Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Today's St. Marys budget hearing.

Click on image to enlarge.
I just got back from eating out, after attending this afternoon's workshop. It ran from 4:11 PM to 6:00 PM. It was surprisingly well attended - standing room only. To be sure, there were a lot of city employees and the usual Downtown Merchants' mouthpieces, but a lot of other interested citizens as well. I'm fairly certain that the meeting was recorded. It might well be on the city website tomorrow or Friday.
There was a handout which I apparently missed on my way in. Thanks to Mayor Rowland Eskridge for kindly giving me his copy after the meeting.
There are two pages, which I will scan in in a moment. I'm not sure in which order they'll appear so I'm talking first about the one that reads at the top "Current millage rate of 5.6 and not terminating any current employees but deleting 18 positions." This is a list of possible cuts compiled by Bill Shanahan and Max Tinsley. Not that where ever there are references to personnel reductions, they are talking about not filling currently authorized but as yet vacant positions and not firing anyone. At least that is what they said at first. But, if memory serves me, the fire chief clarified that it would, in fact entail firing three full time and three part time firemen.
Needless to say, before the meeting was over, all on council had pandered to the employees and swore that they would not fire anyone. There was also a proposal to cancel the practice of allowing city employees to sell back leave time. One councilman (I forget who) immediately jumped on the opportunity to secure a few votes by expressing sheer horror at the idea, especially given that city employees routinely depended upon that money to buy Christmas presents. Needless to say, that is not going to happen, but they promised to look at the policy very carefully in the future. Sure.
At the very bottom of that first page, where it says "Total" $1,560,712.00 savings of fund balance," it means that if they kept the millage rate at the current 5.6 (i.e., no rollback to pre- re-assessment levels of revenue) and made every one of the cuts enumerated, they would have to pull $1,560,712.00 LESS out of the contingency fund (CORRECTION: out of the "fund balance," i.e., the total of all unexpended funds plus interest from previous budgets. Nice catch, Sandy.), but still would not fully cover the nut for the upcoming budget.
Page two starts off with the heading "Additional savings through department reorganizations or re classifications." You can see the proposed savings.
Now, look right about in the middle where it talks about millage rates. Assuming that all of the cuts on pages one and two were to be enacted and the millage rate was rolled back to 5.1 (to generate exactly the same revenue as last year) the cut savings of $1,251,315.00 plus the loss of 7,977.00 in tax revenues = savings to fund balance of $1,243.338.00
If they stick with the current millage rate of 5.6 (no rollback) the savings of $1,251,315.00 plus increased tax revenues (from higher assessed values) = a savings to the fund balance of $1,556,712.00
If they raise the millage rate to 6.1 (note that Kingsland's is 8), the $1,251,315.00 in savings plus the 626,770.00 in increased revenues = savings to the fund balance of $1,878,085.00
Finally, you see the annual and monthly tax bill differences on homes of different values at the different millage rates.
Here is what you will end up with: Look at this line.
"Raise millage to 6.1 = $1,251,315 + 626,770 =$1, 878,085.00."
When the final vote is taken, there will be an increase to a new millage rate of 6.1. The second number - the proposed savings of $1,251,315.00 - will be considerably lower. The revenue will be as stated. The final number - the "savings of fund balance -will of course be lower as well.
The politically courageous thing to do would be to terminate a lot of upper level assistants who were hired in anticipation of a boom that did not happen. That being said, the best we can hope for is the increase to 6.1 mills; a hiring freeze; and natural attrition of the employee force.
P.S.,
There will be one last budget workshop with public input. It will be held from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM on Monday, September 8th, followed immediately by the regularly scheduled city council meeting at which the budget will be voted upon.

7 comments:

sandy said...

while councilman trader had some good remarks he did not really follow through. To clarify some technical remarks, fund balance is money left over from former years. banks like this because it helps if you have a bad year and are having trouble making payments on bonds. Contingency funds are a line item is the budget wherein funds are allocated for surprise items such as a broken boiler that has to suddenly be replaced. council did not address fundamental problem of lack of new business and their contribution to tax base and new jobs.

Jay Moreno said...

I stand corrected. You're absolutely correct. Thanks for the clarification.

St Marys Resident said...

Sandy:

I always appreciate your input!

St Marys Resident said...

Still don't see the tape of the budget meeting on the St. Marys website...do you think they will post it?

Jay Moreno said...

Perhaps not - which begs the question: "Why in the hell did they bother to tape it?"

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm just a dumb blonde but, if the growth that they hired 61 new employees for never materialized what the heck do these people do that is so important that to lay them off is not "a direction that we all want to see"? It looks to me like they just want to raise the millage and not realistically look for ways to cut the budget, Eliminating coffee, water and sports drinks??? Please be real. Do they think the people of St. Marys are stupid or blind? Our economy is hurting and so are we all, don't make it worse by raising our taxes!

Jay Moreno said...

It is, in a nutshell, a lack of political courage on the part of all councilors and the mayor, save one: Deborah Hase. I note that the other 6 have not only espoused a no-risk (they think) populist stand, but ganged up on Hase as the scapegpoat villain du jour.