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Hall Monitor

Crunching Numbers

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The numbers aren't good.

At the city council's first budget retreat on Tuesday, October 14, city economist Drew Barton told the mayor and commissioners what they're facing as they start crafting next year's budget.

Business license revenues are slated to fall. They were originally forecasted to grow slightly, to just under $77 million in 2009. Now, it's more likely they'll come in around $66 million, if past recessions are any indication.

Similarly, the city's hotel-motel tax will likely fall about $2 million short of forecasts. Both revenue sources are currently forecasted to bottom out in 2010 before rising again.

Though the council hasn't made a final decision yet, bureaus will likely have to submit budget requests that are trimmed back by five percent.

But never fear! Mayor-elect Sam Adams has a plan to revamp the budget process, adding a "twist" so the council will be in a better position to analyze those budget requests next spring.

Adams indicated he'll be ditching the method current Mayor Tom Potter used to craft budgets. The committee-loving Potter broke the commissioners up into teams of two to dig through bureau's budgets. Adams says he'd rather see each commissioner pitching budget requests alongside a bureau's manager, while the other four council members act as the "ways and means committee, asking the tough questions," he explained. "The idea being that we own the requested budgets, and we own the conversation, and we act as advocates [for our bureaus]."

Adams gave another hint of how he'd be using the budget process to cement his authority: "I'm going to be looking to the engagement of the commissioner in charge [during the budget process] as one factor in future bureau assignments. The budget is not just how we spend money; it's the work plan, it's the template."

Meanwhile, Commissioner Randy Leonard jumped in with his own idea on how to help the city get through a recession: Keep spending on capital improvement projects.

He wants to send the message that "we're doing things to create jobs that are also addressing our infrastructure concerns." As he explained, it's a strategy "to avoid getting hurt worse than we are—that we're not contracting public works projects, but expanding them."

Adams added that it's about "being timely in how we spend our money, to keep people working" and suggested the city look into moving up some project schedules. The two discussed putting together a short list of projects to pitch to the federal government for funding, if a new New Deal-style plan gathers national interest. "Let's be thefirst in the door," Adams said.

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