The day after election day is typically one where politicians and the people who vote for them take a collective breath. Thank God that’s over. A few precious weeks without seeing a political ad on TV.
In Brookfield, where a sales tax referendum was on the ballot, today isn’t so much of a break in the action. Rather, members of the village board this evening will begin finalizing the village’s budget for the 2006-07 fiscal year. They’ll meet tonight at 5:30 p.m. and again next Wednesday at the same time.
In and of itself, this wouldn’t be a remarkable event. Every municipality goes through the budgeting process each year. It’s not the most glamorous exercise, but it’s a critical one. It determines the amount of money the village plans on spending for services for residents and for funding important capital improvements.
The reason this particular budget workshop series is notable, is that for the first time in years, Brookfield’s village board will be crafting its operating budget before the fiscal year actually begins.
You’d think that a municipality, as a matter of pure logic, would nail down its budget before beginning to spend the money. For whatever reason, however, following that simple sequence has been a tough thing to do.
Instead, Brookfield has gotten into the habit of approving its budget a full quarter into the fiscal year. It’s impossible to make a tough decision to cut funds when money is already spent.
For the past several years, this newspaper has been calling for Brookfield politicians to start treating the budget process seriously and to complete an operating budget prior to the start of the fiscal year.
In 2006, that is going to happen, and we commend this village board for approaching the budget process in that spirit.
This is not to say that the final budget product will satisfy everyone in Brookfield. Indeed, there are some very tough choices to be made. If the sales tax referendum on the ballot yesterday failed, then trustees will have to either figure out a way to fund road construction in 2006, or delay it another year.
There’s also the matter of matching a federal grant, to the tune of $400,000, to develop Jaycee/Ehlert Park. Where’s that coming from? Will the board fund a study that might bring a community recreation center to Brookfield? Will the board fund improvements for Kiwanis Park’s oak savanna?
Will the board fund and finally begin implementing a program to replace water meters in the village? This single issue has been on the table for the past six years with no resolution.
These are all important and potentially expensive line items in the budget, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But that’s also why it’s vitally important to begin talking about and making decisions about the operating budget now rather than in June, when it’s often too late to begin talking about matters such as road and park improvements that must take place during the summer months or not at all.
We don’t expect this budget process to be any less contentious politically than those in the past (although the last two have been remarkably civil), but at least the haggling will be timely.