What began last summer as lists of numbers officially became the City’s 2015 Operating Budget when we rang in the New Year on January 1, 2015.
The City Budget isn’t likely to generate a lot of New Year’s celebrations but it’s arguably the most important document we produce. Everything we do is important but if you want to know what’s most important to Kent, read the budget to see what gets funded, what’s in the pipeline, and what regrettably gets deferred.
Community aspirations become priorities in the budget, and those priorities drill down to become services and programs with dollars and employees allocated to achieve them.
For example, the goal of a safe community leads to a prioritization of Police and Fire services with dollars specifically set aside to fund Police Officers, Fire Fighters, and all of the emergency service technology that is needed to keep us safe.
Core community goals — like safe community, financial sustainability, strong neighborhoods, and environmental stewardship — don’t change that much but we’ve got to keep our services nimble enough to adjust to the changing needs of our residents so dollars can change at the ground level of the City organization in order to keep pace with the community.
Those kind of service adjustments move resources around in the budget to make sure that the services stay in tune with City Council and community expectations from year to year. Sometimes that means very little may change in the budget but other years budget allocations can shift around more significantly.
Whether the Budget changes a little or lot, the process of evaluating the effectiveness of City services and programs in meeting community priorities and drafting the corresponding City Budget takes 6 months every year.
With a half a year devoted to developing the City’s Operating Budget each year it always feels a little anti-climatic when we present it to City Council.
That’s partly due to the consistency of your goals from year to year but it’s also a function of the fact that our City budget has been so tight for so long that just about every last drop of “discretionary” funding has been squeezed out — so despite all the work that goes into it, we’re pretty limited in regards to how much funding we can actually push around from one year to the next.
When I look back at the budget messages I’ve delivered over the years we’ve been “holding the line” now for a decade, cutting and chipping away expenses from every nook and cranny we could find.
The City is a service organization which means about 75% of our budget is invested in our people and as long as the community continues to want the services that our employees provide, it’s tough to find much money to move around that isn’t already tied-up in our employees.
We’ve reduced head count, improved productivity and in some cased even contracted out City services to save money, and move money around the Budget, but these are mostly fine-tunings to optimize what we do and how we do it rather than initiating major budget changes.
Communities tend to place a high value on fiscal prudence and service stability which is why we don’t tend to see dramatic swings to expand or reduce City Budgets.
Serving broad based communities like Kent requires a conscientious approach to budgeting that ensures City services are working to get better every year without forgetting the value of even the smallest City services to pockets of need in the community.
Inherently that internal tension to save money but keep delivering City services tends to favor thoughtful, incremental change — which is how I would characterize the Budget process that I have been involved in here in Kent for the last 10 years.
Our 2015 Operating budget continues to focus on stability, continuity and perseverance – what I consider the new benchmarks of City performance in an era when Federal and State funding to local governments has steadily declined leaving cities to fend for themselves with smaller and smaller budgets.
Our City services remain firmly in the orbit of our strategic goals and our top service priorities remain true – Fire, Police, Streets Repairs, Snow Plowing, Water will be just as important in 2015 as they were in 2014, 2010 or 1990.