Council may change budget process

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 23, 2003

The way the Albert Lea city council reviews the budget might get an overhaul.

Councilors are debating whether or not to meet with department heads, in order to gain a better understanding of the budget, and where cuts can be made, but some dismiss the meetings as a waste of time.

Past councils did meet with department heads from time to time, but it was never an annual event.

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Councilman Al Brooks said he feels the council needs a better understanding for how the city works.

&uot;I think it’s important we get an idea from department heads of what we can and can’t cut,&uot; Brooks said.

He added that as a councilor, he wants a to know how each department’s funds are managed.

The council asked to have the meetings with the department heads at the council’s retreat which was held in February.

But not all councilors want the change.

Mary Kron says the department heads don’t need the council’s supervision.

&uot;They tell us what’s going on at the meetings and you can take their word for it,&uot; Councilor Mary Kron said. &uot;We’d just be butting into their jobs.&uot;

Councilman Jeff

Fjelstad said he feels the meetings would be a &uot;waste of time,&uot; adding that he wouldn’t be helpful in making decisions on sewer pipes or city engineering.

City Manager Paul Sparks warned that having meetings with all the department heads would make the budget review a much longer process.

&uot;We would probably double the amount of

meetings from three to six,&uot; he said. &uot;It could become real time consuming.&uot;

Thursday, Albert Lea Mayor Jean Eaton asked for a streamlined meeting with the department heads that wouldn’t be so time consuming. She feels it is important for the newer councilors to get to know the different departments.

The Austin city council used to meet with all the department heads but abandoned te process for some of the same reasons.

&uot;We used to go over the budget line by line, but it would take three to four hours per meeting and we’d meet almost every weeknight for a month,&uot; Austin city councilman Dick Pacholl, who just returned to the council after an eight year hiatus, said.

Now, Pacholl added, Austin’s process is not so time consuming. The council meets with three main department heads- fire, police and engineer- annually. They don’t spend as much time in meetings, and Pacholl said the budget works fine. He said the city manager meets with all the department heads individually to work on the budget.

&uot;It’s a lot easier than how we used to do it,&uot; he said.

(Contact Peter Cox at peter.cox or 379-3439.)