2016-05-19 / Letters

Resident group deeply involved in budget process

To the editor:

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government would like to update everyone regarding the budgets for the city and school.

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government acknowledges Saco City Council, City Administrator Kevin Sutherland and city staff, Superintendent Dominic DePatsy and school department staff for their hard work, long hours and willingness at the May 9 meeting to listen to residents.

The budgets were passed by the city council and the mil rate set. If the school budget is approved by voters on June 14, the mill rate will increase by 20 cents for a total rate of $19.42 per $1,000 of valuation.

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government’s efforts to be involved with the budget process were met with some challenges which are outlined below. Our persistence resulted in an exchange of information and ideas to provide the services Saco residents require and with a minimum impact to taxpayers.

The finance committee of Saco Citizens for Sensible Government is in the process of reviewing the adopted city budget. This review is a checks and balances against what we believe are required to ensure each action and item voted on was approved during the evening.

Statement made during public comment May 9

Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg Address that all democratic governments and particularly local governments are “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

On behalf of the Saco Citizens for Sensible Government I am presenting you with issues related to this budget and the process leading to its adoption.

First and foremost, Saco Citizens for Sensible Government spent countless hours fathoming through the proposed budget (document). I am sure, by now, you are aware that the proposed budget lacks continuity and clarity.

From the outset, we indicated the budget was not in conformance with the city charter. Legal advertising requirements were not met following the proposed budget presentation by the city administrator. The document was to be published within two weeks of its presentation in a local paper. Secondly, the document lacks a clear and simple format which details revenues and expenditures in a format understandable by the citizens of Saco.

The current budget by comingling revenues with expenditures within departments, HAS resulted in confusion and lacks the ability to implement a means to determine the accuracy of the document. Revenues and expenditures should have originally been presented separately. As such, there is a lack of balance and transparency with this document.

Several repeated requests were submitted to obtain the current status of revenues received to date. This information has not been made public. Recently disclosed by the administration has been the practice of significant available revenue not being incorporated in the current or prior year budgets. Clearly, this is an unacceptable practice by any standard. Recognition of these revenues could have resulted in a lower tax rate or used to pay for essential programs.

With respect to the process of public participation, the Saco Citizens for Sensible Government and many of the electorate have voiced concerns as to which avenue to employ in order to offer constructive comments on the budget. For example, there was a public meeting for comments on the proposed budget. What lacked then and now, is a clear direction on how to truly address the changes added as amendments.

Based on prior processes of council agenda items, one would believe the amendments would have been read into the record on May 2; discussed by the council; and prior to a vote, the public given an opportunity to comment. This clearly did not occur. Had the amendments been read, one would have discovered an issue with the amendments in that revenue has been applied to each department budget.

Budgeting is a process of listing expenses and revenues and the two separate totals should equal.

We understand the approach of reaching out to our respective councilperson to present, voice and state our concerns. What is equally important is the ability to address the council at one time and in one location. This allows for a better exchange of ideas and affords full transparency to the citizens of Saco.

John Harkins, chairman Saco Citizens for Sensible Government

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