Pay Bills

A budget should be more than a bill-paying exercise

By Reggie Connell, Editor

The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

–Jon Bon Jovi

When I go to a restaurant, I open a menu and decide which starters, sides, main course and dessert I want. I don’t choose everything on the menu, but I want to know my options. I check prices carefully and make sure I have enough money to pay for what I want and that the price is appropriate.

On the downside, I don’t have a waiter telling me I have $10 to spend, no menu to review, and for that amount I can have liver and onions, but if I want to make changes, it is better that they are minor.

This is the treatment Apopka City Council receives during the budget process.

At its July 27 meeting, the Board voted 5-0 to set a mileage rate of 4.1876. The vote preceded three days of budget workshops.

According to City Administrator Edward Bass, the general fund is $64.2 million, $5.7 million more than the previous year’s budget, an increase of 9.84%.

In the 2021/22 budget, the general fund was $58.5 million, up $6.1 million from the previous year, an increase of 11.6%. The mileage rate was 4.1876, the same as this budget.

A budget and a kilometer rate engraved in stone

Many things have changed at Apopka, but many have remained the same, namely the mileage rate and the budget. It seems to be practically carved in stone even before being approved.

Apopka, for better or worse, is treading water, and there’s no reason to expect anything different anytime soon. It supports the needs of the department with the least amount of funding possible. He rubs pennies and pennies together and pinches pennies. It would be admirable if every department was fully funded and staffed, the city was on track for the future and met all the needs of the city, but we all know that is not the case.

Apopka only looks to the future for unavoidable things like a public safety center or sewage treatment facilities, and its system almost guarantees that outcome.

Wash, rinse, dry and repeat…

For too many cycles, there has been a static rhythm of budget workshops that goes like this:

  • City staff and administration tentatively set a mileage rate before city council could interact.
  • At the workshops, each department head presents a budget to the city council that appears to be pre-cut from anything extra and fits into the tentative mileage rate.
  • The city council listens to each department head and asks questions but rarely pushes them to add anything to their budget. They are, after all, not the experts in these departments.
  • After the department heads have finished their presentations, the city administrator presents the full budget. He points out that this balances out at the provisional mileage rate they pre-set, and the amount – also pre-set.
  • The Board, with no practical option but to approve the budget/mileage rate as is or possibly add a minor item or modest mileage increase, votes to approve.
  • There is no discussion of vision or planning for the future.

At this point there is only the option of blowing months of work, increasing the mileage rate to an unreasonable level, or accepting the pre-packaged budget and mileage rate – which is always the case.

Wash, rinse, dry and repeat in the next budget cycle.

A debate on a tenth of a mill

Last budget season, I watched the city council debate on the difference between a mileage rate of 4.2876 and 4.1876. Rather than keep about $400,000 and invest it in a number of needs, they lowered the mileage rate by a tenth of a mill and gave Apopka ratepayers a rebate of about $20 each.

This process turns a discussion the size of a mole like a tenth of a mill into a mountainous Lincoln-Douglas debate because there is nothing left on the table to institute change or move Apopka forward.

In this budget, there was little to no mention of issues like the annexation of South Apopka, the addition of additional fire truck personnel, or an economic development plan. As has been the case for years, this budget was more like someone sitting down to pay their bills and making sure of their checking account balances at the end.

The annexation of South Apopka, the addition of firefighters to the apparatus, and economic development were three of the biggest issues of the election cycle.

But don’t get me wrong, Apopka; election cycles and budget workshops are two very different discussions.

A different approach

I’ve read a lot of municipal budgets over the past few weeks, and this contrasts sharply with Apopka’s approach. Other cities write about the goals they have achieved in the past year, then look far into the future at potential projects. That doesn’t mean they go on a spending spree and cripple their taxpayers with unnecessary amenities for their community, but they spend time imagining their future needs and putting plans into action.

It’s time for Apopka to introduce a different plan.

Let’s start with the concept that a budget starts at zero and works its way through the needs and investments of the City until it is complete. This still allows the Council to focus on low mileage and reserves if they choose, but it also shows them all the options available to push Apopka forward.

On the first day of the workshops, each department head starts by presenting a complete budget of everything that is necessary for the proper functioning of his department. Not just for the coming year, but also for future expenses.

Instead of being a ceremonial stamp, the city council would determine what is a need, what is a need, what is for the future and what will be cut.

Once department heads are done, there will be a new feature to close workshops. A feature that would be beneficial to vision. One aspect that is missing in the way Apopka builds its budget.

Strategy, planning and innovation

Many municipalities across the country use departments, divisions, or individuals to lead discussions about strategy, planning, and innovation in their community. This department or person would help city leaders define their vision, set goals, and develop strategies to achieve those goals. He could also design, manage and pitch ideas, identify resources for data analysis, engage with neighbors to hear feedback, design and test solutions to improve experiences, and measure performance to improve efficiency.

This process would be designed to give Apopka a roadmap five, 10 and 25 years into its future.

Some parts would be inaccessible. A portion would be earmarked for future budgets. Other parts would be implemented in future years, while other parts the City could pull the trigger on in its current budget.

It takes vision and planning to do great things like annexing South Apopka, bringing a university or even a YMCA to town, adding firefighters to an appliance, or building a robust economy filled with fine restaurants and a dignified downtown. to boast beyond the inauguration ceremonies. .

Moving Apopka to its inevitable future will never happen under the current budget plan. Apopka City Council will continue to tread water until it decides not to. It’s time to take the training wheels off and let this diverse and creative group of leaders have more options to build this great city beyond the current budget year.

Apopka,

Apopka City Council,

Apopka City Budget,

South Apopka,

Apopka firefighters,

Economic development,

Vision