As reported in the Daily Leader, the Madison Aquatic Center suffered damage over the winter when the ventilation system failed, leading to corrosion of important components of the mechanical systems.
Repairs look to be costly and somewhat difficult, considering some components may not have replacement parts readily available. Even so, city officials are working to get the Aquatic Center up and running.
The unexpected costs have caused us to think a little about city finances. Clearly, this was an unexpected emergency that was not considered in the annual budgeting process. The budget for 2021 was completed late last year.
However, the City of Madison has reserve funds in various departments that can be used, and most of us believe that is the exact purpose of reserve funds. Reserves can be considered "rainy day" funds, when unexpected expenses pop up, or budget projections aren't accurate.
What we're concerned about is the use of reserve funds for other purposes. In recent years, city officials have spent reserve funds on items not considered emergencies, such as real estate purposes. There has been shifting of reserve funds from one city department to another, depending on where commissioners want to spend money.
These actions aren't illegal or scandalous. In some cases, they aren't even controversial. But reserve funds should not be considered a pot of money available for spending on things outside the budgeting process, which has more public input and discipline. Shifting reserve funds and spending on projects do not have the same budget rigor.
The Aquatic Center repairs fit exactly with what we believe reserve funds should be used for, and we should proceed quickly. At the same time, let's resist the temptation to spend reserves on other things.
-- Jon M. Hunter