Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fashion in Finance: Red is the New Black

Monday night, the Richardson City Council spent four hours reviewing the 2011-2012 Proposed Budget. Of that four hours, almost an hour was spent on essentially one topic -- raises for city employees. The discussion was led by city employees. Perhaps a university sociologist might want to research the connection between those facts. If the discussion were instead led by, say, HOA presidents, might the time spent on different areas of the budget have been different? Not that I begrudge city employees a raise. I'm just reporting the idle thoughts I had while I watched all the evidence collected and presented by city employees justifying raises for city employees.

After the jump, a more effective use of your time -- the budget in a nutshell and the key points that affect your pocketbook.

  • No rate change in property tax, currently set at $0.63516 per $100.
  • No change in Senior Exemption for property tax, currently $55,000.
  • No change (at this time) in residential rates for Water/Sewer Utility and Solid Waste Collection.
  • A new Drainage Utility Fee expected to take effect in 2012, tentatively set at an average of $45/year per residence.
  • An increase in golf fees of $2-4 per round depending on day/time.
  • An increase of $2.1 million in pay for personal services, including reinstatement of 5% step merit increases and 2% for employees at the top of their salary range.
  • An increase of $600,000 in professional, maintenance and contract services.
  • An increase of $600,000 in the budget in addition to bond funding for community enhancement projects.
  • The budget is "balanced." Huh? You do the math...

    2011-2012 Budget
    Beginning Fund Balances$38,653,358
    Ending Fund Balances$36,998,585

Look closely at that table above. Is the budget balanced? The city says yes. Who are you going to believe? The city or your own lyin' eyes?

Here's how city staff justified calling this a "balanced" budget. (Hat tip to Amir Omar, the only council member who challenged city staff on this point.) According to city staff, Richardson has excess balances in various funds that can be drawn down to make up the overall difference in expenditures versus revenues, while still maintaining sufficient fund balances required to meet policy goals. They argue that if, instead, every fund operated such that, at the end of the year, revenues exceeded expenditures, then fund balances would just continue to grow and grow and grow. At what point would you draw that down? City staff argues that there are folks that confuse that and call it a deficit. Instead, they say it's a prudent use of excess fund balances.

Well, at least that's the city's argument. And it might be a prudent use of excess fund balances. It might be a valid justification for running an occasional budget deficit. But it doesn't justify calling this a balanced budget. It obviously isn't. The city is drawing down various funds to cover the deficit spending. The bottom line is that expenditures still exceed revenues. That's a deficit. The city ought to simply admit as much. Denying it makes it sound like the city is trying to hide something. It just promotes distrust. Unless we can all agree whether we have a budget surplus or a (small) deficit, how can we hope to agree on whether the budget is a sign of prudent financial management or not.

There will be a public hearing on the proposed budget August 29, 2011. The script may be predictable, the performances uneven, but the show's highlights can stand up to any reality television series. So, pop some corn and watch, either in person or on the Internet at the city's website.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said... explains how the city justifies calling this a balanced budget here.