2016-11-24 / Letters

Watchdog group cautions residents, officials on budget

To the editor:

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government spent hours reviewing the fiscal year 2017 budget before adoption. Members attempted to make recommendations regarding same. During the budget process adjustments and recommendations were made by councilors and staff. On May 9 each amendment was read and voted.

The administration is responsible for producing the proposed budget for council adoption. We must remember councilors work in different types of employment. Some councilors are stronger in analytical thinking; others have more familiarity with financial information.

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government asked the city council and administration to modify the adopted budget based on issues discovered during our review of the adopted budget. Saco Citizens for Sensible Government analysis is based on members in attendance and participating in the budget discussion, meeting notes, city minutes and “Live Stream” video. Countless hours were spent reviewing the above mentioned materials.

Here are two examples of the issues discovered during our analysis:

Example 1: Capital improvement and fee increases. The city administrator requested to increase transfer fees by $100,000 to offset some transfer station relocation expenditures. An amendment was made to remove the transfer fees. The motion passed. The expenditure of $100,000 toward the station relocation was not addressed. The expense remained in the adopted budget.

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government asked the administration why the second part of the proposal was not addressed. Answer, the amendment request mentioned only the removal of the transfer fees. This amendment was a two-part budget request. Saco Citizens for Sensible Government believes it would have behooved the administration to ask for clarification.

Example 2: Goosefare Brook, amendment to remove funds; Goosefare Brook impairment improvement in the amount of $50,000 from capital improvement program.

The amendment was moved and seconded, “Be it ordered that the City Council approve a decrease to the ‘City of Saco FY 2017 City Budget’ for the Capital Improvement Program by $50,000.” The motion failed 4 to 3. Result, the $50,000 remained in the CIP. The issue is the way the motion was written.

Various council members believed the funds were removed.

All these issues represent fiscal or administrative errors. Other relative inactions have not been addressed. Examples:

 Charter requirement: Advertise city administrator’s presentation of the proposed budget in proper format in the newspaper.

 Charter requirement: Advertise adopted capital improvement program.

 Provide timely financial information relative to the budget process.

This spring Saco Citizens for Sensible Government attempted unsuccessfully to have full disclosure of all revenue identified during the budget process. We were told there were no additional revenues available. Based on the year-end preliminary financial report, the city ended the year with an excess of $900,000 in unrecognized revenue. On the expenditure side a similar sum was available.

Saco Citizens for Sensible Government believes the council and city administration owe the public answers as to why:

 The requirements of the city charter were not executed accordingly.

 When revenue requests were submitted, the request were ignored.

 What steps will the council and city administration take to resolve these issues now and in the future?

If left unresolved, the result will compound next year’s budget. The city council will add additional funds to an already inflated budget. This directly impacts each and every taxpayer. All actions impact the mil rate.

John Harkins, chairman Saco Citizens for Sensible Government

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