Town Meeting Day is March 7, and for a number of towns the ballot will include next fiscal year’s budget. If you’ve been following the budget wrangles recently in Rutland city, budgets are no small matter for city hall, department heads and taxpayers. I understand how budgets can be helpful tools for managing tax money but they can also become battlegrounds over contested allocations.
The Rutland city budget became a recent battleground for the city’s fire department because of not having several key elements: a strategic plan and a fiscal management plan. The Rutland city budget process needs to add these strategic planning tools to its budget process and soon. Budgets should never become a contested fight within city hall.
My ultimate goal as alderman is finding tax relief for residents. That’s impossible until a strategic planning process is functioning. Strategic planning is no longer a luxury for municipal governments. It’s a necessity in today’s world.
I recently spoke to a city official about strategic planning documents to which this year’s budget was linked. I learned that, except for a report the city prepared several years ago to meet a Vermont municipalities’ requirement, there aren’t any. That state report was not used in preparing the city’s current budget.
Strategic planning tools to help municipal government budget planning have been common practice since the 1990s. Rutland has not implemented these planning tools. Not surprisingly, writing budgets not based on long range goals or fiscal management plans can result in a list of problems: poor decisions, contested line items, misapplied funds, and community frustrations when taxes go up.
I believe the city would benefit from a goal-directed plan of action and a biennial fiscal management plan which would be linked to developing line items. Since the city puts the tax burden squarely on residents’ shoulders, I believe the city should attempt to incorporate current best practices in carrying out its fiduciary obligations.
When the city’s budget is directly linked to the wishes of city residents and City Hall via a five-year strategic plan and to the department heads via a biennial fiscal management plan, we will discover how much savings we can expect. Then we will find tax relief for taxpayers, which is my ultimate goal.
Gail Johnson, Rutland
(Candidate for Aldermen)