Friday, July 22, 2011

Highlights from Richardson's Budget Retreat

The Richardson City Council held back-to-back budget review meetings Tuesday and Wednesday at a "retreat" at the Richardson Woman's Club. City Manager Bill Keffler presented a proposed budget for 2011-2012. The introductory handout for the retreat claims that the city's budget development process conforms to a variety of guidance features including "City Council Goals." But the City Council is still in the process of setting their 2011-2013 goals. So, I'm not sure how the City Council provided inputs on the general goals for the budget -- e.g., overall revenues and expenditures and tax rate, what areas to increase or decrease, etc.

Anyway, after the jump, the highlights of this year's proposed budget.

The big one: no change in property tax rate. Not that any was expected, but if you listened to the council critics in the last election, you might have thought that a tax increase was inevitable. So, it bears repeating: no change in the property tax rate.

No compensation adjustment is proposed for employees. Times are tough for everyone right now and public employees are no exception, despite attempts by some to pin our nation's fiscal troubles on greedy public employees.

Fee increases. Ah-ha!, you say, maybe jacking up fees is how governments disguise their tax increases these days. Maybe. No fee increase in water or solid waste collection is planned ... at this time, but expect a water rate increase next calendar year. As warned during the last council term, a new drainage utility fee is being proposed to "absorb the mandates of the State's Stormwater Quality Management regulations." And, probably to the particular satisfaction of the golf-haters out there, course fees are proposed to go up at Sherrill Park. The council members spent an inordinate amount of time talking about how to get Sherrill Park self-sustaining. You can only blame the bad weather for so long. Whereas past councils were willing to just talk about the weather, this council is intent on doing something about it.

The city proudly points to its Aaa/AAA credit ratings by Moody's and S&P as a factor in keeping its debt service costs low. A dark note that was not considered during the budget retreat: Moody's says it will downgrade at least 7,000 top-rated municipal credit ratings if the U.S. loses its own AAA grade. What would be the consequences to Richardson in that case? I didn't get the impression that Richardson has contingency plans. Let's hope Washington comes to its senses and raises the federal debt ceiling before the federal government defaults.

A bright note: the proposed budget was drawn up assuming a 2% drop in assessed property values. Late-breaking information suggests that, in fact, assessed property values might end up being slightly up from 2010. That would ease pressure on the budget. Mayor Bob Townsend asked what we would do with the extra revenue, suggesting maybe a wage hike for city employees. Scott Dunn wanted to give some money to firefighters. All just idle talk at this time.

The budget retreat focused on individual operating funds. A budget for all funds will be submitted in August. So, I can't say yet whether one of my wishes for the 2011-2012 budget will be met. I want the line labeled "Net Budget Revenues" ($179,699,540 in the 2010-2011 budget) to be bigger than the line labeled "Net Budget Appropriations" ($181,781,618 in the 2010-2011 budget). Stay tuned.

Handouts from the budget retreat can be found here and here.

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