There’s a solution to the budget deficit! It’s your wallet!
Faced with cuts real and threatened, and faced with a legal requirement to publish next year’s city tax rate by the end of May, the mayor suggested a provisional 3¢ rise in the tax rate “to cover the worst case scenario.”
Mayor Bruce Williams said that pending action by the county council the city has no idea what tax revenue it will end up with. By law, once the tax rate is publicly announced, it can’t be raised any higher – but it can be lowered. So setting a high rate would take care of that worst case scenario, but the actual rate may be lower.
The mayor wryly speculated that threatening a tax raise was a good way to goad taxpayers into writing their county representatives, telling them not to slash any more of the city revenues. In case you feel goaded, Dear Reader, the e-mail address to write to is: email@example.com. That’s the address of county council president Nancy Floreen, copies will go to all the other councilmembers.
This talk of tax jacking came up at the council’s first budget resolution session May 3. Normally in a budget resolution session the council discusses changes they’d like to see in the city manager’s budget. This is their first opportunity to propose their own ideas, including whether they accept this year’s budget cutbacks (which mean loss of city jobs and services), make more or different cutbacks, or raise taxes to prevent the cutbacks. Your Gilbert was all prickly with anticipation! We were well rewarded with thrills and chills.
So far, as usual, the council have heard budget presentations from the city manager and department directors. But also, they’ve heard about deep, last-minute proposed budget cuts that, if implemented, would mean the city manager would have to rewrite the city budget with a chain saw.
A whopping $600,000 cut was proposed by the county executive, obviously a black-hatted, mustache-twirling Snively Whiplash-type of person. City manager Barbara Matthews said such a “depressing” loss could not be absorbed by trimming the budget again, it would mean shutting down an entire department or facility; “closing the library, [or] eliminating the police department,” she said.
Not only is the county angling to cut revenue to municipalities, she said, it is upping the energy tax to 100%. That unexpected cost must also be factored into the city budget.
Whether or not the city will lose $600,000 will be decided at a county council meeting May 10. As we described last week, there are two recommendations the county council will vote on. If neither passes, the city gets dinged $600,000, if one passes, the city waves bye-bye to only (only?) $300,000, if both pass, the city sighs with relief.
Not all on the council were ready to raise the tax rate, even provisionally. Councilmember Colleen Clay said she would not go along with a 61¢ tax rate.
She and the rest of the council were eager, however, to tinker with the proposed budget. Councilmember Terry Seamens said they should have a discussion about other places to cut, specifically mentioning the Recreation Department. He particularly wanted to be sure such a discussion be held when Councilmember Clay could attend. Clay has been known to cast a critical gaze upon the Rec. Dept. in the past. Seamens pointed out that as bad as the budget situation is this year, it will likely be worse next year.
Councilmember Fred Schultz was more supportive of the 61¢ rate, but requested the city manager produce a series of draft budgets showing what effect half-cent increments would have – starting with the current rate of 58¢ up to 61¢. Your Gilbert thought the city manager looked as though she has a lot on her hands already, but she said she would churn out the requested drafts.
Councilmember Reuben Snipper requested another Thursday meeting to deal with all of this, and to make it possible to include Clay in the discussion (she will be absent next Monday).
Also in favor of a Thursday meeting was councilmember Dan Robinson. He wants to explore other employee retirement fund options, though he couldn’t say much about it since the city is now in negotiations with employees. He mentioned furlough plans, too, despite the city manager’s opinion that they only put off the problems.
Instead of scheduling another Thursday meeting, next Monday’s agenda has been shifted to make time for another budget reconciliation session, according to city clerk Jessie Carpenter. This will make for nerve-wracking drama as that very night, May 10, the county council will be voting on the $600,000 cut.
Councilmember Josh Wright broke his elbow! That’s why only his voice has been present via phone line at the last few council meetings. He broke the elbow playing basketball and it has required surgery – a drastic but successful way to get out of budget discussions.