Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Lucas County Budget - spinning all the way

According to this Blade article, and a press release I received, the Lucas County Commissioners passed a 2008 budget today.

The paper reports, "The county's 2008 budget is $147,861,776, compared with $149,884,680 for 2007."

Except, the approved 2008 budget was $145,088,795.80.

The modified budget I received from the BCC in September was only $145,271,650.80.

Now, according to the newspaper story and the press release, the commissioners are touting the fact that their budget for 2008 is less than 2007.

From The Blade:
"The Lucas County commissioners are expected to pass a 2008 budget today that includes a $2 million decrease in spending from last year and a $2.7 million deficit to be made up through the county's reserve fund."

From their press release:
"The Board will pass a 2008 general fund budget with total expenditures of $147.8 million dollars, with across the board reductions in each operating department and a 1.35% total reduction over the final 2007 budget."

Now, technically, both these statements are correct in that they plan to spend less than what was actually spent in 2007. But they are conveniently ignoring the fact that they did not stay within their budget for 2007 and actually spent $4,795,884 more than they planned. That's nearly $5 million OVER BUDGET for last year!

Add to that the fact that they did not make their revenue projections for sales taxes, and that explains why they ended up pulling money out of reserves - $973,291, to be exact.

County Administrator Mike Beazley said this is not the first time the county has passed a budget with projected deficits.

The county budgeted for reserve fund payments of $3.3 million in 2004, $3 million in 2005, $300,000 in 2006, and $1.7 million last year, Mr. Beazley said, but ended up resorting to the reserve fund only once - a $973,291 payment to cover a year-end deficit for 2007.

"We've had a plan in place only to use the rainy day fund as a last resort," Ms. Wozniak said. "It rained a little bit last year, but then again, not to the tune we projected."

Notice the spin? This was less than what they planned to pull out of reserves - so that's a good thing, you see?

Except that it isn't! Had they stayed within their approved budget, they wouldn't have needed to take anything out of reserves and would have ended up with a surplus of $3.8 million! Note also that reserves are routinely budgeted to cover unanticipated events - but that this is the only time in the last four years that they needed to dip into that account.

The County's 2008 budget is 2% higher than what they budgeted in 2007. They spent nearly $5 million more than budgeted throughout the year. Plus, they're predicting a $2.7 million deficit for 2008.

And Commissioner Ben Konop tells us, "Our budget is a step in the right direction toward making government smaller, efficient, and less costly to taxpayers..."

Yeah, right!


Tim Higgins said...


Your experience in this area far exceeds anything the rest of us will ever experience (and for that, we are eternally grateful).

I think that few of us are surprised that the County spent more than it budgeted. I also think that few of us were surprised that they chose to spin spending more as spending less. I am sorry to say that I am not surprised that the Blade chose not to call the commisioners out on this creative form of accounting.

I am nurturing a small flame of hope however. I begin to see signs that 2008 will be the "Eyes Wide Open" year and that our local politicians will begin to learn that they cannot treat their budgets as OPM (Other People's Money) without consequences. This small flame will require care while it grows, but I see a day when it becomes a true bonfire. My hope on that day is that we bring all of these spendthrifts to task and that we hold a true "government weenie roast". I'll even bring the mustard.

Maggie Thurber said...

Thanks, Tim.

You're right, I'm sure, that many will not be surprised to learn this...but it saddens me that a simple checking of the 2007 budget showed me the discrepancy (it took a whole 5 minutes) but that none of the 'reporters' bothered to check. However, I've come to expect that from our local media. And while I don't blame those with only a minute (or two) to do the reporting, you'd think that the paper would have not only the time but also the resources to do this simple task.

As for the year of 'eyes wide open' ... we can hope!!!!

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