BARRE — City Manager Steve Mackenzie has his work cut out for him — again.
After completing the time-consuming game of municipal Monopoly needed to pave the way for the City Place project last month, Mackenzie is now playing catch-up when it comes to crafting the municipal budget voters will be asked to approve March 6.
He spent part of November and all of December immersed in a series of real estate transactions needed to keep the downtown redevelopment project on track, setting his budget-building process back nearly six weeks.
It wasn’t until last weekend that Mackenzie began his budget work, and most of the heavy lifting will be done over the next two weeks. By charter he must present his recommended budget to the City Council no later than Jan. 19. That’s 45 days before the city’s annual Town Meeting Day elections.
The deadline falls on a Saturday, so unless the council schedules a special session, Mackenzie’s recommended budget has to be delivered by its regular meeting Jan. 15.
Coming off a year when it took three tries to persuade voters to approve a scaled-down version of the $10.2 million budget initially proposed by Mackenzie, the compressed time frame creates challenges, some of which may have more to do with perception than reality.
The shortened budget season will likely limit the opportunity for meaningful input from a citizens budget committee suggested by one council member.
Meanwhile, City Council members will have to act fast to put their stamp on a spending plan that technically isn’t theirs unless it is rejected by voters in March.
Though Mackenzie will have the final say, the last leg of the budget process in Barre is typically collaborative and the final product is tailored to reflect the wishes and advice of the council.
That happened a year ago, when Mackenzie trimmed more than $200,000 from his initial budget request, only to see it cut twice more after budget defeats in March and May.
Among the notable cuts were proposals to expand the local police force and hire an assistant city manager.
Voters ultimately approved a $9.93 million municipal budget in June.
In an effort to aid Mackenzie this year, Mayor Thomas Lauzon recently provided him a “template” for next year’s budget — with numbers extrapolated from last year’s level of spending — and offered the assistance of his accounting firm.
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