Thursday, April 23, 2009

City budget mess ...

As has been previously written, the city has a huge budget mess to deal with, somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million. City officials have been attempting to fill that gap by raising fees but they seem to be falling way short. The council had also instructed City Manager Tom Aspell to prepare a budget that shows a 0 percent increase in the property tax. But that attempt has been scrapped.
Late into its most recent April 13 meeting, according to minutes posted online, city Councilor Keith Nyhan proposed changing that 0 percent goal to a 2.7 percent increase. Two months ago, I hinted that the 0 percent increase budget probably wasn't realistic: ["Why is the city toying with a 0 percent tax increase?"]. But one has to wonder now, is a 2.7 percent increase realistic, especially when last year it was almost 6 percent? Without the budget before us, no one really knows.
According to a source, the budget is expected to be submitted to councilors in mid-May and the public sometime after that.

Sidebar: I have requested that the person in charge of posting the budget online offer the option of being able to download the entire budget in one PDF. Currently, it is split into many small PDFs and it is inaccessible and, frankly, annoying in that format.

One other interesting find in the minutes is a comment by Mayor Jim Bouley about the lack of state funds, about $1.2 million, that normally goes to the city. He noted that in conversations with residents concerned about the library being closed, not one person said they had contacted their state Reps. or state Sen. Sylvia Larsen about restoring funds. Bouley said the city situation wouldn't be as difficult had the revenue sharing plan with the state not been cut [surely a $3M hole is easier to fill than a $4M hole].
Bouley then urged residents to contact their state representatives and request that this money be restored. This, of course, is a good thing. But something struck me after reading this.
Let's look at the makeup of the council for a minute [and connections to the council] and wonder out loud if things should be the way they are.
First, there are three city councilors who are also state Reps. - Candace Bouchard, Steve Shurtleff, and William Stetson. Those three individuals have firsthand knowledge to specifics in the city and state budget, and access to power on the state level.
There is one councilor, Elizabeth Blanchard, who is a former state Rep. Blanchard stepped down in 2008 to successfully run for a county commissioner's seat. While she may not be there any longer, can she still sway her former colleagues to save the city?
Lastly, the mayor is married to state Rep. Tara Reardon, who we presume has extensive knowledge about both situations.
So there are five people directly connected to the council in one way, shape, or form, who could assist in fixing the state-to-city funding issue and yet the mayor is requesting the populace motivate themselves to fix the problem? Don't get me wrong, it is always a good thing to contact your reps. and senator to influence public policy. The mayor is correct on this. But if five people directly connected to the council can't - or won't - fix the problem or are seemingly silent about the problem, what makes anyone think that hundreds and hundreds of residents are going to be able to fix the problem?!
This isn't meant as a criticism against the mayor - this is really aimed at those people on the council who are supposed to be representing us. They know how bad the situation is and it appears as though they have done nothing to fix the problem. It is doubtful that an onslaught of communication between city residents and their state officials is going to make a single bit of difference at this point. Maybe we should try anyway; I don't know.
I personally have only spoken to one Rep. about the budget issues so maybe it's time I wrote an email too. However, ideally, I would like to look at the city's FY10 budget first to really get a more thorough look of what we're up against. The residents of the city should really have access to the budget now - or even months ago, like other cities and towns - not a month from now.
Just as an aside, Bouley has been wrongly criticized for comments that he has made about the library potentially being closed. It is my understanding that he never said that. What he said was that everything is on the table. That's a big difference than "We're closing the library ..." And frankly, everything should be on the table. It's a global economic depression for goodness sake! Everything is on the table in your households. Why would everything not be on the table for the city?

No comments: