ICYMI: Norfolk’s 630-page rush

Norfolk mermaidMy latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot last Thursday.  Norfolk released its budget last Tuesday and the single public hearing on it is coming up this Wednesday evening at 6pm at Granby High School. A separate public hearing will be held on May 1 – same time, same location – to discuss the real estate tax increase. (I posted links to the video of the budget presentation and the slides from it in an earlier post.)

I was particularly irked by the city manager’s presentation and his emphasis on council’s budget priorities. There was no mention of the input of the citizens into those priorities, despite the claim to the contrary on the city’s website. Besides that, the list of priorities was, according to the presentation, developed in 2011. What, exactly, was the purpose of the series of community meetings, then? Are they working on a new list or something?

If not, then why not teach the citizens how to read the budget?  Let’s just look at one item, to give you an idea of how difficult it can be to figure out this stuff.

On page 121, the city manager’s office shows contractual services increasing from $40,931 (FY2013 approved) to $284,098 (FY2014 proposed). The overall increase in the budget for the city manager’s office is $304,438, the bulk of which is related to reorganizations: a reduction of $110,904 for the movement of environmental protection programs to Public Works and an increase of $354,208 due to putting the Division of Intergovernmental Relations under the CM’s office. I can only assume that a lot of that division utilizes a lot of contractual services, but I don’t know for sure, since all I have is the total being transferred, not a breakdown of what is included in that total. And I have no idea what the budget for that division was last year, as it was lumped into the Communications and Public Information section (see here starting on page 126).

Wait – I found it on page 502, where it was approved for $341,289. So the budget for Intergovernmental Relations is increasing about $13,000. But I don’t know why.

And I certainly don’t know what is included in “contractual services.” Is that the money we pay to our lobbyists?

The thing is that we should have enough time to review this thing and have our questions answered. That’s not happening – again.

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.