City Council President James A. Michitson
City councilors hope this year’s budget process will be a more collaborative effort than in years past, and will invite Mayor James J. Fiorentini and select department heads to meetings this month as spending plans begin to take shape.
Council President John A. Michitson wants the council to have input in the early stages of budgeting.
Traditionally, the council receives a complete budget in time for public hearings just before members are required to vote on the city’s financial blueprint.
The Fiscal Year 2018 budget goes into effect on July 1.
This year, Michitson said, the council wants to meet with two key department heads — Police Chief Alan DeNaro and Public Works Director Michael Stankovich — to hear first-hand about their needs and priorities.
Mayoral aide David VanDam argued against the sessions, saying the mayor alone has the authority and responsibility to craft the budget, and that the appropriate place for council involvement is during the budget hearings.
Council Vice President Melinda Barrett said simply, “That’s too late.”
Michitson bristled, saying it is “bizarre” that city councilors would be denied the opportunity to collect information directly from department heads.
“It’s the City Council’s responsibility to know this kind of information before we vote on the budget. How else can we determine if citizens’ needs are being met,” he asked.
“If the council is looking for specific information, we’re happy to provide it,” VanDam said.
But Councilor Colin F. LePage said that hasn’t always been the case. The mayor often fails to share information with the council when he is asked to do so.
“It can’t continue that we get the information at the last moment,” he said.
Councilor William J. Macek suggested a contingent from the council meet privately with the mayor and department heads during the budget process to get an idea of how the spending plan is put together.
But Councilors Michael S. McGonagle and Andy X. Vargas argued that the process should be as transparent as possible.
Macek was the only councilor to oppose Michitson’s proposal.