City council members seemed prepared to assert their authority during their first meeting to go over Mayor Steve Bach's 2014 budget plan Thursday.
Mayor Bach did not attend the meeting, but council had many questions for his chief-of-staff Laura Neumann and city staff who presented about capitol improvement projects and public works.
A big complaint from council was that they were not given enough details about specific spending plans within departments.
"I think previous councils who did not ask detailed questions got burned," said council member Don Knight. "And twice burnt, twice cautious."
Neumann seemed frustrated at times, telling council that if they were "going to talk about every $10,000, we're going to spend the next 30 days together."
Council members will have four budget work sessions, while last year there was only one.
"I think this new council is more engaged than in recent past," said council member Jan Martin.
Council members say Bach refused to meet with him about the budget before he presented it to the media last week, while Bach points out the city's charter doesn't require him to communicate with council on the issue.
This is the third year in office for Bach, the city's first strong mayor. Council has to pass the budget, but some members say it's still not clear what authority they have to make changes under the new form of government.
City attorney Chris Melcher says council is restricted to amending "high level items, and they need to defer to the mayor in terms of how the mayor administers the budget." So council could change the overall amount of money allocated to the police department, but could not decide how many police officers are hired or vehicles purchased.
"I think we will continue to ask for that legal advice on where that line is," said Martin. "It's part of the new system, and we just don't know yet where the authority lies for line items in the budget."
The mayor's 2014 general fund budget proposal totals $245.6 million dollars, $13.8 million dollars more than his 2013 budget proposal.