To the Editor: ‘Leadership – we need it now’

The local citizens are very eager to get our roads fixed as demonstrated by the passage of both Mea-L and Mea-V. The only remaining challenge to getting the roads fixed is City Council agreement to use Mea-L/V funds on roads rather than the general fund. At the Sept. 4 council meeting the council passed the FY17 reconciliation budget that uses Mea-L/V revenue to fund 35 percent of the combined police and public works expense. That is 68 percent of the total Mea-L/V revenue. Mea-L/V funds are commingled with the GF, but to simplify the below discussion the term GF excludes Mea-L/V funds.

The adopted FY17 GF budget was $909,000 in the red. This adopted budget included one-time expenditures expected to come out of the reserves. During the year, expected Mea-L/V revenue increased $755,000 while the GF lost $270,000 revenue. Nonetheless, via liberal application of budget manipulation, the GF ended $620K in the black, a $1,529,000 turnaround – a major windfall for the GF and bad news for our roads.

We recently spent $750,000 on a new finance system. However, little beneficial data was available at the August review of the critical fourth- quarter finances. A financial review requires pertinent and timely financial data. The fact that Mea-L/V funds are part of the GF allows largely uncontrolled manipulations within the budget to advance any agenda. The agenda should be the direction of the council to the staff, and that should clearly be police and roads, not police and GF.

The FY17 adopted budget appropriated $7.4M for the police and PW split $5.3M/$2.1M between the GF and Mea-L/V. The city actually spent $6.6M split $4.3/$2.3M between the GF and Mea-L/V. Yes, the GF actually spent $1.0M less than budgeted, forcing Mea-L/V to spend an additional $1.0M more. Those million dollars represent a lot of roads that aren’t being fixed. The extra Mea-L/V dollars were not needed to keep the police whole. It was simple budget manipulation.

Year after year the amount of Mea-L/V funds spent on police has steadily increased. From 2015 to 2017, the cost of police went down over $400,000. During that same time period, Mea-L/V spending on police went up $800,000, while GF spending on police went down $1.2M. This is exactly what the opponents of Mea-L claimed would happen. The dependence of the GF on Mea-L/V subsidy increases each year. That trend needs to be reversed.

There is adequate available funding to fully fund the police and have an entire city of good streets if Mea-L/V were not used to subsidize the entire GF. The police are being used as a conduit to siphon money from roads to the GF. The failure to protect road funds is directly linked to the failure to achieve meaningful economic development. Rather than waste time denying the very obvious diversion of Mea-L/V funds into the GF, the council should spend time increasing our city’s tax base through economic development. It’s called leadership, and we need it now.

Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2017-10-13