A budget process that makes sense

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2010

The City of Soldotna is currently considering a budget for next year that came together in what some might say is an unusual process in government.

The city looked at what it actually spent.

Now, there's an old and time-tested axiom in government that dictates that you should spend everything you have. Anyone who's worked in government knows this. At the local, state or federal level, the rule usually is: "We need to spend what's left before the end of the fiscal year."

How come? If you don't spend it, it may get cut in the next budgeting cycle.

Sounds like Soldotna has decided to buck that trend this time around.

"We looked back and said 'how much are we really spending?'" city manager Larry Semmens said last week. "We carefully reviewed all of the line items and eliminated line items where we haven't spent the budget."

Imagine the concept. Government deciding it can do without certain things. It's the same revelation that hit many of us personally in the last year or so as the economy ate away at our meager savings accounts and paychecks, ever shrinking from inflation. Faced with reality, most of us sitting around the kitchen table said to ourselves: "Certain things we'll just do without."

And another novel idea, for government anyway -- look for cost savings and better deals. Apparently, Soldotna found some by switching liability insurance carriers. According to Semmens, that switch saved the city about $235,000.

Overall, the proposed fiscal year 2011 budget of nearly $12 million is about $215,000 -- or nearly 2 percent lower -- than FY 2010. And that still allows for wage increases called for in existing employee contracts.

Granted, that's not a monumental savings. But savings it is.

And more than that, it seems like a smart budgeting process to follow. Build a budget for things you know you need, and always look for better deals.

Now that's a process anyone can understand.

In short: Sometimes, bucking conventional wisdom is actually the wiser move.

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