Council wants more time for 2015 budget

By Keisha Howerth

City Council has decided the dates on which it will discuss the city’s budget, but it will change next year’s budget workshop schedule because it conflicts with NIU graduation.

City Council discussed the current calendar year for the fiscal year budget and what changes could be made to it at Monday’s meeting at the Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St. Council members raised concerns over the tight time frame they have to review budget information from the finance advisory committee.

City manager Anne Marie Gaura said the finance committee typically reviews the budget and looks at policy recommendations and general fund balance.

“The goal is to utilize the finance advisory committee in the most effective means of how to benefit the budget and the community,” Gaura said. “It’s an incredibly talented group, and we want to make sure we’re utilizing their talents to the maximum.”

Finance director Laura Pisarcik said a budget strategic planning session will be held on March 15 at NIU, and council and department heads will be in attendance. Pisarcik said discussion on the budget is scheduled for the April 28 City Council meeting and at the budget workshop on May 10.

The city manager will meet with the committee separately from the council to review the budget and present what was discussed at the workshop.

Pisarcik said the goal is to get information on the budget completed by June 30.

“We need to have our budget in place by July 1 for the next fiscal year,” Pisarcik said.

Second Ward Alderman Bill Finucane said the council isn’t being given enough time to review the committee’s budget plan.

“The five-year budget plan is scheduled to be distributed to council on April 25 for review at the April 28 meeting,” Finucane said. “Is there any way we could get it earlier so we have more than just three days to look at it ahead of the discussion?”

Third Ward Alderman Kristen Lash also asked about moving the workshop date up a week because it conflicts with NIU graduation.

Pisarcik said the problem in trying to get information to the council sooner is it won’t give the finance advisory committee time to discuss their suggestions.

“By moving it up, we won’t be able to get this all done by the June 30 budget deadline,” Pisarcik said. “I think next year we can definitely take a look at the graduation date and consider that so we can move things up a little bit to accommodate that.”

Lash said last year was the first year the council held its budget workshop on a Saturday.

“Before that, we used to have five to six evening sessions, and it was just too much for most of us. Most of us couldn’t make all of them,” Lash said. “I’m more than open to exploring other days as long as we don’t go back to the five or six evenings.”

Gaura said she’ll meet with the chair of the committee on Wednesday to discuss the budget goal. Gaura said she will address the scheduling issue then.

“The recommendation I would have is to involve the finance committee earlier in the process,” Gaura said. “They could preview the budget and would then be able to offer specific recommendations to the council.”

Sixth Ward Alderman David Baker said a lot of good has come out of that committee and its recommendations.

“Much of it has come out of interaction with the council,” Baker said. “I’d hate to lose that benefit.”