The issue is the marked difference between the proposed budget as presented to the City Council for approval on July 23, 2012 and the revised budget as presented to the Council for consideration starting on August 8, 2012.
However, as we started to write this, we began to wonder if something else even greater has happened.
It all started when we went to look at the budgetary procedures for the city. These procedures can be found in the City Charter under section 6.3. While it may be possible that there are additions to the charter that would govern the budgetary process, we could not find any such additions or changes.
We recognize that we are treading in deep water here because there are a lot of intelligent people in the city, and we wonder why we are the only ones who are seeing this. If we are wrong, please tell us and we will correct our understanding, but for now we are going to go with what we know.
Sec. 6.03. Budget.
(a) City manager’s proposed budget. No later than the first regular city council meeting in August, the city manager shall present a proposed budget to the city council for all operations of city government for the next fiscal year. In addition to any other(s) the city council may request, the proposed budget shall contain the following components:
(1) The city manager’s budget message explaining the important features, financial issues, policies and proposed policy changes, and objectives of the proposed budget;
(2) A budget summary presenting an overview of sources and amounts of anticipated revenues and expenditures; and
(3) A detailed budget presenting the specifics of all anticipated revenues and expenditures.
On July 23, 2012, the City Council met in a special session to approve the millage rate for the city. In addition, the Council approved a calendar for the budget process. The Council is within the law to do so as long as it meets certain “hard dates” within the Charter.
The information within the packet presented to the Council had broad strokes for the proposed budget. The council also appeared to have a more detailed accounting of the budget. In fact, they’d have to as this is the only way to satisfy section 6.03(a).
If the requirements of section 6.03(a) are not met, the City Council cannot proceed with the next step in the process:
(b) City council’s proposed budget. After considering and revising the city manager’s budget as it deems necessary, the city council shall adopt a proposed budget and determine tax requirements under that budget.
We read this to mean the Council cannot set a tax (millage) rate without first approving the proposed budget.
As the Council voted to approve the millage rate, the proposed budget set by the City Manager is adopted and it moves onto the next step in the process:
(c) Public hearing. The city council shall hold a public hearing on its proposed budget at the first regular city council meeting in September, or at such other time as the city council may approve. Notice of the hearing shall be provided as required by law. All members of the public shall have the opportunity to be heard on the budget at the public hearing. After the public hearing, the city council may amend any part of its proposed budget except for expenditures required by law or debt service.
But a curious thing happened on the way to 6.03(c). Following the meeting of July 23rd meeting, Councilman Gregg Billman sent an email to interim City Manager Ayn Samuelson.
In the email, Billman states several things that we find questionable.
First and perhaps most importantly, he laid the responsibility for changing the budget to reflect totals and numbers he wants at the feet of Samuelson.
We can find no authoritative support for this action. According to the City Charter, it is the City Council who must now change the budget after a public hearing on the budget. As we sit in the process right now, the proposed budget has been accepted by the City Council. In addition, the millage rate has been set based on that approved budget.
As we said, we cannot see any support that allows the proposed budget as approved by the Council to be changed before public comment. Even then, it is the City Council that must make the changes – not the City Manager.
We may be wrong on this. There very well could be additions to the City Charter or other laws controlling this process of which we are not aware. So let’s assume the Billman email is legal in directing Samuelson to trim the budget.
Samuelson made more and deeper cuts than her initial proposed budget and came up with a “revised” budget.
The numbers are radically different:
As you can see, the Police Department lost $167,000 in funding. We have received emails as to what this cost cutting would entail, but without proof positive we will not speculate. The Department of Public Works’ funding was cut by $76,649. Once again, we have received some information on how these cuts will be implemented, but without proof, we aren’t going to put the actual cuts out there.
While we are having difficulties with Billman’s actions, we should note the department heads recommended these cuts as well. Some people have said the department heads had to make the cuts otherwise they would be facing a vengeful Council may or may not be true, but the purpose of the “Department Heads Recommends” column within the budget is to let the public and the Council see there was a conflict.
There are those within the city who wish to oppose these cuts. The problem we are having in opposing the cuts is that it is hard for us to fight for that which the department heads will not. Some have said the department heads of all affected departments may not say anything for fear of their jobs. We disagree with that assessment as the department heads we know are of such integrity they would not put their own interests above that of the citizens of the city. If departments believe they cannot fulfill their duties given the budgetary constraints, the people of Satellite Beach will listen. If the City Council does not hear the concerns of the department heads, they will hear the people’s voice.
That being said, we want to return to the Billman email.
We find several things that are opinions and subjective. As to the woman who said her husband made less than the head of the Rec Department, that is something we believe should be addressed and we shall do so now.
We have known and worked with Kerry Stoms for a long time. The only emotion we have ever seen her wearing on her shoulder is one of being tired. She has always greeted us with a smile and “what do you need?” The Rec Department is what it is in many ways because of her. She works tirelessly for much more than 40 hours per week and if paid hourly instead of on a salary, her pay check would be far above that which she takes home now. So to the woman with the engineer husband, when your husband works 60 – 65 hours a week, has developed a department that is perceived as the best in the county, and affects tens of thousands of people, get back to us.
We do not doubt there are people in the public sector that are over compensated. That does not mean all pubic workers are over compensated. Comparing an engineer’s pay with that of the head of a department within in the city is comparing grapes to basketballs. Billman should know better and at least try and compare apples to apples and not rely on sheer jealousy of a person’s pay.
The “buy back” of unused sick leave is a dual edged sword. If you totally eliminate the buy back program, people will simply use the sick days whether they are sick or not. In a city of limited employees, you have now set up the situation when employees are not present will rise. Councilwoman Denan complained during the July 18, 2012 City Council meeting she had tried to reach Code Enforcement for three hours without success one afternoon. Half of the department was out on vacation and others were out in the field doing their jobs. If people think that type of situation will not increase as people are out of the office more and more because they are “sick,” we have a nice bridge in Brooklyn we can sell them. It is true that many private corporations have eliminated buy back programs, it is also true the practice is making a comeback, as companies see it as a moral booster. It is a changing dynamic in companies these days. We would rather pay for unused sick days at a reduced rate per day then to have to pay overtime to cover the missed work. That is just us, however.
Billman also reminded Samuelson she should implement recommendations offered by the Citizen’s Advisory Panel for Efficient Government (CAPEG.)
We went looking for what these recommendations may include. Using the CAPEG’s Final Report, we made the following chart of recommendations offered by the CAPEG. The first column is the section and the page number within the CAPEG’s reort under which the recommendation found in the second column can be read. The recommendation as given in the second column is taken word for word from the CAPEG’s report except where we use brackets to insert wording clarifying the purpose of the recommendation. The third column answers whether the recommendation offers any direct budgetary considerations. For example, if the CAPEG recommended the elimination of an item or program, that would directly reflect in the budget. To explain why that would be important, the fourth column shows whether the recommendation was “further study” on the issue. While it is true the results and findings of a study may result in savings if implemented, “more study” usually means additional costs – not savings.
The results are startling and in our opinion, disputes Councilman Billman’s contention there are savings in the CAPEG report as it sits now. That is not to say the CAPEG does not have ideas that most likely will result in savings. The implementation of those ideas will result in savings in the budget at the end of the year and not in the proposed budget because the CAPEG cannot and does not offer any dollar amounts along with their recommendations.
Given this summary, it is hard for us to see how Samuelson can implement budget reductions directly associated with the CAPEG’s recommendations. As we said, the CAPEG report mostly calls for more study, and even if after various studies found there would be savings by implementations of different policies, those savings would be seen at the end of the year. At best, the savings would be included within the proposed budget for next year.
It is our opinion that budgeting in the hope more study will yield practical ideas that may result in savings is reckless and irresponsible.
We want to take note of this paragraph in the Billman email as well:
Please do not force council to make decisions for you as the past city manager did. I supported your selection because I believe you to be a no-nonsense business professional who can make the tough decisions.
We have read this several times and it sounds a great deal like a threat to us. If anyone can come up with a different meaning, we would love to hear it.
We know that we are not experts in budgeting and we could be reading the budgetary process incorrectly. We will accept the criticism if we are wrong. However, even if we are wrong on the process, we believe from the Billman email forward, we are on fairly solid footing. We will stand by our assertions in that half of our post.
Finally, we should acknowledge there is an email being sent around attributing a quote to us where we say:
“What I don’t understand is the basis for Billman telling Samuelson to cut more than $200,000 from the budget.
Section 6.00 of the City Charter provides the budgetary process and for the life of me, and cannot see any authority that would allow him to tell Samuelson her budget needs to be cut.
The really odd thing is that Jim Beadle is excused from the budget meeting on the 8th. There won’t be anyone there other than a few good people that can say “this was wrong.”
Depending on how bad this is, the meeting on the 8th could be a bloodbath”.
We want to acknowledge the quote attributed to us is accurate. We said it and while it may be a little “tin foil hatted,” we are truly worried about the upcoming budgetary meetings as many people feel the process has been subverted out of the view of the public. It was only the sharp eyes of some people who are smarter than we are who brought this to light. We salute their diligence.
At the same time, we are sick and tired of this. It is not that we think previous councils did not make mistakes for which they should be held accountable. It is not that we think this council should be replaced at this time. What we are sick and tired of is that just as we see the community coming together, something like this happens. Just as the rhetoric starts to die down, something like this rears its ugly head.
Frankly, we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.