Yesterday, we went through the police, department, public works, and fire department's proposed budget. The math is right on the line, but it looks like we don't need to do a water sewer rate increase if water billing actually improves.This update was posted Tuesday:
What's interesting about that is that it is a result that contradicts the recommendation we received from Raftelis, the consultants we hired to analyze our system and rates for $750k two years ago.
On the one hand, I posted months ago that I would not vote for a water rate increase because of the failure to get our house in order.
On the other hand, the numbers and explanation presented differ from the analysis we paid the experts big money to generate. Raftelis is proving to be another example of paying big money to hire consultant whose advice we ignore or who get fed bad information or who get paid to tell us what we already know.
If we are turning a corner in water sewer, that is awesome and one of the few bits of good news we've gotten lately. But if our maintenance costs go up just a bit or our revenue is down just a bit from what is proposed, we'll have no choice but to raise water rates mid-year.
Overall, the city is facing a big budget deficit. The solution presented by the mayor so far is to have a property tax increase to increase revenue by between 3 to 4 million dollars, eliminate unfilled positions in the police and fire departments to save approximately 3million, elimnate unfilled positions in public works, cut back on the operations and maintenance budget in public works and cut in half the amount of money the city holds in reserve in case of an emergency. Add on to that a few staff reductions in city hall to save a few hundred thousand, that's what has been presented so far.
Today we will hear from department's like parks and human and cultural services where there look to be substantial cuts proposed to youth programs. Will let you know what's on the table once we get clarity as to where the cuts genuinely fall. There was a great deal of conflict earlier in the week because the budget as given to us did not accurately present the true scope, location, and depth of the cuts proposed.
Day 2 of budget hearings just wrapped up.
I had hoped that by giving the Mayor an extra week to prepare, we would have a solid budget proposal to work from.
Instead, the budget proposal is full of holes.
Rather than input what they are actually proposing into the budget, they've literally peppered the budget with random minus signs. So, for example, the budget proposal reads that we are going to keep funding for the zoo the same, but then when you start to talk about the zoo they go "oh, actually we are really proposing to cut the zoo budget by 25%. See that minus behind a number in the column for something completely unrelated a couple of pages away, that's the placeholder we made for a budget cut until we figure out what to really do."
I'm not kidding. That is what is actually happening.
Likewise, the mayor's outside budget consultant began this affair yesterday morning saying that there are 7.56 million worth of cuts in his proposal. At the end of two days, however, nobody has been able to show 7.56 million worth of cuts because "departments are still identifying what and where they can cut." Frighteningly, even when a department head identifies a cut, two seconds later we're told that the recomendation will be different and ignore that number.
This is the definition of being trickle truthed. The counsel can't honestly assess this proposal because the numbers written down are not the actual proposal. It's like they hope that we won't grasp what's actually being proposed because the line items we really focus on aren't being changed, it's these "placeholders" that are being sprinkled in where the cuts are.
Police, fire, and public works are up for tomorrow. The cuts proposed on police seemed big even before today. Now that we know the extent to which the budget is such an unfixed proposal, it is going to be a particularly Herculean task to discuss these departments and to track where the money is moving and set a true budget that is best for the city.