Every year beginning in May, city staff and council begin the eight-month-long process of looking holistically at how we fund city operations to meet the needs and expectations of our community.
Department heads work with their staffs, council members and members of the community to figure out absolute necessities, important-but-not-absolute necessities, critical priorities, and those things that everybody knows we should have but have never found the money for. In short, it’s kind of like your household budget process, except that the quality of life of 20,000 people relies on it.
I and my colleagues take budgeting very seriously. It’s when what we are as a community, the values and goals we laid out in our strategic plan, get turned into actual numbers. It is one of the most important policy documents a civic government can create. It needs to be right.
Northfield as a community holds itself to a high standard. We have expectations for what we can do and can be that exceeds most communities our size. We want to provide the best services to our seniors, our children, and the most vulnerable in our community. We want our 564 acres of parks (and the buildings and equipment in those parks) to serve our needs well. And we all expect that water and sewer pipes will keep doing what they’re supposed to do.
To fund all this, we set tax levels. Right now, compared to similar cities, Northfield collects less in property taxes per person than similar cities. We are also comparatively low on the amount of debt, as well as current operating expenses.
The low level of funding for our city services and investment in our community can be seen in areas like the maintenance of our parks, streets and public rights-of-way. We could be investing more; there is also continual pressure to keep the levy as low as possible. We need to watch the total and ensure that individual expenses and investments are made well.
We are currently in the middle of that long, robust process which includes Council input and deliberation 10 different times before the final budget adoption Dec. 3. In the first five months of this process, we’ve sought your input via Polco questions as well as at publicly noticed meetings of the Council. Many of us have also heard from you by email, in coffee shops, in the grocery store, on the sidewalk and by phone. Thank you to those of you that have given us your input.
I’m pleased to be on a City Council that had the foresight to create a strategic plan and budget process that put our shared values front and center, is committed to being wise with the limited resources we have, and believes in a transparent process to get there.
I know that the vast majority of the investments we have made in the past are paying off for us and our children. I look forward to finishing the process with you of deciding what those will be this year.