To understand where you are, sometimes it is useful to look at where you have been. With the recent approval of a 15% property tax increase to plug the hole in the COT’s General Fund, Tallahassee Reports decided to take a look back.
The first task was to look back at the budgets over the previous years to try and determine if there was an explanation, hidden somewhere in all those numbers, for the tax increase that was required in 2010 to provide the citizens of Tallahassee with the most basic governmental services.
After digging through budgets and actual expenditures for each year since 2006 and talking to city officials, Tallahassee Reports discovered that for 2006, 2007, and 2008, the COT approved a budget that did not rely on revenues saved in the city deficiencies fund.
However, looking at the actual data for each of those years reveals that sometime during each year, the COT transferred approximately $3,000,000 from the City Deficiencies Fund to pay for core services.
If the use of deficiency funds was a one time policy due to an unanticipated event, this action would not be so noteworthy. However, to continue to rely on a “savings account” to fund day-to-day operations for core services year-after-year is noteworthy because it explains why the COT found itself in a budget showdown this year. The bill the City Commission had refused to address over the last four years had finally come due in 2009.
The bill came due because the City’s Deficiency Fund, that was being used to fuel the spending the City could not afford, became tapped out. In June 2006, the City’s Deficiency Fund had a balance of $24 million. In June 2009 the balance was $9.5 million.
The research indicates that decisions made, or not made, in 2006, 2007 and 2008, laid the foundation for the tax increase passed in 2009.
It is interesting to note that not one city commissioner, during the most recent budget process, mentioned the fact that over the last three years the budget was not balanced and the City had to spend years of savings.