Ideas for public input also being discussed
During the Apopka City Council meeting on May 16th, Commissioner Alexander Smith made a suggestion to city staff regarding public interaction during the upcoming budget workshops.
In previous formats, the City Council goes over the budget line-by-line until they reach the end. The City Council, Finance Director, and City Administrator works with each department head, listens to presentations by them and their staff, reviews their proposed budgets, and then makes decisions on what stays and what goes in the budget. But while the 2014-2017 workshops were open to the public, they did not allow public comments or interaction until the budget was completed, a consensus was reached, and then returned to City Council meetings.
Smith would like to change that process and give the public an opportunity to weigh-in earlier.
“At the previous budget workshops, it’s my understanding that the public was not allowed to have input,” Smith said. “I would like to see city staff set up a strategic planning workshop so that the public can have input in the process.”
It’s an idea Smith talked about during his campaign in the Seat #1 City Commission election. Mayor Bryan Nelson was in support of Smith’s request for the public to be more involved with the budgeting process, and he too had thoughts.
“The public will definitely have input,” he said. “I brought that up at the last meeting.”
Nelson also went into more depth with his idea to allow the public to be more involved with the budget during a March interview with The Apopka Voice when he said this:
“If they (the residents in attendance) have a question or a suggestion about the budget, I definitely want their input. What I’d like to do is give those interested in interacting a postcard or an index card and have them put their question or suggestion there… input through written questions by the public. We will try to answer the question right there or will get the answer for them.”
For the past four years, the City Council met in July and conducted either three or four workshops for a total of 20-25 hours per year to work on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but Nelson would like to get a head start this budget cycle. He is calling for the workshops to take place in June, and although the process has been arduous, he still believes that the City staff will be ready for the earlier starting date.
“We are diligently working on trying to get the numbers where we can even have budget workshops but we’re not there yet. But trust me, (City Administrator) Edward Bass is pulling his hair out trying to make it work, but we’ve got some issues. As soon as we get to a place to make it work, we will. We have budgets in from every department, and just so you know we have three different line items, a proposed budget for each of the departments, a flat budget from each of the departments, and a negative 5% budget from each of the departments. Last year we spent $6 million out of reserves to balance the budget, so we want to look at those things and we’re going to prioritize how we get to a budget, so we are working hard to do that.”