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Terry Jensen's Common Sense / Perspective

City Hall & Its Boosters Created Budget Mess (Quit Blaming Recession); Proposed Proportional Cuts Don't Prioritize; Council Needs To Define Core Items & Cut Others (Jensen Common Sense #3 In Continuing Series)


(August 3, 2010) -- It was painful to watch the Council meeting last Tuesday [July 27] as Councilmembers tried to get their arms and minds around the budget documents that had been dumped in their laps.

The presentation began with the Mayor and City Manager reminding residents that we are in the throes of the worst recession since the great depression which I presume they are blaming for another train wreck budget.

Well then, why did we have deficits when the national and local economies were booming?

The sad truth is the majority of our fiscal problems were self imposed, happened over time and absolutely avoidable.

If past and present Mayors, Councils had adequately performed their jobs and fulfilled campaign promises we could have avoided past and present fiscal meltdowns.

So please donít blame our fiscal woes on the recession. The recession did not vote to grant pension enhancements. The recession did not vote to approve enhanced benefit packages to City management and workers nor did it vote to add non-essential programs.

Nor did the recession vote to ignore sound fiscal management practices and build a substantial reserve fund for infrastructure replacement.

And more importantly the recession did not vote to ignore the need to build a substantial budget reserve fund to get us through tough economic times.

Nope, this and past Mayors, Councils and management did this all by themselves while many stood by and watched. It is sad but true that civic leaders, campaign contributors, our local newspapers and yes, voters were enablers and gave them gratuitous pats on the back and "Atta-boys" all along the way.

There is much to discuss about the budget that was presented to the Council and residents but for now how about just a few thoughts and comments of the Budget meeting. The Mayors Budget proposes to use Proportional budgeting which "ensures that each department maintains its proportionate share of the budget." Sounds good but what does it really do?

In theory it spreads the pain equally but it only works if every department is operating at peak efficiency and functions are of equal importance to the city.

In practice it would reward bloated departments and punishes departments that have already made cuts and are operating efficiently. And most importantly, in my view, it presumes that Public Safety is no more important than the Mayor and Councils travel budget.

And what about the format? I listened to Council members laboriously asking staff about details in the various department revenue and expenditure line items and it struck me that this is a shameful game. The Mayor and City Manager have presented a budget so deficient in substantive line item details that no one outside of the "Mayor's Loop" could possibly make an informed decision.

A few examples: staff did not present a list of the special events or the cost associated with each item. Council had to ask Staff to identify what they believe are priority programs. The Mayors budget did not include any backup accounting to describe how they propose to save $900K if crossing guard services are contracted out.

And by the way, I cannot let this go unnoticed. If you look deep in the budget documents you find the City has allocated $5 Million to pay for the relocation of a few departments that occupied the public service yard. An absolutely self imposed and unnecessary expenditure given the City is Broke. And I am sure there is more.

So: Do you think it is about time for the Council to define what they believe are essential city services and quit asking staff to tell them what core services are included in the budget?

Do you believe that the budget should include line item definitions of what is included in each department budget and what it cost for each so the council could make an informed decision?

I think so.


Previously on LBReport.com: Common Sense by Terry Jensen (continuing series):

  • No. 2: Costs vs. Benefits: Council's Costlier-Than-Necessary Seawall Fix = Decaying Belmont Pier & Other Shoreline Assets

  • No. 1: Santa, Call LB City Hall: Taxpayer Leased Vacant Bldg. (New Home To Daisy Lane Xmas Displays) Invites Annual Public Review of All City Owned/Leased Properties And Zero-Based Budget


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