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    An Unbalanced Budget

    (September 6, 2005) -- The law requires the City of LB to have a balanced budget. City management and the Mayor have sent the City Council a budget that's not balanced. The only question is whether the City Council -- which has the final responsibility for the budget as adopted -- will face the truth or become complicitous in the falsehood.

    In our view, the proposed budget is mathematically unsound because it assumes receipt of over $4 million in rent (estimated months ago, perhaps closer to $5 million now) from the Queen Mary operator. The Queen Mary operator says it doesn't owe City Hall back rent, cites conduct by city officials in its defense...and is currently in Bankruptcy Court.

    Of course management says it fully expects to collect the Queen Mary rent...but it also acknowledges that if the rent isn't collected, there'll be a hole in LB's Tidelands Fund.

    LB's putative City Auditor, Gary Burroughs didn't seriously pursue the rent until LB's de facto auditor, activist Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, blew the whistle. For reasons still inadequately explained, Mr. Burroughs gave a bizarre written assurance to a prospective lender for the Queen Mary operator that City Hall now contends was without authority.

    Although we have a lengthy bill of particulars against Burroughs as Auditor, we don't think he's nuts...and we don't know what motivated him to sign that document. To our knowledge, city management still hasn't conducted the forensic audit of Queen Mary operations that city management's own consultant advised.

    To us, the Queen Mary is the Rosetta Stone for downtown's protracted consumption of public resources without serious scrutiny. The Council needs to face the Queen Mary rent issue in the context of the budget. That means insisting on responsive answers, not private assurances.

    It's their job, it's our money...and the public has a right to know the facts before the coming city elections.

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