What if the city of Ann Arbor had a daily newspaper with a section dedicated to public safety? And what if city administrator Steve Powers were editor of the public safety section of the local paper? What would he want to read about in that section, if he were just a resident of the city, not its top official?
FY 2014 Ann Arbor budget box. (Chronicle illustration using city of Ann Arbor budget summaries.)
That hypothetical was part of an April 2 conversation between Powers, chief financial officer Tom Crawford, and Chronicle editor Dave Askins. The focus of the conversation was to confirm and clarify some of the ideas that have been expressed at the city council’s budget retreat and work sessions over the past few months.
Announced by Powers and Crawford at the most recent council work session, on March 25, is the fact that the budget proposal is now essentially “inside the box” – meaning that it falls within the parameters imposed on Crawford by the city council’s adopted fiscal discipline priority. [.pdf of general fund budget summary as of March 25]
The tentative summary of the general fund budget calls for recurring general fund expenditures in FY 2014 of roughly $80.8 million, with $83.6 million in expenditures the following year.
Until March 25, the draft two-year plan had called for expenditures that would have left the city’s general fund unrestricted balance at $13.1 million (16.1% of operating expenses) and $9.7 million (11.5%) for FY 2014 and FY 2015, respectively. In the second year of that plan, the 11.5% left the city well short of the 15-20% currently recommended by Crawford, even though it’s within the 8-12% mandated by city policy.
But on March 25, the revised budget proposal called for unrestricted fund balances of $13.8 million (17%) and $12.1 million (14.4%) for the respective years.
Also up to March 25, the budget proposal had called for a two-year deficit of $252,000 for a specific subset of line items – which included recurring revenues, recurring expenses, recurring new requests and one-time requests. That’s a number that Crawford wants to balance for the two-year plan, even if it doesn’t balance in any one year. On March 25, the new figure was positive at $699,000 – or almost $1 million better than the original proposal.
The conversation between Powers, Crawford and Askins is reported below in more detail.
Pulling out some highlights, the discussion confirmed that this year’s budget won’t include a significant re-thinking of service delivery. Greater efficiencies and improved service could result from taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, but the recent departure of IT director Dan Rainey is not seen as an immediate opportunity for that kind of efficiency – say, through a further merging of the Washtenaw County and city IT operations. Rainey’s position will be filled. With respect to IT in general, the telecommunications component of the staff’s draft economic development work plan – referred to as “fiber optic to the premises” – is still so conceptual in nature that the question of funding hasn’t been explored in detail.
Communication to the public from the city – in the form of reliable, consistent information about police and fire incidents – is a key part of the council priority that Ann Arbor feel (and be) safe. Related to that priority, the city administrator appears receptive to the idea of a data feed produced by the city containing all the police and fire calls. He indicated that a survey of citizens on attitudes and experience with public safety, as well as a range of other topics, is likely to be included in the FY 2014 budget.
With regard to a tentative proposal to remove funding for re-use of the city-owned 415 W. Washington site, it appears that the change was purely a function of a desire to get the budget “into the box.” [Full Story]