Tonight, the Chapel Hill Town Council will have their first public forum on the FY2012-2013 budget. This is in anticipation of the Manager's presentation of the recommended budget on May 14. The full budget calendar can be found here.
This budget is the first time the Town will use priority-based budgeting, which will allocate money by funding programs instead of departments. However, even after watching Ken Pennoyer's 2020 presentation on priority-driven budgeting, I'm still not sure exactly what this will mean for the Town. One thing that I know will change is that the Town will move to a two-year budgeting process, which will help create better stability in funding from year-to-year. This year's budget will be done in one year, but the hope is that the Town will start preparing for the FY2013-2014 budget simultaneously. Being able to better forcast the Town's revenue intake and allocation will likely help to make each year's budget season go more smoothly. I also think that grouping services by program, rather than department, will help citizens better understand what their tax money is being used.
However, I worry about how the town will be selecting funding priorities for this year's budget. In Mr. Pennoyer's presentation, he stated that input on priorities for this budget would come from an online survey, a scientific survey to Chapel Hill homeowners, and the 2020 plan. The 2020 will not be complete until June (at the earliest), and is currently a very rough draft. I worry that the plan, in its current state, does not provide enough depth to help the manager and council make these funding decisions.
I know that anyone will be able to give input on the Town's online survey, but I also wonder if the statistically valid survey will be given more weight in the negotation process. By limiting the survey to Chapel Hill homeowners, the Town is cutting out the input of a large portion of its citizens. Renters also (albeit indirectly) pay property taxes, and their voices should be included in this conversation.
I hope that the budget process will be transparent, and easy for the citizens of Chapel Hill to understand. At this point, though, it seems pretty nebulous, and I wonder if eveyone will get a seat at the table.