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City budget process: look back, look ahead and plan
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As Camden City Council moves past first reading of the 2011-2012 budget and on to second reading May 24th, it is important for our community to understand how we budget and where our priorities originate.

Many people think we sit down with a spreadsheet and allocate dollars based on what each councilmember personally wants to do. That isn’t that case.

Almost all of our budgeted expenditures come from one of three places: recurring costs, the vision plan, or our strategic plan.

Certain costs occur each year. In order to provide electricity for our customers, we have to budget money to buy power from an electric company. Every year we must budget to pay our employees, pay our insurance, and purchase necessary supplies. All of these annual costs are calculated, analyzed, and budgeted.

Other expenditures come as the result of our vision plan, “Vision Camden.” The vision plan encapsulates hours of citizen input along with the opinion of professional city planners. It is a combination of where our citizens said they want our city to go and what steps we should take according to professional recommendations.

The creation of the Town Green and the redevelopment of the Mather Academy site were both born in the vision plan. They present us with wonderful opportunities to make our downtown more attractive and promote economic development in the area.

These projects don’t come cheap, but they are projects that we can certainly afford to fund. The increases they will cause in pedestrian traffic downtown make them both worthwhile. Soon, more people will shop downtown than before because of the steps we are taking now. The construction process causes some inconvenience, but the reward at the end is worth it.

Many of our expenditures are prioritized during the strategic planning process. Now once a year, council meets to review the previous budget year, outline our goals for the upcoming year, and discuss projects that we would like to fund. Our staff also meets to discuss any problems they have had in the previous year and any projects that are upcoming.

Once we’re done, we merge the results of the council planning session with the results of the staff planning session. This provides us all with a roadmap for the upcoming fiscal year. Our staff has a clear view of what council wants to do, and the council has a clear plan to keep us from wasting time on projects that haven’t been prioritized.

Our budget process is simple, straightforward, and efficient. We look back at what we’ve done, look ahead to what we want to do, and plan the best way to get there.

I’ve heard comments lately from a few citizens saying some of the projects we are pursuing sprung up out of the ground or popped up out of thin air. The truth is the projects we have undertaken have been planned for months or, in some cases, years.

After years of little activity, the City of Camden has a lot going on. I can assure you this activity comes with diligent planning, thoughtful consideration, and planned vision. Together, we’re moving Camden closer to realizing its great potential.