Councilors get ready for budget time

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The Raleigh Public Record send a question to all eight city councilors about their priorities in their upcoming budget. Three responded by email and Mayor Charles Meeker responded by phone. Councilors are facing about an $8 million shortfall for the next fiscal year, but they have to create a balanced budget by the end of June.

Mayor Charles Meeker

“As the economy turns around, the city budget lags behind,” Charles Meeker said. “We are still in budget cutting mode.” He said he wants to maintain funding for police, fire and emergency communications at current levels. He said cuts should come from eliminating vacant positions and smaller capital projects

Thomas Crowder (District D)

First and foremost, I want to look at revamping our current water use and financial models. In order to meet growth and current water peak load demands between the months of April and October, Raleigh has steadily invested heavily in increased water capacity. While a large part of this capacity is for growth, a large amount of this capacity is to meet the growing peak summer season demand. During the winter Raleigh currently pumps approximately 35 million gallons a day. Between April and October Raleigh pumps as much as 75-85 million gallons a day, almost double what we pump in the fall and winter. As you might assume the majority of this increase is pumped on to the ground for irrigation. From both an environmental and fiscal perspective, Raleigh must look at policies to discourage using potable (treated drinking water) for irrigation purposes. The council has the opportunity to delay additional capital expenditures on the Little River Reservoir and create an incentive base system to prevent continuously increasing every citizen’s water rates across the board. In order to address nutrient loading in our lakes and rivers, reduce stormwater run-off and decrease water usage and thereby costly water treatment, I would like to see the city adopt much higher capacity fees on new development. To incentives onsite collection of stormwater and reuse, low-impact development and zero-scaping, etc.; fees would be reduced for development which is constructed in a manner that eliminates, or reduces onsite irrigation We must also look at cutting back treatment usage at the new Dempsey Benton Plant. Furthermore, the city must also expedite the release of our tiered water rates in order to reward our current water users who conserve water.

Regarding the general fund, we must look at al our current and proposed capital projects. The city has many capital projects which have been placed on the back burner, while at the same time proposed new pressing projects confronting us. With an 8-9 million dollar projected shortfall, we must take a long hard look at our current needs and wants. For this budget, the current council must look closer at each proposed line item to evaluate, what is truly a need and what is merely a want. What are our current needs? Beyond basic services, we must continue to invest in planning and projects which will stimulate economic development. Everyone I know is being negatively impacted by the current economic downturn, especially those in construction related fields. As our citizens look at ways to do with less, the city must look hard at programs that assist our citizens weather the current economic climate. Transit use is at an all time high, as is our ART program which provides transportation services to our area citizens with disabilities. Now is not the time to abandon, or severely cut these services

Sharing in the pain. We have many essential service needs. While we are in one of the worst economic recessions since the 1930’s, Raleigh continues to grow. Any proposed cuts must be equitable, and shared by all departments within the city.

In summary, this will be one of the most difficult budgets the city has faced in decades. This council will have to roll up its sleeves and seriously look at all options on the table and be extremely careful not to place further financial burdens on our citizens during a time when they can least afford it.

Mary-Ann Baldwin (at-large)

“With a projected $6 to $8 million budget shortfall, my first priority is to carefully evaluate any proposed cuts and then make decisions to cut compassionately and with a true understanding of the consequences. After that, I’d like to ensure that we take care of our city employees, continue our commitment to funding public safety, and reserve funding for gang prevention and improved bus service.”

Bonner Gaylord (District E)

Priorities:

1. Sidewalks, Bike Lanes, and Streetscape Improvements – We currently are withholding funding for many planned sidewalk, bike lane, and streetscape improvements. In order to move forward with these projects quickly, we should explore de-obligating these priorities from the general fund and obligating them through our 2006 Transportation Improvement Bond. This could allow them to proceed immediately without any impact to our General Fund.

2. Public Transportation – Our CAT bus system is woefully underfunded and due to this, we sometimes miss out on federal funds to enhance our city’s infrastructure. We should explore how we can begin to expand our system more rapidly to realize those federally funded opportunities.

3. Bus Shelters – In areas where we cannot fund bus shelters ourselves, we should be looking to partner with third party organizations who will provide bus shelters for us at no cost. This would require policy changes that would allow signage (bus shelter ads) similar to what one would see in other urban areas.

4. Planning – We must continue to adequately fund our planning functions to ensure our Unified Development Ordinance (new city code) process receives the appropriate resources.

5. Communications – We need to ensure adequate funding and focus for our Public Affairs and Information Technology Departments. We are a 21st Century city and we need to make sure that is the image we are projecting in all channels.

Requiring Analysis

1. Vehicle/Asset Re-positioning – Currently some of our staff place their vehicles at remote facilities or take them home with them to decrease fuel cost and increase efficiency. There may be select opportunities to expand this to other vehicles and assets.

2. In-Sourcing – We must analyze all or our external contracts to look for areas where we could in-source where we are currently out-sourcing.

3. Personnel Effectiveness – Personnel is our main expense. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Organizational effectiveness hinges upon the idea that each individual should be positioned in a role for which they are well suited. If someone is in the wrong role within an organization, it costs that organization money. We should analyze specific methodologies and tools utilized in reviewing personnel effectiveness and how that information is used to ensure employees are in roles for which they are well suited.

4. Personnel Re-deployment – With the continued slump in the economy, there may still be areas where re-deployments (particularly coupled with #3 above) could make sense to increase services and reduce overtime.

5. Efficient Vehicles – We should continue to supplanting old vehicles with more fuel efficient ones to realize cost savings.

6. Road Construction – We should analyze what is currently in design or pre-construction for all new road construction or widenings to look for potential savings.

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