“It’s part of the process to have the forum,” Michael Parker, a Town Council member, said. “As a council, we very much appreciate hearing from our residents and understanding what their needs and priorities are.”
The annual budget funds police and fire protection, public works functions, parks and recreation and library services, planning and building inspections, administrative and legal services, affordable housing and pay-as-you-go capital.
Multiple departments have already submitted their budget requests to the Town's business management, which has begun reviewing these requests for accuracy and completeness.
“The requests are then packaged together for consideration by town management,” Amy Oland, interim business management director for the Town, said. “Departments make presentations to the Town’s management team to gain a better understanding of their operational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges.”
The annual budget is a year-round process that is divided into four quarters. The first quarter begins on July 1 and gives departments until Sept. 30 to develop their business plan for the year. During the second quarter, from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, departments start identifying trends and challenges.
Oland said the Town is currently in the third quarter of the budget process until March 31, a time completely dedicated to budget development.
“The process begins with the council retreat. This is a time to get direction from the council,” Oland said. “The next step is for departments to prepare their budget requests for the year. This includes funding to carry out their core services and requests for budgetary expansions.”
This part of the budget process also includes opportunities for the public to provide input on the budget through public forums and meetings, direct communication and advisory boards.
During the forum, Robert Dowling, the executive director of Community Home Trust, asked that the organization’s funding be increased by about $5,000. Community Home Trust is a nonprofit organization that strives to strengthen the community with permanent affordable housing opportunities.
“Last year, we acquired a 58-year-old rental development called the Landings at Winmore in Carrboro, only about a mile from the Chapel Hill line,” Dowling said. “That property was having troubles and was losing money, was poorly managed, and that’s why we acquired it and are turning it around.”
Susana Dancy, member of the Town's Community Design Commission, expressed a common frustration felt by the commission.
“So much of what we do as a commission comes very late in the process of evaluating projects,” Dancy said. “The analogy that I've used is that it’s choosing the colors and styles and perhaps the locations of the deck chairs on the Titanic, and we’re not discussing the size of the rudder, which is what's really important.”
The Town Council will adopt an annual budget after the final quarter, which begins on April 1 and focuses on the preparation and delivery of the Town manager’s recommended budget until June 30. The Town manager will work with other Town leaders to incorporate feedback from the council, the public and Town departments.
Upon developing a balanced budget, it is presented to the council and work sessions are held to work through any complex details.
“Clearly, one of the most important things the council does is to prepare, modify and approve the annual budget,” Parker said. “It’s something we take very seriously and put a fair bit of time into.”