Even the best public administrators make mistakes, which is why it is important to surround yourself with excellent staff (and summer interns of course). My shining moment in my week with Finance came after reading through the proposed budget, when City Manager Lane Bailey walked in and asked me if I had any thoughts. I mentioned my interest in an “Animal Tax” in the budget ordinance that charges $1 per dog, and went on to explain my real concern – that cats were not being charged, too (clearly the tax was created by a cat lover). At this moment, City Manager Bailey realized that he wasn’t aware of this tax and had not paid it for his own dog, pulling out a dollar and handing it to the Finance Director. It was certainly a close call, but thankfully an MPA intern was there to catch the oversight.
On a more serious note, I had some interesting conversations about the budget with finance staff throughout the week. One question I had was why more line-item detail was put in this years’ budget compared to last year. Apparently, a council member (or multiple) requested more information compared to last years’ budget, which mostly had totals for different departments and funds. This prompted another discussion about how the council members shape the budget details and priorities, and specifically how these areas can change with changes in elected officials. This is especially true for Salisbury, as all 5 council seats come up for election at the same time every 2 years, meaning the council could actually be 5 new and completely different people from cycle to cycle.
Another interesting part of Salisbury’s budget is the inclusion of capital replacement funds. That is, the budget already allocates money to replace capital assets when they reach their designated use life, without departments having to request new funds whenever a piece of equipment gets old. For example, when a computer is 4 years old (not sure on the lifetime assigned to a computer but go with it) funds are already there to replace that computer without requiring a department to complain about a slow computer and send in a request for new computers in their next budget. You may have the same question I did – what do you do with the old computer? The City of Salisbury utilizes a website called GovDeals.com, which allows local governments to sell equipment to anyone (YES, EVEN YOU!) and make some money back for the City. Supposedly one municipality used the site to sell a whole water tower for $2, but they saved the $50,000 it would have cost them to tear it down as the buyer is responsible for picking it up (I don’t really know how the process of taking a water tower works because I doubt it fits in a truck bed, but I assume the buyer paid for it to be taken apart himself).
I would like to end by mentioning a tougher meeting I attended with Finance this week. Essentially, a department was getting feedback on potentially requesting an expensive but important backup generator setup. The setup would cost nearly $80,000, but would be the backup if the power and first generator went out at the location, potentially providing power to crucial systems during an emergency. Further, the setup would also provide power to the designated Emergency Operations Center that houses those systems, which is a crucial location to have power in emergency situations. It is tough to spend a lot of money on something you hope you never need to use, and while the decision seemed to be in favor of the project, the question then becomes about when you pay for it, especially around fiscal year end.
That does it for Finance Week. Feel free to check out Salisbury’s proposed budget here, and check back later to see the adopted budget (fun fact: Salisbury’s adopted budget includes an Addendum that lists changes between the proposed and the adopted budgets).
Come back next week for Planning!
As a reward for making it through this long post with no pictures, here is my current fav restaurant in Salisbury, Yummi Banh Mi: