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While City staff continues to work on this year’s spartan budget, the Mayor’s Budget Task Force held its first meeting on Dec. 15. The task force, composed of 11 mayoral appointees, will look for ways long-term solutions to the City’s budget problems. They may also offer suggestions about the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “I gathered you all here because I need help. … I want you all to take a calm view of our budget and look at things in depth. … Look at the cuts and see which can be reinstated at some point and which will not be restored. When you look now you’ll find that no money is [wasted]; every item has a constituency. … See if there are other ways to provide services, such as fire services. People need to be creative,” said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.

Ms. Tisdahl added that a few years ago City Council decided to take money from the Water Fund and put it into the General Fund, the City’s main operating budget, to keep taxes low and said, “Take a look at the budget and make sure we’re not doing anything to make us look foolish.”

Mark Sloane, who chairs the committee, said he and Ms. Tisdahl began discussing the prospect of a budget task force in April but decided to wait until the new City Manager was appointed.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he hoped the Task Force would have some recommendations for the 2010-11 budget in January or February. “Look at long-term things. It’s important to give the City Manager and the mayor as much feedback as possible.” He added that one proposal he would make is to shift the City’s fiscal year to coincide with the calendar year; this could be accomplished fully by the 2012 budget, he said, making the 2011 budget a ten-month budget.

Task force member Ray Summers, retired president of a local chapter of AFSCME, said, “For next year we’re more than $8 million in the hole. It [the shortfall] used to be only about $4 million. How did it double?”

Mr. Bobkiewicz said, “The economy kept going down, and the projections were rosy. It’s a matter that the world is a different place today.”

Task force member Jeanne Lindwall said, “One of the things that has concerned me is a transfer of $300,000 from the CIP [capital improvement program] bond fund into the General Fund. Using capital [money] for operating [expenses] strikes me as something we ought not to be doing.”

The task force will meet next in mid-January, after the first budget workshop. In the meantime, Mr. Sloane assigned them homework: reading the present budget as well as information about the budgets of Elmhurst and Aurora.

Just three days after that meeting, Mr. Bobkiewicz presented a memo to Mayor Tisdahl in which he proposed $7.4 million in cuts. See story on page 1.