would be presented to Council in early 2024 to be referenced in the 2025 budget, etc.

The only disadvantage to this schedule I see is that the estimates will have been prepared a year earlier in the budget cycle.  But that should not be particularly relevant to Capital Improvement Projects.  Costs may rise due to inflation, but that should be taken into account in the CIP.  The CIP does not affect the other aspects of the budget.  The budget process can still account for any rapidly changing financial conditions.

I believe the benefits of this approach far outweigh any disadvantages.

Please give it your careful consideration.

Dean Silver, Ashland