Thursday morning I have to get up extra early to give a talk to the local AM Rotary, so I am thinking, what should I talk about ?
A topic under discussion this week in the corridors of power on Washington Street is what to do with the component of city spending about to spike by nearly another million dollars in the upcoming proposed budget.
Those would be pension costs which will rise from this year's $3.9M up to nearly five million dollars.
Given our static revenue sources like state aid and sales tax, this increase can be made up in one of three ways.
1. Dip heavily into cash reserves to keep the tax rate within the 2% cap (which really isn't a cap, but a laudable goal)
2. Cut expenses as in staffing and/or capital spending.
3. Raise the property tax sufficiently to cover that million dollars, but that's a toughie politically as the pension spike alone would increase the property tax levy by over ten percent. Or in more headlinish terms.....CITY FACES DOUBLE DIGIT TAX HIKE....PENSIONS BLAMED
I spend a lot of time explaining the funding of local government and that only one in five dollars spent comes from the property tax. So the word "taxpayers" can mean different things.
What is true in this arithmetic is that if the other four-fifths of revenue is static, then making up shortfalls solely through the property tax results in percentages that spook lawmakers. As in a two percent increase in spending results in a ten percent increase in levy, all things being equal.
Is that too heavy a topic for a breakfast meeting ?
I could just wait will the proposed city budget comes out in April and act surprised and outraged at the fiscal direction. Then I could talk about my concern for the "taxpayers" and the need to slash spending to "Draconian" levels.
But I know the budget drill is just made for TV stuff and the real job of fiscal management is keeping up on trends and developments all year.
That's why I keep bringing up the pension issue at various meetings, but the press just wants to ask me who's selling beer at the hockey games.
Anyway, my speech is at 7:30 Thursday at the Black River Valley Club. I will try to keep it light and airy.