The city's purchasing policy will remain as it has been, but not after some debate on how much can be spent before the Common Council has to review it. The discussion occurred Tuesday night at the Committee of the Whole meeting.
Generally expenses that were included in the council's approved budget do not need another look, unless they exceed the expected amount. Department heads can approve expenses up to $25,000, with the Mayor's approval also needed for those higher than that.
However, Alderman Dan Soltysiak challenged the policy stating that the Common Council was charged with the oversight of finances, not the mayor, and said they should be the ones signing off on expenses over $25,000.
"This would provide another layer of checks and balances, and it also allows us another review of whether or not (the expense) is a good idea," he said.
Alderman Kert Harenda took the suggestion a step further and said the council may also be allowed "to reappropriate funds if we see that some expenses have come in under budget."
Less efficient, some say
However, others felt the change to the policy, which had been in place up until two years ago, would make the function of government less efficient.
"I'm all for saving money, but if the departments are already working within a budget and not spending extra, I don't see it," said Alderman Rob Wolfe. "Businesses have a manager, and in this case it's the mayor. If we get to a point where we feel there are abuses, we should address that."
Rob Glazier also argued against Soltysiak's point that the change wouldn't affect how the departments run.
"It does affect the department heads, as whatever approval would be needed has to wait on a council meeting; the change in process adds levels of approval," he said.
Mayor Kathy Chiaverotti also told the council that they do have oversight as they are the ones that approve the budgets for each department.
"I only sign off on council-approval dollars, and often the expenses have to go through a committee. We do these budgets for a reason, and our department heads are always looking for ways to spend less," she explained.
Chiaverotti also pointed out that the process would create a delay of up to six weeks, as approvals would then have to go through committee first, then to council. For some expenses, like vehicle purchases, she said that delay could present a problem in garnering the best pricing, or risk not being approved at all at council, should there be a change of heart.
Alderman Neil Borgman said he was in favor of the change because of his concern over the approval of an expense for janitorial services in city buildings. The mayor had approved changing to Janiking for the services, which was not the original vendor approved for 2013. Although cost for their services was the same as their 2012 contract and fell within the budgeted amount of $80,000, some council members felt they should have been notified prior to the approval.
Department heads wanted no change
The majority of the departments were also present for the meeting, and had a chance to speak, indicating that often timing is everything in the purchase process.
"There is already a considerable amount of staff time spent during the RFP (request for proposal) process to acquire the costs of projects, and by the time we would have a number for council, that time has been put in," Parks Director Craig Anderson explained. He felt that should the council change its mind on an expense the staff time would have been wasted.
"You're losing sight of what we do, and it is our job to get the lowest price on things," argued MPD Capt. John La Tour. "There are vendors who no longer want to deal with me because they know I'll always try to work them down in price."
Alderman Eileen Madden agreed, saying "I've never seen a council run smoothly that's micro-managed, and that's what we're talking about here."
Reiterating a theme others mentioned, Alderman Neome Schaumberg said "this policy has not been abused, so why are we trying to fix what isn't broke?"
The discussion was put to a straw vote, with the policy change being voted down on a 4-3 vote. (Aldermen Soltysiak, Harenda and Borgman voting for the change.)