VOICES: Public needs more time to review City budget

Editor’s Note: A response from the City of Dayton will be published Wednesday.

You sit at the kitchen table and add up your bills. You compare the total to your take-home pay and sigh. It’s hard to make ends meet when there are so many priorities that require your money. We’re all familiar with that painful budget process.

Cities are no different. Here in Dayton, City employees have been hard at work on their 2023 budget. They face the familiar challenge of more places to spend the money than money coming in. With the possibility of income dropping, and inflation affecting every purchase order, how does a city maintain services?

In the last few weeks, Dayton City administration revealed the 2023 budget to the public in two rushed, 3-hour presentations to the Mayor and Commissioners. They are available on YouTube (dated 11-16-22 and 11-30-22).

If you have any doubt that the City of Dayton is working for you, watch the budget presentations. There is a wealth of information on the many programs and services that make up city government. It’s impressive! From public safety to neighborhood development to water/sewer/waste collection to recreation to airport services, the City of Dayton impacts the lives of residents every day.

For me, the most important aspect of the budget process is how the dollars align with the priorities of the City Commission. It’s a little difficult to follow, because the Commission doesn’t have a single list voted on in priority order. It appears that the list is developed from resolutions and statements presented over the years. The wording of the priorities is vague. Moneys allocated to meet those priorities may be scattered throughout multiple departments, so the total effort is not clear.

For example, one priority is Promote Healthy and Safe Community. Under this priority, one of the programs is the Office of Sustainability. The Strategic Objective is “Continue to advance the City Programs to maximize Sustainability (115 projects listed in the Sustainability Strategy). Work to achieve goals set within the Climate Emergency that was passed by the City of Dayton Commission.” The total annual budget for this Office is $166,000. That’s not much money to address 115 projects in the timely manner that the Climate Emergency calls for. Other monies are allocated in other departments to transition to electric vehicles, and possibly for other climate-related efforts. It’s impossible to tell whether the budget is providing adequate funds to meet the climate emergency in a timely manner.

There is also no opportunity for the public to impact the budget. The presentation was completed on Nov. 30, and the vote for a preliminary budget (needed to begin work in 2023) is scheduled for Dec. 7. Citizens can of course comment on the budget at any Commission meeting. Based on the amount of work that’s gone into the budget thus far, it’s hard to imagine any major changes happening.

There is room for improvement in how the budget is presented and in the timeline for review. Start the draft reviews earlier, have more presentations that are shorter in length, and allow for public input before the numbers are final. Mayor, City Commissioners, I hope you will direct the City Manager to take a more transparent and democratic approach next year.

Mary Sue Gmeiner is a long-time resident of Dayton. She is co-chair of Greater Dayton Move to Amend, a local affiliate of the national Move to Amend coalition. Mary Sue has been active in peace, social justice and environmental issues for many years.

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