Jackson Ward 2 City Councilman Melvin Priester, Jr. laid out possible options for Jackson after the Moody's downgrade on his Facebook page:
Here's the thing everyone needs to read to understand the severity of what the city is going through.
On the one hand, it's terrible news.
On the other hand, it's a roadmap.
This basically says Jackson must curtail spending, raise more revenue, and build up its savings.
The hope last year was to cut spending and hold the line.
That didn't work and so Moody's is flat out telling us to cut spending and raise taxes and put some money into a savings account in a systemic fashion.
Yesterday, we listened to a presentation from the parks department and from human and cultural services. The proposal in those departments included closing a senior center and an early childhood development center (moving the users to different facilities), ending the city's participation in the americorps program, letting go of several employees in these departments, and ending the summer youth program and drastically altering the summer youth jobs program (only allowing kids who are sponsored by private businesses to participate).
The dilemma here is that even with a tax increase, unless there is budget cutting beyond the current proposal, we don't get back to a healthy budget reserve this year. I'd say healthy really is at 7.5% or above.
Assuming we have 1 million left unspent at the end of the year, The options as I see them are:
1.) Mayors proposal: 3 mil tax increase, 4% in reserve, 7.5 million in budget cuts as described over last few days. See 1a.
1a.) Mayor's Proposal Edited by council: 3 mil tax increase, 4% reserve, 7.5 million in budget cuts but alternative allocation of cuts. This is a horse trading approach, ratings agencies are probably still pissed but placated a little because of tax increase. Citizens are pissed because they get their taxes raised. People in city hall will issue competing press releases about how we carved out money to save X or y while cutting the budget without cutting services too bad, we will apologize about the tax increase and say we were able to have only a "small tax increase." All the problems we currently have continue and we will have a dramatic crisis budget season next year too.
2.) 4 mil tax increase, 5% in reserve, 7.5 million in Budget cuts as described over the last few days or edited by council. This would take some will power and would be really hard to make citizens understand that we cut services and raised their taxes beyond what the mayor proposed (yup, that's a political grenade we create). This is sort of a worst of all worlds option (but ironically this may be the wisest move because we know that we wind up blowing our reserve target so we need to aim at 5% to get to 4%). This option creates another political grenade as it really isn't a long term fix and we'll still be in budget crisis next year. People are pissed we raised taxes, someone on Jackson jambalaya posts a chart comparing taxes in Jackson to taxes in surrounding suburbs. People are pissed because services are cut. Ratings agencies are pleased because of tax increase and we probably lessen next year's crisis because we get some breathing room from the tax increase and we did some hard cuts this year. This plan rather than the mayor's plan or 1a is the one that has solid odds of actually ending the furlough in FY18.
3.) 4 mil tax increase, 4% in reserve, 6.3 million in budget cuts. Try to lessen the blow on some of the social service cuts by increasing taxes above originally proposed and not cutting as deep. This is a worst of both worlds in the opposition direction in that if we aim for 4% reserve, history tells us we'll hit 2 or 3%. Problems continue next year. It's expedient though, feels good, it's a compromise like 1a. If I had to guess, this is or 1a will be what ultimately happens. We spread the pain out to next year. FWIW, the mayors plan, 1a, 2, and this one are all kick-the-can plans.
4.) 4 mil tax increase, 7.5% in reserve, 10.5 million in cuts. This has BIG advantages in the eyes of the ratings agencies. The truth with this plan: The city could eliminate all social services and niceties and still not pull this off without laying off some policemen though. I'm talking about actually putting uniformed policemen in the unemployment line, none of this "freeze vacant positions" stuff we're talking about now. Also, the zoo gets zero dollars and loses its accreditation, animals go elsewhere. Golf courses close, planetarium and art center close too, some firemen and some public works employees are sent home, not furloughed, fired. This would take a lot of managerial oversight and pain as it really is a reorganization. Have I mentioned people get fired? (OK, where have we read these suggestions? Hmm.... maybe on this site a year ago?)
This is probably the most adult approach. The upside to this and I'm being really honest here, you pull off the bandaid quickly. It's a godfather move. You handle all of your business in one day. The ratings agencies go through the moon with happiness and it's a hard reboot for the next administration and city council because none of us get re-elected after raising your taxes to the max available and laying off police officers in the same year. Next year's budget cycle would have some more cutting likely too, but the heavy lifting is done and we stop having the ridiculous drama every August.
5.) 1-4 mil tax increase, O% in reserve, moderate cuts. That would be stupid and suicidal although it would make for some awesome p.r. about saving youth programs. Any gain from raising taxes in the eyes of the ratings agency is offset by having no reserve. This is a stupid option.
6.) 0 mil tax increase, 7.5% reserve, 15 million in cuts. This is the real godfather move. I don't see how this one happens and I don't think it's practical. No way we can pull off all the cuts involved here. We end human and cultural services and parks, have layoffs to police. Piss off the citizens by cutting basic services like mowing grass in parks consistently. Maybe some are pleased because "no new taxes" but ratings agency still dings us because we didn't raise taxes to increase revenue. Ratings agency would be pleased to see however that we increase reserve to a semi-respectable amount. The elimination of services creates more headaches and costs later as unattended parks become blights and police cuts and public works cuts lead to obvious problems.
7.) 1-3 mil tax increase, 4-7.5%reserve, 7.5 to 15 million cuts. This is another horse trading, hybrid, worst of all worlds approach. There is some perfect ultitarian mix in here but not sure if we can find it in the allotted time remaining.
So there is where we are as bluntly as I could present it. Of the 7 options (8 really), which do you prefer? And no, you can't suggest magic options like sue Siemens or put up a toll road or fix the parking meters downtown.
Kingfish note: Here is what The Kingfish posted a year ago:
That was the news, now it is time for the opinion. The position of this website regarding this budget is a pox on all of their houses. There was no leadership at all on the budget. No one wanted to lay anyone off. No one wanted to close any departments. The city has not one but two public golf courses (and Lefluer's Bluff makes it three.). Councilman Ashby Foote proposed closing a golf course. No dice. The city is collecting $20-30 million of what it should receive for water bills yet there was no talk of re-instituting the activation fees when water services are terminated for non-payment. They all yapped about how Jackson's budget was based on a population of 200,000 and but when push came to shove, none of them wanted to reduce or close anything.
Councilman Tyrone Hendrix flat out said he was hoping for more business so Jackson could have a larger budget next year. It never occurs to liberals such as him that maybe Jackson's high taxes and other policies drive businesses to the burbs. It also does not occur to him to find ways to actually restructure city government as the furloughs are just a band-aid. They cover up the wound for a while but the wound is still festering and bleeding. The fact is there was no leadership on the budget. Speeches were made. Hot air was exhaled and tables were pounded but in the end, no one wants anyone to suffer. Trying to avoid pain means the pain will just be that much worse when finally faced.This is a city council that hikes its own budget, raises the minimum wage for employees, raises the overall budget by 40%, abolishes the reconnect fees for water and sewer services, and keeps going down the path of financial suicide while it avoids accepting any responsibility.
The City Council just plays around with the budget and then hopes it will disappear until next year when the same circus will start anew. The only way this crowd will do anything constructive is if Jackson goes full Detroit and blows up.