I’ve never been accused of being a numbers person. I am terrible at math and can engage in a pretty strong debate about why it should not be required education beyond simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I do not use algebra, geometry or trigonometry in everyday life, and if for some reason I should need to, I’m pretty sure there’s an app for that.
I’m a creative type, a reader and writer. But over the past two decades I’ve had to write my share of stories on budgets, campaign finance reports, bond issues and the like. Unfortunately, these stories involve numbers.
It’s awfully difficult to cover a budget workshop, and be the person responsible for interpreting the information for the taxpayers of Sealy, when no written documentation is provided. Austin County and Sealy ISD have offered one-page summaries with budget information that can easily be reproduced and printed in the newspaper.
The City of Sealy has not.
To compound the problem, the budget workshops are painfully tedious and while the council members are diligent in asking questions, they get a lot of “I don’t know” and “I’ll look into that” for answers. The finance director was actually on vacation when the first budget workshop was held.
Residents deserve to know how their money is being spent. The city just approved a $50,000 payout to the former city manager and had to return more than a million dollars to the Mark A. Chapman Foundation because they didn’t meet the deadline to start construction on a new YMCA facility. Meanwhile, their budget talks have included requests for salary increases, new equipment and a $4,000 Christmas party.
I’m not saying any of that is unethical or extravagant; I’m just saying that the taxpayers need this information. Draft up a little one-pager and put it in the utility bill. Put the proposed budget on the city website. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1 so the window is closing on when the public can weigh in. And they can’t weigh in if they don’t have the facts.
Keep it simple. Let us know your proposed revenues and proposed expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year. Let us know how – or if – property taxes will be impacted. Let us know if you’re upgrading equipment, vehicles or staffing levels in order to better protect the citizens.
Don’t spend an hour talking about minutiae. That stuff can be hashed out in staff meetings. The public needs a clear picture of the city budget, and we shouldn’t have to beg for it.
April Towery is the managing editor of The Sealy News. She can be reached at 979-885-3562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.