Rational Taxpayers of Hampton are making the following recommendations based on several years of very close scrutiny of the process, presentation and work sessions associated with Town Budgeting. This is particularly important as the 2017 budget session starts.
- The justification backup data for all the 420 plus line items needs improvement. Too many line items are devoid or are extremely lean on substantive information needed for a good review and decision making.
- Data must be quantifiable wherever possible. Some examples of this include records of equipment maintenance (especially for Police, Fire and DPW), electrical energy (KWH used and projected rates), gasoline (gallons used and projected rates), labor increases (details), overtime calculations, municipal insurance (hard data as 2016 had municipal liability heavily over-estimated), etc. We are particularly sensitive to overtime, each year the same employees get the bulk of the overtime. Perhaps an analysis of full time equivalents needs to be prepared to understand when it makes sense to add employees and reduce overtime costs.
Solid data is mandatory if prudence is to be safeguarded. All too often we have seen them glossed over with generalities in Budget sessions with little “push back”! Letting the “experts” do their job should only go so far!
- When the Budget is prepared, 3 to 4 years of what has actually been spent per line item should be provided to the preparer and reviewer so that a proper framework or context of spending can be seen. This together with the current year to date actual spending (annualized where ever applicable) that has occurred in each department allows for a more pointed discussion about what is being requested for the coming year.
- We have repeatedly seen line items budgeted when no actual spending has occurred for that line item for several years! We have seen line items significantly underspent that continue to have the same budgeted amounts year after year. This creates a false surplus.
- With the baseline provided, as described in item 2 above, line item cost increases from what has been historically established should be explained in detail.
- We do not feel it is acceptable for a Dept. head to say his budget is flat and no increase is being requested for the coming year if their budget has been underspent on multiple line items over a period of time. We look for a budget reduction in that case from the Department head!
- The default budget should also be available when all reviews take place and readily displayed next to the 2017 requested amount so that easy comparisons can be made.
- We strongly recommend that the Town manager present the entire budget. There are only approximately 420 active line items and he should know them in detail. He should be able to speak to every one of them.
Currently he remains silent for the majority of the BOS review with the Department heads and sits in the back of the Selectman’s room when the Budget committee reviews the budget with the Department heads. This needs to change.
The Town manager is paid very well and he needs to show he is on top of the detail (that he has already reviewed with each Department head). We are looking for presence and leadership from the Town manager not the passive role that he has been taking. We look for him to answer the tough questions that are raised! Letting the experts do their job is fine while they perform their jobs but budgeting is one of the Town managers principal responsibilities and we need to feel he is managing his duties accordingly!
If the recommendations for change do not occur it will be business as usual and the cry of “we have always done it this way “will rise and true progress will not occur. Stagnation in this process will only lead to higher costs and taxpayer impact. We embrace change agents not a status quo philosophy.
The more that the Town analyzes its costs and uses techniques to incorporate forward thinking and strategic planning the better our community.