2019 Operating Budget Wrap-Up

On June 18th, Doraville’s city council voted to approve the 2019 operating budget – which also required raising the city’s millage rate to 10 mills. The votes in favor of this were Koontz, Hillard, Patrick, and Geierman. Council members Naser and Fleming voted “No” on both the budget and millage rate increase.

I did not take my own vote to raise the millage rate lightly, and I spent a lot of time weighing the options. While there are some things in this budget that I personally think could have been trimmed, getting agreement from the rest of the council on those between now and the end of the month (our state-imposed deadline for having an approved budget) was not realistically going to happen.

Also, there were several things in this budget that I think are necessary to the city’s future: namely investments in professional staff. Our planning department and economic development department have both been starved for resources for years. In my opinion, that’s one of the reasons that growth in Doraville has not taken off the way it has in neighboring cities. If we don’t start investing in these departments, I don’t think we’re going to see the change we want. The new budget gets us moving in that direction

I spent a lot of time grappling with how to deal with city’s very real need to invest in itself, while also struggling with my concern that the council this year has never gotten together for a retreat or had real work sessions to identify its collective priorities for the city. I believe the budget would have been tighter – or at least we’d be sure what the consensus was – if we’d done this work ahead of time. I did not want to approve this tax increase and then have things continue status quo for another year. I wanted a commitment that the council would change the way it operates (most importantly, improving the quality of the work sessions and holding the retreat that has been promised since I was sworn in).

A conversation with a resident gave me an idea about how to reconcile those two things – he suggested a resolution that the council would look for cost savings over the next year that could be used for future investments or to reduce the millage rate. Some of the other council members questioned the value of this, but I felt that it was an important public commitment from the council to work together and also an acknowledgement that we need to be stewards of taxpayer money and be working to find efficiencies wherever we can.

The draft we agreed to is here. It was approved by all members of council before the millage rate and budget votes.  I would have preferred setting a goal amount of savings that we would look for, but went with the softer version of this that would get everyone on board.

This resolution wouldn’t have gone anywhere if it weren’t for Council Member Koontz, who helped me a lot in the hours before the public meeting to get this into a form everyone would agree to vote on. She was able to see what the roadblocks to getting other council members on board were, and made suggestions for improvement that I didn’t feel compromised the most important parts of this resolution. She showed a lot of leadership and I appreciate her support on this.

In the end, while I did not want to raise the millage rate,  I am happy that the city is finally going to be investing in itself and that the council has agreed to a collaborative process for evaluating the city’s spending and priorities. I think this is a step forward for Doraville, and may be looked back at in the future as a turning point.