2012-05-31 / News

Mayor: city budget process is ‘dysfunctional’

By Marc Filippino
Staff Writer

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant is looking to change what he believes to be a “dysfunctional” budget process, and is looking for the finance committee to once again be in charge of creating the municipal budget.

In an e-mail dated May 24 to members of the Charter Revision Committee, Casavant suggested a change to the city’s charter. Casavant called the current budget system “cumbersome” and “impossibly frustrating, especially when members have particular agendas.” Casavant also said he knows of no other city or town in Maine that has a system where the entire council establishes the budget.

This year, the council started with a needs-based budget that required the city’s department heads to supply their fiscal requests for the upcoming year. After all requests were submitted, the city manager made his recommendations before the first draft was released to the public.

The idea for the needs-based budget was created by Ward 4 Councilor Melissa Bednarowski during a retreat at the University of New England in February, and developed with the help of Councilor at Large Richard Rhames. A majority of other councilors agreed to adopt the needsbased budget at a workshop held at North Dam Mill earlier this year.

Casavant, who was not at the workshop, said he thought the idea was “foolish,” although it would give the council a good sense of the budget.

In the e-mail, Casavant said that input from the city manager has been ignored and councilors have also disregarded finance director and department heads as the budget gets micromanaged.

“I’m very dissatisfied,” Casavant said in a phone interview. “We have to get in to the 21st century and have to have a smaller core responsible for knowing the information and presenting the information as a whole.”

In Casavant’s e-mail to the charter commission, he said smaller core would be the finance committee, which is made up of six members: the mayor, city manager, finance director, council president and two appointed city councilors; one city councilor is appointed by the mayor, while the other councilor is appointed by the council president.

Casavant has spoken publicly about his frustration with the budget several times, saying it has been difficult to balance taxpayer concerns with city needs.

In the revamped system, the finance committee would be in charge of creating the budget then present it to the city council in its entirety. Casavant said if councilors want to continue to be part of the budget process they would be able to attend finance committee meetings.

This system was in place up until 2006, when then-Ward 2 Councilor Edward Caron brought forth the idea of a more councilor-inclusive system to the charter.

During a May 24 charter revision commission meeting, Councilors David Bourque, Rhames and Bob Mills, who are in favor of the current budget process, represented the council. In the end, the suggested change failed.

Mills said there is nothing wrong with the current system and believes the process will become more streamlined as the mayor and new councilors get more accustomed to budget procedures.

“New councilors need to be brought up to speed just like at a new job,” Mills said. “I feel it works when the councilors are included in the process. The way the mayor proposed it, the council is not near the process.”

Mills also said it would be difficult for the public to stay abreast with another set of committee meetings. He thinks with councilors having a strong say in the process, people are automatically represented

Bednarowski, who also is on the finance committee, said changing the budget process would be inappropriate. She said she believes there should more than two council representatives who have a say in how the budget is formed or else the budget process could be unfair.

“Since the mayor selects and council president create the committee the way (they) want it, I think it creates a biased environment to decide on the budget,” Bednarowski said. “Each councilor should have a say in this process.”

Casavant said he would not be opposed to adding another councilor to the finance committee in order to have an odd number of members.

“I think the intentions of the charter commission to establish the current process were noble and idealistic, but quite frankly, the system does not work,” Casavant said in the e-mail.

Staff Writer Marc Filippino can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 213.

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