It is time for a fresh look at the fundamentals of local government.

For several years, New Rochelle, like cities throughout the nation, has confronted increasingly painful budgetary and fiscal decisions. As a consequence, the City’s municipal workforce is smaller now than at any previous time in our modern history, and a variety of important investments have been scaled back, deferred, or cancelled entirely. (You can read more in this series of posts.) Despite these cuts, the financial burden on taxpayers and residents continues to escalate, driven primarily by State-imposed mandates and recession-induced revenue stagnation.

During our most recent budget deliberations late last year, I pointed out that the fiscal constraints impacting local government are likely to persist for the long-term, and that we must, therefore, undertake a more comprehensive and in-depth look at local service levels and options, one aimed at setting priorities in an era of limits. The City Council agreed, and we committed to launching a publicly-inclusive process for examining current practices and identifying possible changes.

Earlier this week, the Council put flesh on the bone of this concept by defining the mission, membership structure, and scope of analysis for a new “Citizens’ Panel on Sustainable Budgets.” The Panel is likely to convene for the first time in February and will then labor intensively for the next six months to deliver recommendations to the City Council and Administration. Our intent is that the Panel’s report be delivered in time to help inform the drafting of New Rochelle’s 2013 budget. You can read the details here.

I will be a member of the panel and look forward to devoting considerable time and energy to this important priority in the months ahead.