The city’s annual appropriations ordinance (AO) is the place where the terms of power over the public purse are put into writing for public debate and adoption. The AO grants authorities to the city’s administrative branch to fund the publicly-adopted budget. One of the lessons of the pension debacle is that the annual AO was delegating way too much authority to the city manager. But now, where is the debate on what is the appropriate level to delegate to an elected mayor?

While the AO adopted Feb. 5 required reports on any “material and substantial changes” made by the mayor to the city’s publicly adopted budget, a new proposal set for a hearing on March 19 proposes different thresholds for increases and reductions.

Any funding increases would require a public amendment to the AO. IMO that simply means that the council believes there isn’t going to be any funds for increases. If there are, they want to be in on it.

But decreases are of less interest for many on the council. For decreases, they are proposing a formula described in a the March 2 memo by City Council President Scott Peters, as “Any cumulative reduction in spending resulting from Mayoral action in an amount of 10% or $4 million, whichever is less, in a particular department identified in the Appropriations Ordinance will require an amendment to AO by the City Council… .”

So dear readers, if you’ve stuck with it through to this far — tell me — is this reasonable? What is a reasonable dollar figure for the city to set for “material and substantial” when it comes to allowing the mayor to make cuts or add funds to any program? And why? Is it $250K that past city managers dealt with? Is it a million? Is it $4 million? Is it more? I, for one, think they should pick a specific number and stick to it. This type of formula adds inefficiencies to the process — just in trying to figure out what the 10 percent figure applies to.

So I ask you, is $4 million a reasonable threshold to allow for budget cuts without any public input?

Next: “Don’t Ask, But Do Tell!”

CAROLYN CHASE

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