There is more than meets the eye with this new city budget, which was approved on a 3-2 vote by City Council Tuesday (“Durango trims budget to $87M in 2020,” Dec. 3).
We say this with confidence because there simply must be.
Three things of note have affected the way the city is run lately. First, there were the April elections, which brought two new members to council, Kim Baxter and Barbara Noseworthy. The elections coincided with the mayor’s post rotating to incumbent councilor Melissa Youssef; and with Baxter and Noseworthy, they made up a majority that wanted to see change in the way the city was run, a good thing.
But City Manager Ron LeBlanc did not think it was a good thing, and after expressing his dissatisfaction at being overseen by the three women, he was given the boot by council in September, a necessary bloodletting.
Not long after, city Finance Director Julie Brown resigned amid an ongoing investigation into misappropriation of funds.
Then came the 2020 proposed budget, prepared by city staff, with much of the run-up work done under the theoretical supervision of LeBlanc and Brown.
The good news is that the budget council approved Tuesday marks a 4.9% spending reduction over 2019, even with raises for city workers.
The proposed city budget for 2020 was about $94 million. The approved budget is 87.5 million.
How did council do it?
At its urging, after LeBlanc and Brown were gone, city staff eliminated dozens of errors that padded departmental budgets.
So all along, it seems what was wanting under the old regime were staffers with calculators, rudimentary proofreading skills and the freedom and desire to not waste the people’s money. But there was more.
City staff also found “typos” in the proposed budget, “at least one of which provided more than $10 million in proposed spending that could not be accounted for.”
We are inclined to think when in one instance alone among at least several a budget ends up with more than 10% of its weight in padding – well, that is one heck of a typo.
But let us at least be honest with ourselves. A typo is when you write “mop” for “mom” or “car” for “cat.” Whoops just does not cut it here.
We do not know what was going on at City Hall under the old mayor and council and with the former city manager and finance director. We hope everything was on the up and up and past friction at worst can be put down to honest misunderstandings. And we are gladder than ever that council seems to be moving forward with a new, sound impetus.
We are also relieved, given what we are learning. But this still does not look good.
And a typo? Really? There is an old saying that encapsulates good advice. Cleaned up from the Aussie slang, it is: Don’t tinkle in my pocket and tell me it’s raining. We do not think we are alone in wishing to know how this could have happened. Is there an auditor in the house?
We are awaiting the results of the investigation into whatever transpired under LeBlanc and Brown, being conducted in part by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Perhaps that will shed more light on mistakes with a lot of zeros, and perhaps not.
When LeBlanc departed, he was grumbling about the new council majority putting its nose where it did not belong. But two of its members, Baxter and Noseworthy, were the No votes on the new budget. Among other things, Noseworthy took exception to the city using new and limited sales tax revenue to fund operations. She has a good point, even if it did not prevail, and it makes us glad she, too, is there. Clearly, someone needs to keep an eye on things at City Hall.