Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Budget is Weeks Away, But Tea Leaves Are Available for Reading

   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.


Anonymous said...

If you are going to go into all that, you might as well break down the expense per employee.

And since firefighters/police draw on average twice the pension of the rest of government retirees, you might as well show us how they cost us twice as much per employee. and since they retire after 20 years with half a career ahead of them, it probably comes out to 400% premium you pay for their pensions.

And the best way to get out of paying these over generous above market wages/benefits and perks is to sub the work out to contractors.

Guilfoyle Ambulance and firefighter services...has a ring to it!

The town of Watertown has a nice new barn...let them bid on covering the city too.

Tim Virkler said...

Looking forward to your visit to Sunrise Rotary tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

Hey 813 good point, but let's not forget who gave them the retirement plan, and let's also not forget who gave the Sheriff's Deputies a 25 year retirement, Would that be Jim Wright? And dont forget he's padding his pension at the good ship DANC........

City Resident said...

There are two sides to every story. Pension costs are up, everyone knows that. The pension system is far from broken however. We're almost to a record level stock market high. Which means pension investments are UP. What about all those years when the City paid NOTHING into the pension system? Shouldn't they have been saving for a rainy day? Poor planning if you ask me. I pay higher taxes in the City to be protected by professionals both Police and Fire. If the City Council shuts down the Fire Department and contracts with the Town why wouldn't everyone just sell their homes and move to the Town where the taxes are considerably lower and receive the SAME services? I think we need to start looking at what's really important. For starters the City Bus service is a joke. Has anyone ever seen more than 2 people on a bus at one time? You can't even ride the bus at night! I'm willing to bet they would make substantially more revenue carting drunks around at night than mouthbreathers during the day. What about the $3 Million rehab of the arena that doesn't really improve anything just so the Privateers can pay $500 a game. You can't polish a turd! How is that a good investment?!?!? At least add a second sheet of ice like everyone has been asking for instead of wasting our money. The pavilion at the Zoo is going to cost $500,000, is it made with Golden shingles?! The City leaders need to get their priorities straight and make the right cuts in the right places.

Anonymous said...

ANON 11:50PM

Your comment is impressive and insightful, the Mayor and City Council are about to raise property taxes, etc. The same old raise your taxes approach that covers for bad management decesions everywhere in NNY is part of our Watertown government too.

Sucking us dry,