City council passed the 2009 budget this week, with council members D. Michael Collins, Mike Craig, Tom Waniewski, Frank Szollosi, and Michael Ashford voting against it.
The primary opposition was to the lack of police and fire classes, although council did decide to place a change in distribution of the 3/4% payroll tax on the ballot in an attempt to divert more money from the Capital Improvements Budget to fund such classes.
While this budget is smaller than 2008, there are still many questions which remain - most of them having to do with priorities for spending.
As far as I can tell, council did not have 2008 year-end figures to know exactly how much money was spent in each line item. Without this information, many line items contained the same budgeted amount for 2009 as was in the 2008 budget.
For instance, the mayor's office has $12,266.89 budgeted for office supplies, the same amount as the 2008 budget. However, the most spent in this line item from 2005-7 was $6,500.00. So why is the budget twice the highest previous expenditure.
This type of 'budgeting' happens in multiple line items across all city departments. Without having the final year-end figures, council has no idea if the budgeted amount is realistic. Once the budget is approved, money from the individual line items can be moved around within the department. So extra funds in office supplies, publications, outside printing, and professional services can be diverted to personnel, for instance, allowing additional staff while still staying within the total amount allocated for the department. Having spent nine years as Clerk of Toledo Municipal Court, I can tell you that this is a routine practice throughout the city.
Knowing this, why didn't council insist on year-end figures before approving the budget so they'd know if the various line items were reflective of actual costs?
Another question has to do with certain departments. I've previously stated that the city funds departments and tasks that don't NEED to be performed by government. In this year's budget, Carty proposed $114,590.28 for the Youth Commission. This is down from the 2008 amount of $242,760.94, but the city does not NEED a youth commission. All they did in 2008 was spend money - for an Easter Egg Hunt, a Hip-Hop Concert and a Halloween function. There are plenty of private and non-profit organizations - not to mention PARENTS - who can do these things for the kids. It does not have to be government.
Then there is the Division of Recreation which "provides programs, facilities and events to enhance the quality of life for all of our citizens." As far as I can tell from the city's website, their primary service is to organize summer athletic leagues. This is certainly not something that only government can do. In fact, I know Toledo and many other cities have such leagues without government managing them. The cost for this? $999,395.32 for 2009, but that's down considerably from the $1,826,262.26 budgeted for 2008.
The mayor and council, rather than eliminate unnecessary expenditures, decided to do across-the-board cuts. It's a much easier decision than eliminating a program outright, but it's not the best decision they can make. By reducing every department, all residents suffer from a lack of basic city services so that certain constituency groups can have reduced services that can be obtained from sources other than government.
With these types of decisions, everyone 'shares the pain' but the pain is not equal. As I do not participate in city-sponsored summer sports, I'm not impacted by the reduction in funding in this area. In fact, the vast majority of Toledoans are not impacted by such reduced funding. However, we are all negatively impacted by the failure to field a police class or a fire class - and the impact of not having enough police and fire to meet our needs is significantly more negative than not having a baseball league.
So we'll go without our police and fire classes so that certain constituents can continue to have their perks, which just proves how messed up the funding priorities are in this city.
Of course, this is just the expenditure side. Last year I analyzed the projected revenue and raised all kinds of questions about the city's estimate of how much money would be received. My questions were never answered, but my concerns proved to be accurate. I'll go out on a limb and say the same thing will be true this year as well - that the city has over-estimated the revenue and will have some rude awakenings when they realize that their income is not meeting projections.
Citizens could have a greater role in monitoring the budget if the city would post their check register and contracts on line...but then we'd all know what they were doing as it happened, and our elected officials wouldn't like that.