To prevent a repeat of last budget cycle when the city was forced to dip into its reserve fund to fill a $1 million deficit, Hyattsville council members say they are considering amending their charter to strip the mayor of his budgetary oversight.
Two charter amendments, which would redefine the role of the treasurer and city administrator, are to be voted on during the council’s Tuesday evening meeting.
Last year, the council did not receive a budget until late May. Council members said they felt rushed into making budget decisions that resulted in the city approving an unbalanced budget days before the deadline.
“Last year’s budget process was horrific,” said Councilman Patrick Paschall (Ward 3). “It lacked any level of process.”
Council President Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1) said under the current charter, the deadline for submitting the budget is 32 days before the beginning of the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“That’s not enough time, especially when you have six new council members in an election year,” Hollingsworth said. “We want all council members to have an opportunity to review the budget document, engage with staff, and have the time to ask those critical questions and get the answers to those questions before they make any decisions.”
Under the proposed amendments, the treasurer will prepare a budget under the direction of the city administrator and City Council and, rather than the mayor, the city administrator will present a budget to the council, no later than 60 days before the beginning of the new fiscal year. Currently, the treasurer prepares the budget under the mayor’s direction.
“Having the mayor, who after all is only a part-time mayor, burdened with putting together the city budget does not fit well with our form of government in Hyattsville,” Paschall said.
Mayor Marc Tartaro said he knew the workload when he chose to run for office, having served nine years on the council and as mayor since 2011.
“At the end of the day, with the system we have now, the mayor is responsible for putting together the budget,” Tartaro said. “If we want to change that, I think the residents should decide that, through a referendum or other means, not the council deciding it behind closed doors.”
Hyattsville resident Jim Groves, moderator for the Hyattsville Organization for a Positive Environment community listserv, said the council tries to improve the budget process annually.
Groves said any changes that give groups longer to examine the budget before it is approved would be an improvement.
“Whatever they can do to streamline the process is fine by me,” Groves said. “If this is how they think the budget will best work, and they have the votes, then they should do it. That’s democracy in action.”