Thursday, June 17, 2010

Redmond's BP budget process - not a 'catastrophe', but close to it.

OPINION:    UPDATED:  The Administration couldn't have picked a worse name for their "Budgeting By Priorities" process - BP!   Unfortunately, the name is fitting.   As far as public participation is concerned, the BP process was a disaster.  

Mayor Marchione (in photo) held a Public Hearing last night to wrap up the BP process.  No one showed to speak pro or con.  Did anyone know about it?   As usual, city advertising of BP public participation events was faint.  Only 6 citizens signed-up for the first meeting and 12 for the second.  The key purpose of BP is to engage citizens in the budget process.  This pitiful Hearing combined with the others make for a Triple Storm - a public process disaster.

The Mayor was prepared for the worst.   Melissa Files, his finance manager, spoke immediately after the Hearing to PR the  BP.  I listened in on the tapes of the meeting and bent over, laughing in pain, when Melissa stated,  "The BP process gets a whole bunch of citizens and employees involved in the budget".

Truth came out on how the Administration measures our capacity for taxation and budgetary needs.  Administration obviously can't rely on pubic input.  Rather, they use a book (Osborne and Hutchinson.) as their gold standard for deciding on how much taxation we can take.  Melissa summarized the book:
"there's a band within which citizens are willing to pay taxes based on total city revenues as compared to personal income.  The band for Redmond is 5-6% of personal income." 
Oh, so THAT'S how Mayor John Marchione knew he could raise our property tax 1% last election?  He applied the formula! 

Melissa promoted transparency and accountability in the BP process and claimed the six key priorities of BP were "developed in 2008 by the citizens of Redmond".  Huh?  What did she say?   First, I went to all 2008 BP public meetings; the 6 priorities where predetermined and stated without any public input.  Second, the Mayor claims he has "identified" $2.6M in efficiencies this biennium, but he's still opaque on their implementation.

This BP process looks like a lost cause but you can still "participate" at BPquestions@redmond.gov, or please comment here.  Two state-mandated public Hearings on the budget will be held this Fall.   

Opinion By Bob Yoder

References:  
6/15 Council meeting tape
2009-2010 Mid-Biennial Review Performance Management
Public Record:  BP Innovation/Efficiency Initiative, 4/2010
Participation at 2008 / 2010 BP Meetings.

3 comments:

Howard Frazier said...

If the budget process has ‘citizen input’ as a core principle, then all evidence indicates that it is a failed process. If there was substantial notification of reasonable opportunities for input from citizens, then there would be substantial input offered.

I think that the persons responsible for collecting input did not use contemporary tools and methods to notify citizens of the opportunity and/or the methods available for input were not acceptable.

Several years ago, I received a form in the mail from the city which asked me to indicate my interest in various services so budget priorities could reflect citizen opinion. I filled in the form and returned it because I am interested in providing my input on the use of the revenue collected by the city.

What is the current method that the city uses to communicate with the citizens? How successful is it? I get regular e-mail from my HOA and from King County about how to participate in the decision making process.

I looked at the city web site about the budget process and the information published there is outdated and frankly embarrassingly sparse for such an important issue. If I was a skeptic, I might assume that they don’t really want to hear from a majority of citizens, but rather they only want to hear from policy wonks who like to address a forum of like-minded people. There is no method for input except to attend one of the two meetings in person at city hall and address the crowd. Does this sound like a genuine outreach for citizen input? The announcement of the meetings on the web-site merely instructs citizens to; “Come and tell City staff what services, programs and projects you want to see in the 2011/2012 budget.” Missing is the invitation to tell them what programs and projects you DON’T want to see in the 2011/2012 budget. Part of prioritization is identifying the less important programs and services so that we know where to cut when the revenue won’t support everything. Adding more revenue isn’t the only way to handle that problem.

Compare this method to how the city collected input on changes to the Ed Hill/North Redmond area a few years ago. In this case there were numerous community meetings in the area to describe the proposed changes, at least two open houses on a Saturday, multiple presentations by the mayor and other city staff to describe alternatives. This activity provided an opportunity to learn about the projects prior to providing input.

If the budget process requires input from citizens to be successful then a reasonable goal should be set for such input. For example; “Input must be received from 10% of the households and businesses.” The budgeting process is very expensive; what percentage of that cost is spent collecting citizen input? The answer to that question may provide insight into how important citizen input is to the process.

Bob Yoder said...

Thank you, Howard for taking the time and thought to write the BP process. Please send it to the Redmond Reporter. They need Letters to balance their P.R. reporting and you'll get better exposure. I will post your comment on the next available Page of this blog. Thank you for signing your name. It gives to credibility and allows me to move it up on a Page. Perhaps, one day you would chose to write a Column!

Bob Yoder said...

I attended one of two community meetings for BP in 2010. I learned from Marta Gronlund, COR Communications from a Public Record Request that only 12 citizens signed into the second meeting. If you were watching the meeting on RCTV you would never know because the chambers were stacked up with staff. Probably 5-6 staff for every citizen. Only one group of citizens showed up to "lobby" for funding put in a good face. They constituted half of the citizens (6). The Mayor uses the TV cameras and staff to create a "presence of participation" that doesn't exist. P.R.