Each year around this time, we begin the process of formulating the budget for the next fiscal year, which in our case begins January 1. In the business of local government, there are many competing priorities. We look at all the services that we provide and make many decisions about how they are delivered. But first, we ask ourselves “why” they are being delivered. If there is not a clear and concise answer to the “why” question, then the service does not get funded. Every department of the City delivers very distinct and different services and functions and all are certainly important in their own right. High on the priority list is always those things that are deemed to be essential services such as DPW, Police and Fire. Yes, we must make sure we have a well-funded and supported infrastructure, police department and fire department. But all of the other things we do to keep a City up and running are also highly important and are closely linked. For example, without an Assessing Department we wouldn’t have values on which taxes are collected by the Treasurer’s Department who in turn wouldn’t have funds to give to the Finance Department who in turn couldn’t provide payment for services and payroll to all of the departments throughout the City, including those essential services previously mentioned. It sounds like the old . . . “leg bone connected to the knee bone, knee bone connected to the thigh bone. . . .”
The budget process includes scrutiny by each Department Head and their respective staffs. The Finance Department guides the entire budget process which starts with each department entering the needs for the coming year. Personnel costs and capital improvements are the two largest expenses. On a certain date, the proposed department budgets can no longer be accessed by anyone except the Finance Department and the City Manager. This is when reviews begin by my office with the assistance of the Finance Department staff. For the larger departments, such as Police, Fire and DPW, the department meets with the City Manager and Finance Department staff which make up the budget review committee. Final decisions are then made as to what the City Manager will send forward to the City Council for approval. The real final decision is made by the City Council upon recommendation of the City Manager. Some adjustments are typically made to align with the City Council’s annual goals. The good news is that the staff is so much in tune with the goals of the City Council throughout the year that there is not typically a large number of changes made by the City Council.
In the final phases of budget adoption, public workshops are held with the City Council to comb through the budget. The budget, often in the range of around $60 million for all funds, is then adopted and in place by the first of November and ready to go for January 1, the start of the new budget year. This year, budget workshops begin in late August and continue through September. Anyone interested in observing the process is welcome to do so by attending a workshop. Budget workshops will be published on the City Council agenda which can be found at http://www.auburnhills.org.
Tom Tanghe, City Manager