Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Still Talking About that $4 Million Surplus

A discussion about what to do with a $4 million surplus in the Capital Improvement Plan has now been going on since March. You all may recall that the mayor wanted to use the $4 million surplus towards the event center debt. The city council never got to see what the directors' recommendations were for the money. The mayor wouldn't tell them. He had his own plan on what to do with the surplus money.  That didn't sit very well with some of the councilors. So, six of the eight city councilors voted no to the mayor's proposal. So, now the ball is in their court on where to designate the surplus money.

At the April 2nd Fiscal Committee meeting, they talked about the need for a better process and tasked council budget/audit staff to gather information to establish a policy regarding surplus/unobligated CIP funds in a calendar year so they don't have to revisit this issue/problem every year. And they asked the administration to bring forth some recommendations on how to use the money. Tick, Tock, as we go into the second quarter of the year with no decision yet on what to do with that surplus money. Still talking.

At the May 1st Fiscal Committee meeting, the city finance director presented 3 options to the city council on how to spend the surplus money:
  • Option A moves $300,000 to the current 2012 CIP because there is not enough money for the 14th Street project between Minnesota Ave and Phillips Ave. The remainder of the money would go to arterial street construction projects.
  • Option B identifies 8 different public works projects related to street improvements, including the 14th Street project that needs an infusion of additional money.
  • Option C sets aside money for quality of life projects like an aquatics center at Spellerberg Park, etc.
What to do, what to do. That is the question that is still going to take some time it looks like. The suggestion was to work on this "problem" at a council working session. Councilor Erpenbach spoke up saying the administration has done their job by outlining their recommendations/options. The council has other projects to put into the equation and the council can get together to add them all up to equal the $4 million surplus that is available.

Back and forth, back and forth they went trying to find a date. When the date went to the middle of June, Councilor Karsky spoke up and said why can't we do this sooner? They finally settled on a May 21st working session.

The calendar year will be, at a minimum, half over before a decision is made regarding that surplus money. Not much leeway time for public works to get those projects cranked up and shovel ready. There has got to be a better way to deal with this issue and yes, a policy might help them get there since it seems they can only talk about it a month at a time. This whole thing is a good example of government moving at a snails pace and never getting anything done.

I have an idea for a policy. The minute the finance department identifies a surplus in CIP funds, the finance director notifies the mayor who in turn requires directors to identify priorities/needs, whether it be ongoing projects, infrastructure or building maintenance needs that have cropped up since the plan was adopted, or emergency capital needs. The administration would present their recommendations to the City Council, who would review the administration's recommendations, and set the priorities for how the surplus money is to be spent. How hard is that?

Then maybe, the city council won't have to spend half a year talking and talking about what to do and citizens can see a little pro-active action in city government. Oh, and it would be nice if the mayor doesn't hijack the information flow to the city council. After all, the city council is the final decision maker on all fiscal matters. Although the council is taking their sweet time resolving this matter, the blame for this delay lays squarely with the mayor who wouldn't even share information regarding directors' recommendations on where the surplus money should be directed to in the first place.

This whole thing is not a good representation of effective government and business acumen.


  1. Another example of this disfunctional Council. Why can't they get off the dime and just make a decision?

  2. Don't forget to keep out 1.1 million dollars to pay for the studies done for the railroad track/yard move that seems to have hit a dead end!!

  3. Future fire station 12 was completely removed from the CIP. Not pushed back, removed. Rumor has it that the fire chief wasn't consulted (no surprise) but simply found out about the removal. I don't know if the city needs more fire stations but it seems to me a cut back of services to pay for.......the Events Center.

  4. Let's be clear here. The first finger of blame should be directed to this mayor who wouldn't put out the plan as submitted by Directors for the use of this money for CIP projects. We can blame this ineffective council and they surely deserve it, but the first blame sits squarely with this mayor who has his own agenda and be hanged all those professional career people who work in city government that he refuses to listen to. He has an ego so big it actually works against the betterment of this community.

  5. But his state of city address was so positive and enlightening. Where are his plans for the future and how he is going to move his city of great people towards a better tomorrow? I thought a state of the city would address that....