Posts Tagged ‘citizen engagement’

on adoption of the budget – April 7

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

While I have mixed emotions on the budget we are adopting today, I am grateful to the citizens and to the staff who have put their brains to work to help plan our financial future for the next year.

On the plus side- Albemarle County and the White Hall district in particular showed the rest of the country that people who disagree on matters of perspective and principle can discuss issues with courtesy and look for common ground and solutions.

The White Hall district residents have shown me again how wide is the diversity of opinion. In addition to the two public hearings, my three town halls around the district in March were well attended with almost 200 people. Each had a distinct voice, with one more in favor of the equalized rate to support more basic services and prevent cuts, with one more in favor of the current tax rate and further cuts. The last was a toss-up. Many folks have suggestions of improvements to be made. Many have been making those suggestions for many years, and with the economy, feel they are now being heard more clearly.

Since January I have been asking everyone who contacted me about taxes if they could live with the same bill. The huge majority said they could. The majority of people who contacted me via phone, email, and the meetings were in favor of greater expenditures to fund the programs they prioritize. Because of that, I am representing the district by voting for the equalized rate.

I do also understand the hardship people feel and the uncertainty in the economy for next year.

On the negative side-

We have not yet had that debate about core services. We backed into the issue several times as we struggled about different cuts to restore to the budget. In the future we need to provide better guidance to staff, not just a cap. We cannot fund our needs if we don’t first list our needs.

We have broken our own budget policies by putting off building until another more expensive time and by directing our school board to use one time monies for operating expenses and program maintenance. We need to remember that in the future. We have little contingency and no new capital investment.

Citizens have clearly said they want to pay for the direct contact employees, the teachers, firefighters, police officers, social services workers. They are less passionate about those of us in supervisory roles.

How can we improve this process? Starting right away, I propose we steal an idea from Nelson County supervisors. They meet two by two with school board members on a monthly basis and through these meetings gain a more complete understanding of the role of and the problems of each board. This has improved their budget planning, and I think we should try it.

I also challenge the school board members themselves to more actively engage with citizens. I hope to see them involved in fact checking, rumor control, making the case to their communities in the same way we do with ours. Neighborhood organizations will welcome school board reps to their meetings just as they welcome us. The broader understanding to be achieved will benefit us all during the challenges of budgets and planning for future operations. We must lose the “us and them” attitudes and mistrust which have divided us. Our citizens demand it.