For the last three years or so the game at City Hall has been to move money around from one pocket to another to try to make projects happen in the toughest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
An advance here and a loan there from some other fund where money was parked for any amount of time became standard operating procedure.
So did a 2010 restructuring of the bond debt or money owed on bonds which the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was poised to do again when the office of Tennessee comptroller Justin Wilson called a halt to the tax dollars version of musical chairs.
We’ve warned about this way of doing business several times in this space.
And now the music City Hall has been dancing to for entirely too long has stopped and what is left on the floor is a proposed 14-cent property tax hike. That is on top of a 25-cent property tax rate hike to make up for property values lost in the 2013 property reappraisal.
And the “continuation” budget, whose definition is stretched to include some kind of pay raise, is now making up an additional $11 million the city had to use to replenish balances in three accounts. Those accounts were part of the city’s shell game of trying to please all the people all the time. That’s $11 million on top of the $10 million more in debt from the 2010 restructuring that begins ballooning in the new fiscal year and keeps ballooning for several more years.
Our suggestions for the folks at City Hall are as follows:
First, do not automatically go through with a second refunding bond issue. It may be the only course of action left in this fiscal crisis. But it shouldn’t be approved without a lot of questions and more clarity about the real numbers in terms of future debt in the out years.
Second, your definition of “saving” money is warped. You don’t save money if you trim expenses in one department and then use the savings in another department for a net savings overall of nothing.
Cutting expenses means the money you saved goes back to taxpayers and if city employees lose their jobs, it doesn’t mean they will never work again or that they will turn to a life of crime.
The comptroller’s report calls into question whether the city’s overall operating budget is really balanced. And that raises larger questions about long-time practices at City Hall and in local government in general during the budget season when one-time capital money can suddenly transform into recurring revenue as long as there is another source of one time money to recur in the next fiscal year.
The comptroller’s report calls into question whether the city’s overall operating budget is really balanced. And that should raise a lot of other questions at City Hall.