The budget is actually discussed in three separate Council meetings (5/17, 6/14 and 6/21). In the 5/17 meeting I made it a point to note that Fremont’s budget decision process is not an inclusive process. The budget notes that there is a hierarchy where the community is on top, followed by the Council and then by staff. I noted that in my experience this is not actually how the budget is prepared in Fremont.
My frustration with the budget process has not only been that there is virtually no input from the public. I also feel as a Council member that I have little say in the budget process. That the budget is simply presented by staff, there is little discussion, and then the budget is approved. As an example, there was a budget surplus last year. Instead of staff presenting to Council what options we had to spend this on, staff just presented a list of what they felt it should be spent on. This was simply approved by the Council with little discussion. I’ve complained about this a couple of times with no success.
I had talked with a number of bicycle advocates about trying to get more funding for Class I bike trails in Fremont. I invited some of them to the budget hearing to speak on this. Unfortunately, staff indicated that they felt they were doing enough on bike trails, such as applying for grants, that no changes to the recommended budget were needed. Indeed, as with previous years, the budget that was passed included no changes based on recommendations from the public nor from City Council members.
It’s true that some of the blame for this situation is due to the public not speaking up at our budget hearings. However, a number of people I’ve talked with say they feel that their voice will not be considered so why should they bother showing up. I can relate to that feeling.
As far as specific items I had a problem with, the City is planning on spending nine and a half million dollars on the design of a sports park at the end of Auto Mall Parkway. (Yes, this is only the design.) At the same time, we have local parks, such as the one behind Washington High School, that we can’t complete due to lack of funds. We also completed a study on the Nursery site in Niles but now are not dedicating any money to start the work. Finally, as mentioned, a number of residents would like to see us commit more funds to Class I bike trails.
I will continue to advocate for a more inclusive budget process where the public feels that they have a say in setting our city’s financial priorities.