Budget Book Could Go Electronic

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Thursday November 06, 2014

Early each year like clockwork, a thick, 50-70 page book arrives in every mailbox in South Burlington outlining the annual reports and proposed budgets of both the city and school. Whether you are one to read over the pages making notes in the margins or immediately toss it into the recycling bin, the annual printed budget book has been a staple for years. However, last year a question arose about how much money could be saved by transitioning the budget documents to an electronic format. According to Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard, the cost to the city of printing the budget books is 8,000 dollars with an equal amount matched by the school district.

The next step in researching the process involved determining if the City Charter allowed for electronic distribution. City Attorney Jim Barlow weighed in to let the council know that the City Charter does not require mailing of the budget, but it does need to be made available in some format. In Barlow’s opinion, it would be legally sufficient for the city and school district to give notice of the availability of the annual reports and proposed budgets by a notice published in a newspaper and by a postcard mailed to city voters. The annual reports and proposed budgets could then be “made available” to the voters in electronic format on the city website with a printed format available upon request at the city office. It could also be sent electronically to voters requesting an electronic copy via e-mail.

Meaghan Emery said she would be willing to try this as an experiment, but stressed that having educated voters is crucial to the democratic process. Emery mentioned that there is a convenience factor when the information arrives in one’s mailbox in the form of the book rather than a postcard which can easily get lost in the shuffle of other mail.

Helen Riehle said she would like to try this method, but inquired into making the book easier to read online via electronic enhancements to highlight executive summaries. Tom Hubbard assured her this would be possible.

Chris Shaw, who had brought this issue to the forefront initially said, “There’s not harm in trying it, we can go back to the other method if it’s a bust.”

Helen Riehle made the motion that the city and school work together to electronically distribute the budget book this year and advertise in advance of the process in The Other Paper and through postcards to make residents aware of their options which include having the document e-mailed to them, reading it on the city website, or requesting a hard copy. John Simson seconded and the decision was unanimous.

Although the vote was unanimous, this is an issue that remains to be taken up by the school board and if they vote against electronic distribution, Kevin Dorn said, “we’re back to square one.”

After voting, Meaghan Emery said she would be requesting a hard copy as will Helen Riehle.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent