City budgets – like household budgets, only bigger | Looking Forward

By Neil Tibbott | Oct 01, 2015

When you think about how your household manages expenses, try to imagine what it would be like to involve a few thousand of your closest friends in the discussion.

You not only have to figure out what you will spend money on, but where it will come from. The good news is that with a few thousand friends someone might have some money already saved for some of those expenses.

The bad news is they might not be ready to hand it over for a few years.

What tools does the city use to involve citizens in the decision process?

Two tools the city uses to communicate what’s being considered is the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) which has a six year horizon and the Capital Facilities Program (CFP) which looks out even further.

If a project is not listed on either of these plans, it’s very difficult to include in the budget and even more difficult to obtain grant funding in a timely manner.

Once a project moves from the CFP to the CIP, it’s really time for us budget watchers to pay attention.

It means that the details for building or improving something is moving up in priority.

Bids for design and proposals for grants all start generating specific proposals that we, the citizens, can evaluate.

If you want an advanced look, you can always check out the current CFP online to see conceptual drawings and brief descriptions of what’s coming up (often with color pictures). There might even be something in your neighborhood.

How will we know what’s coming up? This is a FAQ.

One way we’ll know is when we see those signs posted on a street corner or outside of a school or at an intersection.

I usually pass them by unless I see them in my neighborhood because that’s what affects me the most. But now that I’m aware of the city budgeting process, I’ve trained myself to stop when I see a sign to find out what’s happening at that location.

Another way citizens are informed is through U.S. mail. If a neighbor, for example, wants to rezone their property from one designation to another kind of use, they must inform nearby property owners about the impending change. Similarly, advertisements and local media are used to get the word out.

Finally, before changes can go into effect, a public hearing is often required. For those who keep track of city agendas, they can wait until the hearing is announced and then show up. Most of us, however, aren’t closely tuned in with those schedules, so we only hear about them after a decision is made or construction begins.

What details go into a public planning process?

The recently completed Master Plan for Marina Beach demonstrates how a robust process for involving citizens can bring a plan forward with a lot of public support before it even goes to hearings.

Carrie Hite from the Parks Department knows that people care about our parks, so she goes the extra mile to include as many ideas as possible.

The Marina Beach planning process started with pre-meetings with stakeholder groups. A Project Advisory Committee was formed.

Three public outreaches were held as well as an online survey. All along the way plans were adjusted and revised until a proposed plan was brought to the Planning Board for a public hearing. By that time hundreds of people from emergency personnel to kite boarders to parents with children and to dog walkers had offered input.

After the hearing with the Planning Board with some minor adjustments, a final plan was presented to the City Council.

Yet, even at that point citizens and council members had an opportunity to give input.

Once the plan is approved, the city enters into another process of finding funds to build the park. Some funds come out of the city budget and others will be secured through a grant writing proposals.

Coming up with all of the funds to start the Marina Beach Park improvement could take another three to five years.

By that time, many people will have forgotten about the project and be surprised on the day when the construction crews show up to break ground.

Looking forward …

A Public Hearing on the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) is coming up on Oct. 6 at the City Council.

This set of codes has already been through the Planning Board and is now ready for council to consider.

You might be surprised to discover that environmentally sensitive zones exist all around the city and are governed by the CAO.

We have streams running through yards, protected wildlife habitat and salt water shorelines that all require special rules to guide development in those critical areas.

You will have a chance to review the ordinance along with the council next week. As always the documentation for this hearing will be online.


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