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June 15, 2012

Kabuki Budget II - The Chamber of Tries

by at 7:56 am.

Update: City Council / Budget Hearing 3

Please start of by reading Gerry Nutter’s diary about last night. I don’t agree with his summation of the evening, but he does well laying out the nuts and bolts of the transactions.

Generally, I think the City Manager put forward a good budget. If my taxes go up 2-3 bucks a month, so be it. I’ll give the money, but my expectation is for greater value. If we are funding more summer recreational programs, make the most of it. If we are investing in capital improvement, don’t buy bandaids for buildings. Fix them, properly, so we don’t make the same repairs again in 3-5 years. Ensure the Lowell Stat program impresses it’s critics.

So, it makes sense to me if a majority cohort of Councilors; Broderick, Lorrey, Martin, Murphy & Nuon, effectively support the CM’s budget. They are seeing a “bang for the buck.”

With the CM’s budget buffered by the majority, four Councilors were presented a golden opportunity to “get caught trying.” Meaning, they were appealing to a specific voting block that wanted to see a 0% tax increase. To be fair, the majority of the Council was, imo, also playing politics. The votes to protect overtime and raises is done with election day votes in mind. YES! The city workers are due raises and just about any cop would rather have more OT, than a couple new cops on the force. That is obvious, in my eyes. It is also a smart political play to affirm that in the budget.

Let me hit a few points:

- Sup’t Lavallee made a great point. When cops are called in to work, they are due a 4 hour minimum. If they are on duty and their shift is extended, then it is done on an hourly basis. The Sup’t stated that it is more efficient to use OT around shift changes. This comes into play in the downtown when the bars close, for example.

- C.Elliott deserves some props. In the past, he attempted across the board cuts. In doing so, he was criticized for not seeking specific cuts. This budget cycle, he has been very specific. Not sure why he is honing in on what he has, like cost of living adjustments for workers, but he has responded to his critics in a thoughtful way. There is political gain in his tact. There is also, peril. He played his cards by his own rules. I don’t agree with his positions, but he has stuck his neck out.

- C.Mendonca stated early on, that he would seek to trim the budget. To know Joe is to understand his votes, last night. He is fiscally conservative. He is not a poser. That was clear when, having proposed and supported cuts throughout the night, he did not support the whack at the snow and ice budget. He knew it was merely kicking the can down the road. That is not a sound fiscal practice.

- Props to C.Broderick for walking back the talking points spouted by C.Elliott & C.Kennedy. You’d think the economy was on the verge of collapse or that City Hall was operated by nitwits, if you sucked up the rhetoric of Elliott and Kennedy. Broderick calmly explained the logic or legal footing for the proposal at hand. He did not gloss over or cheerlead the manager’s budget. He just presented a cool, matter of fact validation. C.Martin gets honorable mention here. Martin didn’t step in often, but when he did …. . Or, as one observer put it, “Billy brought his club.”

All in all, we are seeing how they make the sausage. For the mouth breathers that want to shrink government, so they can drown it in a bathtub, details are unrewarding. For those of us that feel government is our imperfect approach to propelling all of us forward, together; seeing the beatiful imperfections is compelling.

Or, as Cliff Krieger says, “There is no free lunch.”

5 Responses to “Kabuki Budget II - The Chamber of Tries”

  1. joe from Lowell Says:

    For a $3000 tax bill, the difference between no tax increase and the increase proposed by the City Manager is $12 per year.

  2. Joe S. Says:

    I don’t think “only $12″ should be the way the budget is judged. It is a good budget, crafted by the manager to be conservative for the city finances. But where it is conservative for the city, it is more stressful to the taxpayers, particularly business owners, than it probably has to be.

    The only reason we are in the ballpark of “no tax increase” is due to good management of the city, and a lot of effective steps taken in the past few years. For that the manager and the council should be applauded.

    But for the taxpayers’ sake, it may be better to run the budget with a little more risk. Not only could we have no tax increase for residential property owners, but we may be able to lessen the $30.89 rate for commercial and industrial taxpayers if we were to do so.

    There are potential increases in revenue that have not been put on the table in the budget, including the federal reimbursement for the October snowstorm and the tax title program to be undertaken this summer. Yes, those may be “one-time” windfalls, but at least some portion of those should be used in the current budget.

    On the expense side, even recognizing past non-raises, the budget of about 5.25% raises will be hard to take for taxpayers who see no such increase in their own income. Of course, the 5.25% will be twisted to seem like a smaller number, but the bottom line is that salaries will be higher by that amount come 2013. It may be said that not everyone will get the full performance raise, yet it is still in the “conservative” budget. The energy performance contract apparently is costing the city $1M in debt service, but that cost is offset by the energy savings this year as stated in the budget. (”While this has resulted in $1 million in debt service in 2013, it has also generated $1 million in energy savings.”) However, if we look at the budget for this energy we will not find that amount of reduction - so are we being hit with “conservative” estimating here also?

  3. joe from Lowell Says:

    But for the taxpayers’ sake, it may be better to run the budget with a little more risk.

    I’ve had a belly full of financial risk from our important institutions over the past few years.

    None of us in this country are out of the woods, either. This era we’re living through is a time for holding onto what you’ve got, not rolling the dice.

  4. Joe S. Says:

    “holding onto what you’ve got”

    That’s the point!

    It depends on whose perspective you see it from.

    Don’t forget, there are also some plus possibilities for the City:
    1. Tax title income will likely exceed the budget (note the Law department goal is more than $1.4M higher than the revenue in the budget)
    2. Federal disaster aid for the October snowstorm (bogey is $300K)
    3. Health Care Trust Fund dispersal (3/4 of about $6M, less expenses in the pipeline)
    4. Energy Cost Savings (Performance contract results and lower energy prices very conservatively reflected in budget)
    5. Performance raises (surely, not everyone will get the full value)

    The “pay-now or pay-later” hypothesis doesn’t always work out, as excess funds often disappear along the way.

  5. joe from Lowell Says:

    It depends on whose perspective you see it from.

    No, it doesn’t. The perspective of the taxpayer and the perspective of the person who relies on city services are the same perspective.

    Holding on to what I’ve got means that my property value doesn’t drop as a result of too few police, too few teachers, and too many potholes. I’ve got a whole lot more invested in this city’s well being than 12 bucks a year.

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