Monday, August 14, 2017

Richardson's Budget - Black or Red?

It's August and that means it's time for Richardson budget roulette. Will the proposed city budget be balanced? You'd think that would be a simple question. Isn't the city required by law to have a balanced budget? Well, yes, but it all depends on the meaning of "balanced".

Last year when I looked at this question, I concluded that the city's 2016-2017 budget was indeed balanced and didn't require use of that sneaky asterisk ("plus reserved fund balance and other financing sources").

After the jump, reviewing that conclusion and looking ahead at 2017-2018.

Last year's adopted budget had a beginning fund balance of $54,286,732. This year's proposed budget shows a beginning fund balance of $58,817,349. It looks like we didn't have to draw down fund balances to keep last year's budget in balance. So far, so good.

Now let's look at the 2017-2018 proposed budget.

Budget FY 2017-18
Beginning Fund Balances$58,817,349
Operating Revenues$272,336,173
Operating Expenditures$265,102,751
Ending Fund Balances$66,050,771

The ending fund balance is greater than the beginning balance. That means the budget is balanced without needing to draw down the fund balances. That means the budget is squarely in the black without reliance on any sneaky asterisks. Ta-da! Woohoo! WE DID IT!

Of course, that shouldn't have been hard. Property tax collections are forecast to go up $9.7 million (11%), of which $2.1 million is from new property added to the tax rolls. We're benefiting from both growth and a boom in real estate prices.

Although property tax revenues are increasing 11%, expenditures for street maintenance are budgeted to go up less than that, about 7.5%. Rates for water, sewer and solid waste collection are going up, by 9.5%, driven mostly by NTMWD.

It's a minor part of the budget, but the Golf Fund, a source of contention in previous budgets, projects to be balanced, with no transfer from the General Fund needed in 2017-2018. Could the city have finally gotten out of that sand trap?

Trends suggest that 2017-2018 will be another year of increasing property values. The city is assuming a 5% increase. The state legislature is determined to pass so-called property tax relief, requiring voter approval for any property tax hikes above 4 percent. The legislature thinks voters can be trusted to inform themselves adequately to make wise taxation decisions directly, but can't be trusted to elect representatives to spend the time and effort to make those informed decisions for them. (I don't know what that says about the representatives those same voters elected to represent them in Austin, but it can't reflect well on the state legislators.) It's too early to say what will actually pass, or what property values will actually do in 2017-2018, or what the city council will do in response to it all, but don't be surprised if the 2018-2019 budget needs to set aside taxpayer money for an election setting tax rates.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

Black or red? A distraction? A red herring? Maybe today, but years ago, when I first looked at it, it wasn't. Richardson was drawing down funds to "balance" its budget. I thought that was disingenuous and over the long term unsustainable. But like Herbert Stein's Law says, if something can't go on forever, it will stop. And so it has.