Editor’s note: This story is the fifth in a series of budget-oriented stories The Transcript will release over the next several weeks as the city nears its budget deadline. Each story deals with budget requirements, functions, and major requirements of specific city departments.
This week, the city’s legal department answered The Transcript’s questions, from why the budget was increased or decreased this year, to key requirements for the area of municipal operations.
The staff will start working on the proposed budget in September and prioritize the needs of each department through meetings with other members of the Town Hall and the Norman City Council.
In The Transcript’s coverage, a dividing line emerged between departments that find a wide range of grants to supplement their budget, like Public Safety, Parks and Recreation, and departments like City Legal don’t have that luxury. The department also does not receive any special voter-approved sales tax funds.
The Legal Department deals with a wide variety of legal challenges that force its employees to familiarize themselves with many aspects of the law.
Question: How much has your department requested this year and how much more or less are you looking for than in the previous financial year?
The proposed fiscal year 22 budget for the Legal Department is $ 1,295,292, a decrease of nearly $ 15,000 from fiscal year 21.
Question: What is the reason for the budget amount you want? What are the most critical needs and top expenditures in your department this fiscal year? What about the next five years? Legal expenses are largely made up of salaries and benefits. Aside from salaries and benefits, our other budgets are relatively tight.
External legal costs vary from year to year depending on the number of litigation we have. This year we ran two appeals against outside attorneys and prepared for a multiparty lawsuit that will affect actual expenses.
My goal is to handle more litigation in-house by requesting that a litigation position be added over the next five years. I didn’t ask for a position like this this year because I knew income from COVID-19 would be more uncertain than ever.
Question: In addition to grants, what steps does your department take to generate savings on ongoing or completed projects?
Since most of our budget categories are fixed or not subject to cost savings (salaries and benefits, subscriptions to legal research, training required, etc.), the best way to save money in our department is to handle as many litigation as possible in-house.
Question: What is something about your department and city budget that you want the public to know?
The Legal Department prides itself on being a full-service in-house law firm. Many people meet our employees in the district court or in council meetings, but the task involves a lot more.
We represent the city in legal disputes before federal and regional courts, administrative negotiations, the employee compensation court and the district court, but also advise employees, departments and councils of the city on a variety of matters every day.
Thomson-Reuters recently released the results of a nationwide survey of public prosecutors. On average, prosecutors spend at least six hours a week familiarizing themselves with new and more complex topics, experiencing a higher workload with at least 33 unique issues per week, and doing all of this with flat or reduced resources. This was certainly our experience here.
Local law is a specialty, but it really requires you to be a jack of all trades. It’s never boring and never routine.
Mindy Wood shares town hall news and notable lawsuits for The Transcript. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-416-4420.