The 2010 and forecasted 2011 budgets loom over Beaconites with unprecedented shortfalls in revenues. This fathomless dive into the red has a greater critical effect on Beacon due to the fact that Beacon is a small municipality.
The most advantageous population size for a small town or city is between 24,000 and 27,000. A city of 27,000 people, with its accompanying businesses, is capable of making the most of its revenues (taxes etc) in the most cost effective manner. In other words Beacon with it’s population of 14,000 and smaller business base, still needs the services, utilities and municipal govt. that the city of 27,000 uses but it costs each Beaconite more. For example a police force needs to be set up, equipped and managed. This cost spread over 24 to 27,000 people is felt less than when this basic cost is spread over only 14,000 residents. Furthermore personnel can be utilized more effectively and be designated more efficiently due to the optimum operating size of a city of 24 to 27,00 people.
For a small city such as Beacon, every tax dollar is ‘dear’ and thus has to be stretched and utilized with different parameters in order to maintain services. Utilizing the methods of higher taxes, job loss and cutting essential services as the basic maneuvers to balance a budget is non productive and it’s disruptive. Basically Beacon is in the position of using its lowered revenue base primarily to maintain police, fire, highway, water and sewer. Because of the lowered revenues there will be less available for everything else.
Both the Beacon City Council and City Administrator feel that expenditures are flat, or falling, and a bare bones budget needs to be reached. Bare bones are more than slashing the highway budget by a percentage, which only results in roads not being repaired and once again loss of jobs at the end of the road. A bare bones budget is more than slashing summer programs for kids. The city council has wisely put wage freezes onto the table and not refilling vacated budgeted positions, but they may also need to put a two and a half percent wage reduction on all city employees for 2010 with the understanding that if the “Depressed Economy” continues into 2011 this wage reduction and freeze will continue until January 2012, at which time wages and benefits will resume their natural course. This may be the only way to keep everyone employed, which is extremely important. Furthermore all contracts with outside consultants needs to be re-evaluated and re-negotiated for the 2010 budget; either by putting it off until 2012 or possibly re-negotiating for a twenty percent reduction in cost of service.
The city council may want to initiate second and third opinions and quotes when thinking about expending half a million dollars or more to bring one of Beacon’s reservoirs up to state specifications. When a city or any municipality becomes ‘too comfortable’ with the engineers or other professionals it uses, costs can be higher than necessary for services performed. Without competition even with the hiring of a city engineer, a city accountant, lawyer or auditor, costs escalate.
Competitive measures should be brought into every aspect of hiring the professionals the city is required to hire in 2010 and 2011. Plus the use of hiring any outside analysts should be stopped until 2012. This does not stop the city council from using volunteer Beaconites who offer their expertise where needed in the next two years.
Besides evaluating existing proposed expenditures and seeing if they are warranted or could be put off until 2012 or re-visit the costs themselves and see if they are absolutely necessary, things like redundancy and alternative methods of filling in the gaps that are appearing or avoiding the gaps altogether should be put on the table. For example the technology costs in the 2009 budget and possibly being carried over to 2010 budget runs between one and two million dollars.
Technology in a small municipality such as Beacon, is like a layer cake, with one type of tech being put on top of another and then another; with the final product being less than the non-tech original in information and accuracy. This can be easily seen in the building department. I suggest that the city administrator and each dept head evaluate and reorganize priorities and methods. Sending non-tech exact and detailed info into an archival mode and relying on less information from various layers of computer programs and hardware may not be an economical use of time, energy or money. And the city administrator and city employees who are the closest to the working of their departments are the best people to start with to do this scrutiny.
There is a great deal of redundancy in Beacon’s city budget, especially in the tech charges, supplies and personnel used by all departments; some that are out in the open and some that are folded into general headings.
The charges for accounting, bookkeeping and auditing are high, and should produce up to the minute figures throughout the year, on what’s available, so that the city administrator has exact figures at her fingertips at all times. This will be even more important in 2010.
Furthermore, the time might be auspicious for looking into re-negotiating Beacon’s bond payments for 2010 and 2011.
There should also be a zero tolerance concerning overtime in 2010 and 2011.
There also isn’t any method in place at the moment to tap into the available help offered by professionals in the community to fill in when needed to avoid all overtime costs or even to help with department cost assessments.
There should be a Beacon volunteer corp. on Beacon’s website where residents can list their names and the services, both professional and non professional that they can supply. The Spirit of Beacon group may choose to spearhead this corp. also, each council member should go door to door in their wards and ask people what their expertise is and could they donate an hour or more to their community each month. For example there may be people with expertise in traffic control and can be used during events, parades and even road work. Furthermore, is there a method in place for example, to use the salaried traffic direction personnel in the highway department by the police department during such simple events as parades, in order to keep costs down and utilize employee skills in various ways?
Another example of volunteerism would be to locate a lawyer or two who would look at the lawsuits Beacon is involved in to see if they can shed some light on whether or not there is a different approach or a better resolution that could be utilized to settle these issues, without further cost to Beacon. I have already approached two lawyers in town to see if this is a workable possibility and received a positive response.
The beacon web site should also have a Phone tree which could be built by each city council member going door to door in conjunction with the emergency action plan committee and a Beacon volunteer corp. group and our own growing neighborhood watch groups. This Phone tree could be used for instance, as a call for specific volunteers or to tell the community what will be needed over the next few months etc.
Also, there should be a teen program site on the Beacon Web site where every entity providing sports, after school services, homework assistant etc, to the teens of Beacon, can be listed with who to contact and their information. Each council member might also want to go to the businesses in their ward and find out who has jobs or apprenticeships for teens that could be listed all of which would help cover the gap created by a tightened budget.
During this winter, a franchise can be offered to a cross-country ski business or cross-country ski group to run that sport at the settlement camp. They would mark and groom the trails, rent equipment and pay a percentage of what they charge to the city. Of course Beaconites with their own skis would only pay a trail use fee to the group or business actually doing the trail grooming. The council might want to appoint two members to be in charge of looking for and acquiring groups or businesses, schools or camps who would run the pool and make it a profitable enterprise this summer. If a basketball camp wants to set up, also requiring an exclusive seasonal right, this should be considered now. More than one activity or franchise can exist at the settlement camp at the same time. The goal is to have the settlement camp produce income for Beacon while being developed in the long run for the community.
Beacon cannot afford to cut, slash or borrowing or use exotic bookkeeping methods, which Beacon has been subject to before this new City Council came into office. The present administration has done a heroic job of bringing the budget into the light and being responsible for good and ethical bookkeeping practices. Now it’s time to go that extra step and change how a small city budget should look, how it will operate and how it can become integrated within it’s own departments and with the community in fiscally advantageous ways.