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City Budget: More Tax Revenue, More Spending, Less Transparency

Posted on June 19, 2016

City Budget: More Tax Revenue, More Spending, Less Transparency

A review of the FY2017 budget proposal by the City of Tallahassee reveals more revenue for the General Fund through an increase in property values, sales taxes and fees. The total new revenue collected in the General Fund is approximately $5.5 million.

The budget also calls for approximately $7-9 million in new spending.

Local media outlets have reported that the General Fund budget is about $5 million less than last year. TR’s review of the budget finds this statement to be misleading, if not false.

The new spending is supported by the new revenue and approximately $3 million in what the City is calling savings. (Details below under “Savings”)

However, the most striking finding upon the release of this budget is the move by new City Manager Rick Fernandez to severely limit the amount of information easily accessed by those interested in evaluating the budget.

REVENUE

Last year, with the 13% property tax increase, the City’s General Fund collected an additional $7 million in fees, charges for services and taxes. This year the City’s General Fund is projected to collect an additional $4.2 million in fees, charges for services and taxes.

SPENDING

If the City had capped spending at last year’s level of $149 million, the new revenues would have paid for that spending and generated a surplus of approximately $5.2 million.

However, approximately $2 million of the additional 2017 tax revenue of $5 million was used to replace the borrowed money from the deficiency fund that was used to support spending during FY2016. Yes, even after a 13% property tax increase, the City moved approximately $2 million from City savings to pay for spending.

For 2017, the City has opted to spend $7-9 million, including $5.8 on new roads and sidewalk projects. Where did the City get the revenue to finance these projects?

This is where creative accounting has yielded what the City claims are savings.

THE SAVINGS

The City claims to have generated $3.2 million in “savings.”

First, the budget summary shows $1.7 million in expenses has been transferred from the General Fund to the Water Fund. The expenses have been transferred, not cut. The Water Fund will pay these expenses. Is that really “savings”?

Second, the City claims to have saved $1.2 million in StarMetro expenses. However, for the majority of these savings there is no detailed plan on how these savings will be achieved.

And finally, one of the biggest issues not addressed in the General Fund is the renegotiating of the Star Metro contract with FSU during 2016. Why is this not addressed in the budget?

TRANSPARENCY

The release of the FY2017 highlights the fact that under the new leadership of City Manager Rick Manager, less information about the budget has been released than ever before.

First, the roll out of the budget does not include a capital budget. For at least the last 20 years the roll out of the City budget included a capital budget. A capital budget details spending on specific projects. For example, a capital budget would detail where the $5.8 million in road maintenance and sidewalks was planning to be spent.

Second, the FY2017 budget does not provide the line item detail provided in previous budgets.

And finally, the City has removed the City’s online checkbook from their website. Now, if you want to see what vendors are paid and by what departments, you must submit a public record request. The online checkbook was promoted as a big step in transparency, but now it is gone.

10 Responses to City Budget: More Tax Revenue, More Spending, Less Transparency

  1. Rick Reply

    June 19, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    Has COT provided any reason for the removal of the “on-line checkbook” or any of their changes to what budget information they have provided in previous years?

  2. Preston Scott

    Preston Scott Reply

    June 20, 2016 at 5:23 am

    If Maddox stays (he has his challenges, but he is a fiscal conservative), each election cycle voters need to replace the rest of the Commission, go to single residency based districts, dump the Mayor’s “leadership” position (after-all Gillum is proving it is not needed with all of his other “jobs”), then demand a new Commission remove senior staff and start with people from other communities with a proven record of fiscal restraint and management aka: Outsiders. It would be transformative in a positive way.

  3. James Anderson Reply

    June 20, 2016 at 7:30 am

    There should be no pay raises for a few years so the private sector and the state can catch up. Also 10 percent of the City’s workforce should be terminated. Jack Welch did it year after year then the City can too.

  4. Mike Reply

    June 20, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Tallahassee’s government consistently and completely ignores any citizen debate, input, or presentation of facts regarding the city’s steady increases in taxes and fees. There is, in fact, a willful and antagonistic policy by city government to block any attempts for citizens to have a real say in tax rates or budget issues.

    Add to that dismal conduct the recent tactics of playing shell games with funding transfers and calling it “savings” and now, the deliberate action of the city manager to obstruct access to a detailed overview of the city budget.

    In plain terms, the city is telling citizens: “Butt out, shut up, and accept whatever we do without complaint.” Remember that when elections come around and their smiling faces are asking for your vote.

  5. James Reply

    June 20, 2016 at 10:29 am

    What can we as citizens do to find out why the City removed the online checkbook? Did the City ever explain why it was removed?

    And why were line item details removed from the budget?

    If this is not an attempt by the City to try and hide info from the public, then what is their reasoning? We should demand an explanation.

  6. Eric Flament Reply

    June 20, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    The City just launched an OpenGov.com page that helps you visualize and dig into the numbers. In case anyone is interested: https://tallahasseefl.opengov.com

  7. Dirk Dynamic Reply

    June 20, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve lived in a bunch of places over the years. A good part of what Tallahassee takes for granted is considered a luxury in most other cities. Tall, shiny city/county buildings full of employees making more than their private sector counterparts. Shiny, new police equipment. Work crews everywhere with shiny, new equipment. Esposito’s maintaining right of way landscaping. Sidewalks on small streets that don’t need sidewalks. The obsession with trees over power lines that constantly need trimming back by Asplundh. The examples are in the thousands.

    That luxury costs money, ergo taxes.

    I chose to move to the county. The tax rate is a bit less, but still too high.

  8. Nadine Ochs Reply

    June 20, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    I just continue to laugh and be thankful at the same time that I moved away from this continued nonsense of the City and County government in Tallahassee. To think people would believe the new city manager would be different,actually he is looking worse. As I read this excellent article by Tallahassee Reports, I am opening my tax bill from Union County, Georgia stating our taxes are going down $200 a year. Mainly because my husband is over 62 yrs old, and this county although small has ONE commissioner who works amazingly with the mayor and city manager, and all of them manage the money fairly, quite a concept. Most of the road work, mowing and maintaining of the parks are done by county inmates! In return we do not watch our taxes rise every single year………….Government works together here and sadly it will be years ( if ever) before Tallahassee sees this happen.

  9. Pingback: Citizens’ Groups Roll Out Alternative Budget | Tallahassee Reports

  10. Charles Reply

    July 2, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    One writer suggests that 10 percent of City workers be eliminated.. If that happens, remember that when the power goes out and stays out longer than you’d like, a water main breaks and the repairs take too long, the sewer system has a back-up and the response time is too long, when a tree falls across the road, the road in your neighborhood doesn’t get paved as quickly as you would like, etc. I think our town gets great service from the City and that service comes from having each position filled and supervisors who care.

    Senior managers, albeit the generous salaries, have consistently pushed customer service. I think that came from Anita Favors and continues with Fernandez. If we will collectively accept less, staff can be cut. But the citizens of Tallahassee have gotten spoiled. You can’t have it both ways.

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