Doraville’s Broken Budgeting Process

When I was elected to council, I was surprised by our city’s budgeting process. At my job in the private sector, departments build their budgets based on the priorities of the organization. What I found in Doraville, however, was a staff-driven process where a fully-developed budget is presented to city council a few weeks before it must be passed. When I complained about this process, I was told by the mayor that “We need to trust staff.”

Here is what I wrote at the time:

“This budget process has been a frustrating one for me, because I believe there has been a lack of leadership from the city council when it comes to deciding the city’s priorities. […] We have not given the city’s staff any meaningful direction about what is important to us as a body or where we want to invest our resources. I tried to have some of these conversations at our budget work session, but it was too little too late.”

The mayor put a lot of pressure on the council to pass this budget, pointing out that the city was required to have a balanced budget by the end of June. I was troubled, however, and not comfortable simply rubber-stamping a budget containing a millage rate increase. I wanted to pass a resolution stating that over the next year the council would look for savings equivalent to the amount we’d raised taxes. Unfortunately, the mayor and several members of council refused to agree to putting a dollar amount into a resolution. Council Member Koontz suggested a compromise resolution stating that we would look for general “savings,” which I agreed to.

My disappointment is that nothing really changed with the budgeting process after passing the resolution. The most recent budget didn’t include a millage rate increase, but there were also no discussions about ways we could save money for tax payers. Also, the  mayor didn’t provide any new opportunities for council to work with staff to shape their overall budget requests based on resident priorities. I now believe that unless Doraville elects a mayor who is willing to take the leadership on this, we will not see significant changes to the way our city handles its budget, and more tax increases are likely on the horizon.

The city council should not be a rubber stamp for the city manager. Staff should be putting its budget together based on the priorities of council, and this should be something that is developed and refined throughout the year. It’s time for us to elect a mayor who understands that.