Second in a series on the 2011 budget.

A budget is not just a dry set of statistics — it is a statement of values. In the push and pull over individual line items, we should not lose sight of the larger questions that help us determine what sort of city New Rochelle will be.

As I assess the City Manager’s proposed 2011 budget (download warning: large file), here are the major priorities I will keep in mind:

  1. Provide Public Safety
  2. Respect Taxpayers
  3. Maintain Essential, Universal Services
  4. Promote Sustainable Economic Growth
  5. Invest in Infrastructure & Equipment
  6. Enrich People’s Lives

Provide Public Safety

Safety is local government’s number one responsibility. This priority encompasses crime control and prevention, fire suppression, emergency medical response, and other actions or services that protect the life, health, and property of our residents. Accordingly, municipal spending on public safety exceeds that on all other City functions combined.

Respect Taxpayers

Prior to the current economic downturn, property taxes in our region already constituted a crisis-level burden for many in our community, as well as a deterrent to potential homeowners and entrepreneurs. The recession’s toll on household income and assets has intensified this problem. Respecting the economic challenges we each face as families and individuals and limiting the imposition of unreasonable new financial demands must, therefore, be a chief priority.

Maintain Essential, Universal Services

There are several services from which virtually all residents and businesses benefit and which are critical to the daily ordering of our lives. Most of these services are clustered under the umbrella of the Department of Public Works, including sanitation, snow removal, and leaf pick-up. Providing these services efficiently is the hallmark of a well-functioning city.

Promote Sustainable Economic Growth

A growing economy is essential to: create new job opportunities; generate commercial tax revenue; attract private funding for public amenities; broaden the range of quality goods and services available to residents; and ensure a high quality of life for our community overall. Because expenditures for planning analyses, development staff, marketing and so forth do not always produce a hard, tangible product (at least in the short-term,) they are sometimes regarded as wasteful or unnecessary, but I feel strongly that our City’s future is bound up tightly in this entire category of municipal effort.

Invest in Infrastructure & Equipment

As every homeowner knows, a failure to invest in physical maintenance can save money in the short-term, but prove costly in the long-term. What’s true for a house is true for a city. During challenging economic times like these, we may have no choice except to defer costly maintenance needs and forward-looking capital projects, but we must remain committed to building a better New Rochelle and restore such investments as soon as circumstances permit.

Enrich People’s Lives

Though social services tend to be delivered by higher levels of government, there are many ways to promote activities that add to the richness of our lives. Recreational facilities, programming and nutrition for seniors, summer employment and after-school opportunities for young people … these programs improve the character of our community and can be especially important to those among us who face special challenges.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of my goals for New Rochelle. Some of the things I care about deeply, such as promotion of the arts or environmental protection, are not listed because they are either implicit in other categories or associated more with policy-making than with budgeting.

The over-arching priorities I have listed here must be balanced with each other and placed in the context of larger economic circumstances. How well this balancing is accomplished is the best test of a budget’s wisdom.

In my next post on this topic, I’ll outline the basic shape of the City’s budget to show where your tax dollars are going.