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December 8, 2013

City’s new budget our plan for future

DUNCAN — All eyes should be focused on members of the Duncan City Council and its professional staff as work continues in putting together a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

It is an important document.

It is a large document.

It is an expensive document.

It affects us all.

The project of months of hard work and preparation, detailed evaluation and study, the final budget will outline plans and projects for all departments in the new year, providing something of a report card on the past 12 months and offering a snapshot of where the community is and what lies ahead.

Before city leaders can appropriately address the day-to-day operations of city government, they must deal with a cumbersome employee pension plan that is inadequately funded and drains valuable monetary resources each year.

Before city leaders can move forward, they must reassess their position on a $50 million long-term that adds real expense to city residents and handcuffs attempts to progressively deal with improved quality-of-life issues once considered the norm.

Before city leaders can focus on personnel and services, they must prioritize the need for long-term solutions to adequate, affordable and available water, sorely needed street repairs and infrastructure improvements and similar issues of great concern that, left untouched, can wreck whatever comfort plans seem necessary.

It is important city leaders embrace a sense of stability for the “now” before they delve into the future. It is important they regain the trust of an entire citizenry. And it is important they convince citizens only after all options have been pursued will additional charges or price increases be passed along.

This year’s budget cannot be a political document aimed at pleasing special interest groups. It must be a business document with achievable goals and specific plans that outline a path to reaching or even exceeding those aspirations.

Returning our city to a plateau of excellence we once enjoyed is a legitimate target. Providing a level of services that make Duncan special is a compatible component.

Hard questions about staffing levels, benefits, operational schedules, services and support and capital commitments merit attention as a solid base, not just for 2014, but beyond.

  Fortunately, there is good leadership in place at vital positions. The ability of those people to construct a plan others will follow may be more critical than ever.

The 2013 budget needed $61 million. On a package that large, dealing with amounts of money uncommon in personal management, it is easy to get careless or to spend loosely. Early estimates are the 2014 plan will require less. That’s a good, and even impressive, sign.

Efforts to streamline, to plan reasonably, to spend intelligently, to manage well and to maintain a strict sense of accountability not only protects city monies, it creates a resource pool capable of meeting unexpected problems or additional opportunities as they become a necessity or an option.

Further, it sets a good example and offers a proper guide for local businesses, agencies, organizations and individuals to follow. And it embraces a vision necessary for us all to understand.

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