Mayor, aldermen should take steps now to trim fat from city’s budget

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sometime between today and Sept.15, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen will approve a fiscal 2016 — its third and probably the most important fiscal document this administration will develop in its term.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. was on target Tuesday when he said he had some grave concerns about the challenges this particular budget presents, not only for the coming fiscal year, but for the administration’s final budget in 2017.

It’s a tack the city’s two aldermen should also be taking.

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Budgets are supposed to be fiscal blueprints, not only for the coming fiscal year, but for future years. A lot depends on how the board addresses several issues in this fiscal year, some of which can have an effect the next year, which will also be an election year.

The budget has a $561,209 deficit, which under normal circumstances would be resolved by “trimming the fat,” that is, cutting requests for new equipment or construction projects that are deemed unnecessary. But this year is a different case.

While the budget projects $41 in revenue, $14 million of that is “revenue from other sources,” which is one-time funds like the $9.2 million capital improvements bond issue, $1.4 million in one-time funds that were not spent in 2015 and carried over to this year, and loans for equipment lease-purchases. This is money that is already spent.

Take that $14 million out of the projected revenue and the city’s true operating budget is $27 million, $2 million less than the $29 million operating budget in 2015.

The city’s two recurring revenue streams, property and sales taxes, have shown very little growth from fiscal 2015.

Property tax revenue is estimated at $8.5 million, about $36,500 more than the $8.46 million collected in 2015. Sales tax revenue for 2016 is put at $7.77 million, about $50,000 more than the $7.72 million collected in 2015.

With these issues facing the board, the mayor and aldermen will have to look long and hard at resolving the budget in a way that it doesn’t adversely affect the city.

One possibility of resolving the issue would be an infusion of cash from the city’s 2014 $1.4 million surplus, but this is also one-time money, and the board will have to be wary of moving in that direction except as a last resort.

If the board wants an object lesson in using one-time money to resolve budget woes, all it has to do is look west to Louisiana and its $1.6 billion deficit.

There is another incentive to fixing the budget besides sound fiscal responsibility. The board is up for re-election in 2017. No public official wants to run for re-election with the albatross of raising taxes or approving mass employee layoffs.

The city has been moving in a positive directions since this administration was sworn in July 2013.

Faced with a potential fiscal crisis with possible long range effects, they need to demonstrate leadership and fiscal responsibility and take the proper steps to protect city’s finances not only for the coming fiscal year but fiscal 2017.