Council to Mayor: Call Me, Maybe? 

Proposed spending freeze, $5 million shortfall strains relations at City Hall.

City administrators are considering a department-wide spending freeze as they work to confront a projected $5 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

Council members say deputy chief administrative officer for finance Sharon Judkins floated the possible halt to all “non-essential spending” when she brought up the projected deficit as an aside during a 10-hour budget meeting May 6.

Council members say they’ve yet to receive anything in writing from the administration regarding the shortfall -- a point of frustration, council members say, because the city charter requires the mayor to notify them of any budgetary issues “without delay.”

“In terms of giving council good, timely information that we can work with -- I don’t think we’ve received that just yet,” says 5th District Councilman Parker Agelasto.

Michael Wallace, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, hasn’t yet returned a request late last week for more details and comment.

A source familiar with the issue says administrators plan to release a detailed report on the issue sometime this week. The source says they would have known about the projected shortfall in late April.

Members of City Council say not being told about the issue until May 6 constitutes a significant delay.

“We were hoping we’d have some details forthcoming in the not too distant future,” says 3rd District Councilman Chris Hilbert. “The administration needs to report to council quickly in a situation where they’re anticipating a budget shortfall, and I’m not sure they did that. From what I understand, no council members got any communication on that. It was a surprise.”

The city charter lays out the mayor’s duty to report an anticipated shortfall:

If at any time during the fiscal year it appears probable to the mayor that the revenue or fund balances available will be insufficient … the mayor shall report to the city council without delay, indicating the estimated amount of the deficit, any remedial action taken by the mayor and recommendations as to any other steps to be taken. The council shall then take such further action as it deems necessary to prevent or reduce any deficit, and for that purpose it may by ordinance reduce one or more appropriations.

Council members say that when Judkins reported the shortfall she attributed it to equipment purchases in the police department, overtime issues in the department of public works, and revenue issues in other departments. In addition to a possible spending freeze, the administration expects to make up a portion of the shortfall with $1.6 million in funds set aside for a project that never went forward last fiscal year.

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