For the last couple of weeks City Council members Jim Mosby and Victor Vega have been peddling the idea that their abrasive, confrontational budget questioning resulted in some serious budget-cutting. On future analysis they may be exaggerating their accomplishment.
Budget hearings took an unprecedented five months and over a dozen hearings before a final budget was adopted. But, did all this posturing, question-asking and flaunting of erroneous information to support the questions, derived from who knows where, do much?
In the short-term, maybe it had some minor effect, but in the long-term there are many issues still to be resolved.
There are two ways to reduce the bottom line. One is by deferring capital projects, and the other is by reducing the cost of day-to-day operations.
Deferring capital projects is simply kicking the can down the road so some future council will have to deal with facility decay and/or dangerous public buildings. Today’s political heroes will be long gone from the scene when deferring all these projects finally catches up with the city, and facilities start to literally fall apart because they deferred maintenance.
A good example is the old municipal pool, which was declared unsafe several years ago. It is still crumbling, looks awful and the land it sits on could surely be used more effectively. In this case a $750,000 demolition project was removed from this budget, but the work still needs to happen, probably when part of the building collapses.
Cutting day-to-day operational costs means either less material or man hours. This is the area of the budget where once a dollar is saved, it is forever saved. But, these savings impact service deliveries to taxpayers.
The ominous Public Employee Retirement System contribution increases demanded by the retirement fund will probably increase during the next budget cycle, and the council made no effort to address the need for additional revenue to maintain critical services.
One of the operational cost reductions came from the removal of a one-time cost of $200,000 set aside to cover election costs and voter education for potential tax increase ballot measures. These ballot measures were designed to allow the people to choose either substantial reductions of service or increase their taxes to support them. This council denied them that opportunity.
One missed opportunity was to reduce or eliminate the $500,000 funding of nonprofit and other non-essential services that are not within the city’s mission statement. In other words, these are discretionary spending items for times when the city coffers are overflowing. This cost reduction was quickly tossed aside amid complaints from advocates of these services.
To put the amount saved into context, the original two-year budget proposed in May was $258,344,220. The budget approved in September was $257,996,631 — a savings of $347,589 or minus-0.13 percent. The staffing level of 394.75 full-time-equivalent employees remained unchanged.
At the end of their marathon discussions they only saved about $175,000 a year, which is merely eraser dust in a budget of this size and scope, and could have been easily saved by managing actual costs.
Council members Mosby and Vega will, of course, deny these facts and try to stick to their claim that they were the knight’s-in-shining-armor who saved citizens from poor management at City Hall.
At the end, they were paper tigers who had only marginal success, and they left it up to the council that will be seated in the next election to fix. That’s the easy thing to do, leave it for the next crew.