Sacramento has a new city council and new rules as to how the budget will be created.
The council -including the mayor- voted unanimously January 6 to become involved earlier in the budget process.
Tuesday night, the Sacramento City Council postponed a decision on how to spend a $22 million surplus identified in the mid-year budget report. City staff was asking for money for emergency radios, a streetcar project, technological upgrades, a reserve fund and eight other items.
Instead, the council voted to postpone a vote until their ideas could be submitted to City Manager John Shirey.
Mayor Kevin Johnson says from now on the council will share its wish list with the city Manager sooner:
"I think it's really good. The council wants to be more involved and we want the council/mayor budget priorities to really dictate the budget instead of the other way around. Typically what would happen in the past is a budget would be presented to the council and then we would have to respond. We didn't get a chance to lay out priorities."
City Manager Shirey has previously said he does not like the "Strong Mayor" form of government.
But, he now describes this new arrangement -which is a lynch pin of Johnson;'s previous strong mayor proposals- as a "collaboration." He also says an increased number of public meetings will show little wiggle room when it comes to the budget.
"Not much of that money is discretionary. People don't fully appreciate that there are a lot of constraints on both city management as well as the city council in what we can do with our budget funds."
Councilwoman Angelique Ashby says those constraints are why she supports being involved in the process sooner.
"We were kind of working around the edges or we'd have to completely undo something in order to really put a mark on a program or a project that we wanted to change. This way the mayor and the budget committee are ahead of that process."
In January, the council changed the name of the Audit Committee to the Audit and Budget Committee. Mayor Johnson is now the chair of the Audit and Budget Committee.
Council also voiced approval for hiring independent budget analysts. Money for those analysts is part of the surplus-spending plan they will take up in March.
Ashby says the council's decision to postpone the vote is the first step toward more council involvement.
"The dialogue can be more fruitful at the council which is what the council got to see today. I think that's a better way for us to go. We still have room for improvement. We still have a little ways to go on it. But, that was a great start."
The Sacramento City Charter still says the city manager is responsible for authoring a budget, but it also says the council may vote to remove the city manager.