Santa Rosa Mayor Ernesto Olivares' idea to switch the city to a two-year budget cycle got mixed reviews from his council colleagues Tuesday, with supporters praising it as a more efficient process and critics lambasting the idea as little more than something copied from another city's website.
In June, Olivares proposed two-year budgets as a way to replace the "insanity that is our annual budget hearings" with a process that is more stable, less rushed and generates more community involvement.
Lawrence Chiu, the city chief financial officer, praised the idea Tuesday during a study session, saying it could potentially saving staff time and expense involved in annually producing thick budget volumes. The savings would give finance staff more time for high-level budget analysis and allow for better outreach to the public, he said.
The change would not prevent staff and councilmembers from making as many adjustments to the budget as necessary to react to economic conditions, Chiu said.
But Councilman Gary Wysocky dismissed the idea as "form over substance" that he said wouldn't address the city's real financial problems. His concern grew, he said, after he checked the website of San Louis Obispo and found that "80 percent" of Olivares' June report to the council had been "cut and pasted" from that city's site.
"What I'm concerned about is we're getting a cookie cutter approach from another city and I don't understand it. We deserve better than that," Wysocky said.
Olivares didn't dispute that his report was largely from other sources, which was why he turned the idea over to Chiu to analyze to see if it had merit.
"The reason I settled on two years is because I found it was something that was successful in other communities that have tried it," Olivares said.
Other council members agreed the idea seemed to hold promise. Councilman Scott Bartley said he didn't understand Wysocky's objection.
"I'm having a problem seeing how possibly planning further in advance is a bad thing," Bartley said.
Councilman John Sawyer, a long-standing member of the council's budget subcommittee before it was abolished, said he didn't see any downside.
"If if it more efficient and we can get the same information, I say go for it," Sawyer said.
The fact that that Olivares chose San Luis Obispo as a "model" was little more than a starting point for the discussions about what might work in Santa Rosa, he said.
The council directed staff to review some other budgeting options and return to the council with a another report. If the council chooses to move forward, Chiu said he would recommend the city not do its first two-year budget cycle until a 2013-2015 budget.