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City Council spending

I found this front page story from yesterday about how various City Council members spent leftover funds in their budgets a little puzzling. For one thing, it lacked a certain amount of context. Why is it that some members had thousands of dollars left to spend? This is one reason, but given that the Members’ budgets have to cover staff salaries, another possible reason is that some Members are tighter on staff compensation than others, or maybe that some had a vacancy in their office for awhile. Point being, having extra money at the end of the year is not necessarily a virtue, or the result of strong financial stewardship. Without knowing all the expenses in a given office, we can’t really say.

For another thing, there’s really nothing unusual about any of this. I’ve been in the corporate world for a long time. Your department gets a budget at the beginning of the fiscal year. You spend it on the things you must have, then if there’s anything left, you spend it on the things you’d like to have. That’s how it works. Why should it be different here?

Finally, while there’s certainly value in keeping an eye on these kinds of expenditures, I fear sometimes it overemphasizes the small stuff. The budget for fiscal year 2009 is four billion dollars. The City Council office budgets – $362K times fourteen Council members – is five million bucks, or a smidge more than 0.1% of the total. The bits and pieces left over that got spent on TVs or whatever is obviously much less than that. Calling it chump change is an overbid. Sure, let’s make sure it’s not being spent foolishly, but let’s not lose perspective, either.

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One Comment

  1. joewhite says:

    The point about lack of context is well taken, as is the fact that this is a miniscule amount when compared to the entire city budget. But habits in small things have a way of being replicated on the larger scale.