City manager is on the right track with new budget outreach

City manager is on the right track with new budget outreach
Alexandria City Hall. (file photo)

By Jimm Roberts, Alexandria (File photo)

I have to tip my sweat-stained Alexandria Aces baseball cap to the city manager. He hit one out of the park by persuading our Imperial Rulers (a. k. a. city council) that the people they rule should have a voice in how their tax money is spent.

To enable taxpayers to play Budget Ball, he published a series of questions on the city website. The answers purportedly will reveal to budget-makers what we the people want our city to provide. What he achieved was refreshing and it wasn’t easy. Our rulers, all Democrats, were and remain skeptical of letting garden-variety taxpayers onto their playing field.

Doing so, the rulers complain, will complicate the time-critical budget process. Moreover, because there will be winners and losers, disappointment is guaranteed.  Frankly, they have a point. The budget making process is arcane and time consuming, even if it does involve real money made available by taxpayers large and small.  But there is a way for taxpayers to play Budget Ball. It merely requires asking better questions.

The questions the city manager posited are akin to asking if water is wet. Instead, bundle those fluff ball questions into a preamble that makes clear the city government is our servant. It exists to provide us basic services, namely public safety, education and infrastructure. With that declaration out of the way, hard-hitting questions can follow, the answers to which could actually make an impact on the budget.

For example, the first one should be to select from a series of choices along with a level of spending beyond which taxpayer approval is required. This question will cause our rulers will howl and their handlers, the Alexandria Democratic Committee, to squeal, but without a dollar limit above which a referendum is necessary, then we taxpayers risk having the rulers use our money to impose their vision.  Think waterfront redevelopment, the police headquarters, Jefferson-Houston, et al.

Other telling questions could be to select eight proposed expenditures from a list of 10.  The results would reveal to budget crafters what is important to taxpayers. Or choose between using contractors who receive a fixed fee for service or using city employees for the same service, each of whom receive taxpayer funded benefits and retirement stipends for life. Should the libraries be made self-sustaining non-profits? Should the city use our money to own and operate businesses? And so forth.

You get the idea. Let’s play real Budget Ball; not fluff ball. It’s our money after all.