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Gazette Editorial

Berlin budget process needs to be changed

Berlin Town Council members who say the budget timing is a little off, in terms of announcing the tax rate, have a good point. Declaring the rate before analyzing the expenses is like deciding how much gas to put in the car before taking a trip of undetermined length.

It’s admirable that Mayor Zack Tyndall wanted to honor his stable tax rate campaign pledge, but the process as constructed puts the council in the difficult position of being asked to support something without knowing why. They run for office, too, and can’t be fond of the idea of trying to explain the inexplicable to their constituents.

The process, as Councilman Jay Knerr observed, is somewhat backwards in terms of government operations, in that it proposes what will be spent without establishing in detail how and where the money will be used.

Were the Town of Berlin to be operated like a household, this process would make perfect sense. A household has no choice but to look at income and then decide what to do, because its sources of income aren’t adjustable. Businesses, too, don’t have that much revenue-increasing flexibility, and thus must attempt to live within their means.

Governments, however, are in the unique position of being able to save money by raising income in the present to take care of critical needs now rather than later, when the expense is likely to be much greater. These savings don’t show up on the ledger, but they do exist, as any financial director will attest.

All this assumes, however, that the officials running government are financially cautious, which, from all appearances, seems to be the case in Berlin.

The better way to budget, as Knerr, Councilman Dean Burrell and others have observed, is for the mayor and council to look at the whole package, from the top to the bottom line at the same time and then make whatever changes are prudent and appropriate.

If that requires a charter change, then that’s what the council should do.