ROCKVILLE – As the mayor and City Council inch closer to passing the 2015 budget, some members of the council are trying to figure out ways to find more available money to cover costs not currently addressed by the city manager’s proposal.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton has previously questioned the city finance staff’s conservative budgeting strategy. With the state providing a one-time contribution of $1.1 million in highway user revenue to Rockville, Newton asked city staff if more money would be available since no bonds or debt service would have to be taken out.
City budget and finance manager Stacey Webster said if the mayor and council did not want to use the extra money for capital projects there would be about $350,000 to use.
One expense the mayor and council are looking at covering is step increases for the city police force,
which has not had a step pay increase since 2010. According to data provided by the Rockville Public Information officer Marylou Berg, it would cost the city $384,376.20 to provide a 6 percent pay raise to the 57 sworn officers and 36 civilian employees on the Rockville police force—the same as they received from 2006-2008.
“It is too early to make any definitive statements about compensation,” Newton said. “Budgeting conservatively is wonderful and we have done a great job being stewards of the city’s financial situation, but are we at all able to find any excess somewhere we could use to make decisions we are being asked to make? The discussion for compensation across the board is still alive.”
During the mayor and city council meeting, Councilmember Beryl Feinberg proposed the city implement lapse budget strategies because the city does not currently lapse its personnel costs for employee turnover and job vacancies. Feinberg suggested the city use a 3 percent lapse rate for its general funds, which she said is a conservative approach.
“This would provide great flexibility to the city manager and staff to transfer funds within departments. Given the number of employees there is a capacity for turnover and lapse savings,” Feinberg said. “This money can be used to fund different costs. It is a time we can signal our compassion and our concern.”
Moore questioned the proposal because he said there are no real savings to be had, and if lapse budgeting is used then the city would have to make up costs at the end of the year. Feinberg responded by saying lapse budgeting means the city would have to look at its turnover rate and manage its vacancies and appropriate less money.
Moore said the strategy would end up taking money out of the capital budget, which he believes is underfunded.
Newton said she thinks the strategy would allow the mayor and council to spend the money at the beginning of the budget cycle on expenses as they see fit instead of automatically using the money at the end of the fiscal year on capital projects.
Gavin Cohen, Chief Financial Officer for the city, said staff does not support using lapse budgeting because of the impact it would have on the city’s overall budget.
“We do not support this. It is not conservative in any way and there are no real savings,” Cohen said. “This would be spending money we do not have yet. This is not the way we run the budget in the city of Rockville.”
Cohen acknowledged that the city staff could be considered as “too conservative,” but he said the city has been successful and he does not want to change the way the city manages its budget.
Newton said she and the Council are trying to figure out how they can put their stamp on the budget and make sure all the different voices in the city are heard.
“Having been on the council for four years I know you are in charge of the budget,” Newton said to Cohen, “but you are not really responsible for bearing any extra things the mayor and council may decide as a group they want to bring forward. I think that is where this conversation is coming from.”