Council looking to shift budget priorities

Issues that are too costly, overly ambitious may be put on back burner for a while

Avi Salzman

— With an uncertain economic future, the city’s priorities, like many individual priorities in the aftermath of Sept. 11, have shifted. Going into 2002 with the potential for a revenue shortfall, the city is focusing on getting the nuts and bolts of government completed before taking on some of the larger issues facing the community.

As stated by a number of candidates during Campaign 2001, one of the city’s biggest priorities will be moving toward “fiscal responsibility,” with City Council members such as Loui Antonucci interested in cutting items from the budget that may not be necessary or can be deferred.

To be absolutely sure it can plow the streets this winter and pave them in the summer, the city may have to look closely at budget allocations, Antonucci said.

“What’s important to me is that we as City Council people run the city budget a little more like a business so we can get into the situation where we don’t need to reach into reserves as much,” Antonucci said.

City Council President Kathy Connell said the city would generally be carrying last year’s priorities over to this year while regularly checking sales-tax figures to see how aggressive it can be.

Capital projects, for one, will be put on the back burner as the city decides how much it can do. Its $21 million budget did not include most of the capital projects initially requested, though the council did agree to look at the budget again in April.

That doesn’t mean the city will stop looking to the future, Connell said. But priorities that are too costly or overly ambitious may be put on the back burner for a while.

“We thought that made sense,” Connell said. “Rather than jumping into some priorities that might be more based on idealism than realism.”

At the top of last year’s priorities were the creation of a housing linkage policy and the adoption and implementation of an affordable-housing policy. Each of those priorities was addressed last year at council meetings but never quite came to fruition. The linkage ordinance, which would have made developers include a certain amount of affordable housing in their developments, was actually drafted by the city staff but never adopted by the council.

City Manager Paul Hughes said developers the city talked to indicated they would rather pay impact fees than be made to provide affordable housing in their developments.

Connell said the city might see more affordable housing open up as the economy slows and housing prices slip.

“My opinion is with the economic slowdown we may see more affordable housing opening up,” Connell said.

The city also looked at establishing an adequacy of public facilities ordinance, which could be used as a growth-control measure by limiting city resources allocated to various industries or types of developments. The city, for instance, could decide to give new hotels a certain percentage of wastewater treatment capacity and when hotels had used their share up, the city would not allow any new hotels to obtain wastewater capacity.

The city is still debating whether it should use allocation as a growth-management tool, a tactic that was criticized by some speakers at a series of growth forums.

In September, the city adopted a revised Community Development Code, which was another of its priorities.

Other priorities were not as concrete, including engaging the community in discussions about expenditure, tax and revenue options and better educating the public about the city. The city is going ahead with a survey to gauge the community’s reaction to the services the city offers, which city officials say will help guide future decisions.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203

or e-mail

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