City Watch: Budget Input Solicited

Here’s a welcome bit of news from last night’s City Council meeting: Council seems disposed to open up the FY 2009 budget process more to public input. Watch for details in the coming month. Also, Herb Rubin reminded us that the city used to enjoy the counsel of a Financial Advisory Board. Perhaps we should consider reviving it in these difficult times.

We also discovered that the heretofore mysterious Rainy Day Fund is being wiped out as we type. After Mac McIntyre pointed out that it is, indeed, raining, and prevailed upon Council to utilize the fund for purposes of economic stimulation, Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu explained that about $2 million of the $3.6 million pot is plugging up gaping holes in the 2007 and 2008 budgets.

Um, what?! Could someone please explain to me what all the agonies over potential layoffs and the resulting retirements were about, then? What was saved by those measures, exactly?

Additionally, Alderman Simpson declared that DeKalb’s reserves are smaller than what other communities of comparable size have.

You know, in the first place I became upset about the budget crisis because it’s been clear for more than a year to persons in non-vegetative conditions that the housing market was traveling to a scary place and that the “jobless recovery” was not much of a recovery at all, based as it was on debt and speculation and investment in death. Is it too much to ask that the guys getting the big bucks to do the planning get a little proactive? Secondly, if there’s all this hoo-ha over the budget crisis and all this so-called action that still comes down to depending on our reserves, it seems to me that none of the tough decisions have been made. And the news about the reserves makes me feel…plundered.

Guess we’ll see what happens with FY 2009.

[Update: Budget workshop meetings open to resident input will be May 19, 20 & 21 at 5:30 p.m.]

One thought on “City Watch: Budget Input Solicited”

  1. Thanks for the reporting.

    The agonies were about the fy09 year starting in july. That’s when layoffs would be necessary if there had been no tax increase or reduction in expenditures.

    This year is already a deficit year, visible agonies haven’t been felt since the deficit has come out the reserve fund. invisible costs have been felt as the city has done no capital projects.

    I just checked about reserve funds. They are to handle unexpected short term emergencies, cash flow problems etc. To keep solvent (i.e. have money on hand for all bills) cities like to have between 5-10% of their budget in a reserve fund with large cities having the smaller percentage. DeKalb is now dipping below that level and staff claims without the tax increase city would exhaust the reserve fund. (Reserve funds can balance out uneven expenditures. So I have enough to live on but one month I pay second tax payment, dues to my religious organization and used to have a virtually mandatory conference, so dipped into my personal reserve fund to even out expenses and then paid it back during less expensive months. Cities use reserve funds for cover months in which tax reveneues are low or just before getting transfer payments from the state or uncle Sam)

    For next year city has proposed a reduction in staff almost all through retirement, a furlough that will save supposedly 2% of payroll, and then a 10% across the board cut in non personnel items. In addition, some expenses are being moved out of the general fund to special funds.

    I’m worried about the operating budget. In addition, the city has no money to spend on capital projects like road repairs and such things.

    Real citizen involvement is needed both to (a) express priorities on what services are worth keeping and what not and (b) to add to the general conversation on possible cutbacks.

    I attended a Ward meeting that showed the problem (I was mostly quiet). People were concerned about the tax increase. However, there main concern was on the lack of personnel providing code enforcement and related matters, a service that costs money. That’s the tension: costs are up, taxes are a burden, yet people want and need services.

    There are no single sentence solutions to such complicated problems.
    Digging the way Yinn is doing is what we must all do. But then keep in mind what to one person is a budget excess is to another a necessity and that’s what democratic decision making is all about in balancing out these differences in preferences.

    Thanks Yinn for the reporting.

    Keep in mind reading budget stuff is slightly less boring than waiting for a delayed plane but not much. But still both must be done.

    Herb Rubin

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