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Council to try one-day hearings to speed budget process

When the Common Council figures out how to spend nearly a half billion dollars this year, members plan to do it in a lot less time than before.

Under the Council’s new budget procedure, budget hearings will take place all on one day – on Thursday – and all department heads will be on-call all day to answer and ask questions, said Council President Darius G. Pridgen. The budget workshops also will be held on one day: May 11, with department heads on hand to answer and ask questions

Both the hearings and workshops are scheduled to start at 9 a.m.

A public hearing for community members to weigh in on the budget will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday.

"We decided to try it for efficiency and better communication with departments," Pridgen said.

In the past, budget meetings and hearings were scheduled in the mornings and afternoons with only two department heads at a time, Pridgen said. If Council members had additional questions, the representatives would have to be scheduled for an additional session.

"It took two weeks to do this," Pridgen said. "This way, everyone will be on call on the same day. This will serve people better."

Mayor Byron W. Brown presented his $499 million budget plan to the Council on Monday. It increases city spending by $6 million, but holds the line on residential taxes and includes a slight dip – less than 1 percent – in the commercial tax rate.

The spending plan relies on $11 million to $12 million from the city’s current reserves to balance the budget.

The new tax rates, under Brown’s budget proposal, would be $17.88 per $1,000 of assessed value for residential property and $26.76 per $1,000 for commercial properties.

The residential rate would remain unchanged.  The commercial rate, currently $27.01  per $1,000, would drop by 25 cents – resulting in roughly a  $25 tax reduction on a commercial property assessed at $100,000.

"We’re going to go through every line in the budget," said Niagara District Councilman David A. Rivera. "We try to find money in certain lines that we can allocate or reassign and work with the administration to make those changes."

The percentage of changes is less than one percent, said Rivera, who is going through his ninth budget process.

One of the things that University District Councilman Rasheed N.C. Wyatt will be looking for is a year-to-year comparison, "especially as it speaks to overtime, as well as any new staff that’s been brought forth, asking questions about what that new person is going to do." This is Wyatt’s fourth budget process since becoming a councilman in January 2014.

The new budget will take effect in the fiscal year beginning July 1.


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