Is City Staff Gaming the City Commission?

Tallahassee Reports has obtained information that indicates that the document prepared and distributed to City Commissioners during the last budget workshop appears to be misleading in representing that City spending has been on a downward trend since 2008. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case.

At the City of Tallahassee’s budget workshop on June 19th, Commissioners wrestled with staff’s proposal to handle a $5 million General Fund deficit with a property tax increase and a $2 million increase in the electric utility transfer. See TR story here.

In addressing the Commissioners concern about the revenue increases, City Manager Anita Favors Thompson spoke of staff challenges in the police department and the results from the three citizen budget workshops where approximately 100 citizens indicated that the community did not want service levels to be cut.

Also at the meeting, the City budget staff handed out a document to City Commissioners that showed the City’s operating budget for each year from 2008 through 2014. The annual numbers in the document,  recreated in the table below, appear to show a downtrend in spending. According to the staff’s document, spending has decreased from $730 million in 2008 to $697 million in the 2014 proposed budget, a decrease of $33 million.

After reviewing the document provided by city budget staff, Commissioner Nancy Miller, responded by saying “we can only be in a holding pattern so long.”

Fiscal YearOperating (millions)
CHG FOR 2008-2014-33.2

However, the annual budget data handed out by staff included budgeted fuel expenditures for the electric utility. These expenditures can account for approximately 30-40% of the overall budget each year and can fluctuate dramatically, depending on world-wide market forces.

When fuel is removed from the budgeted expenditures, as in the table below, a completely different picture of the City spending trend over the last 5 years emerges. Instead of a decrease of 33 million, the budgeted spending since 2008 has increased $77 million.

Fiscal YearOperating (millions)Non-Fuel Operating (millions)
FY14 PROPOSED697.3566.2
CHG FOR 2008-2014-33.2+77.0

The data in the table shows that the inclusion of fuel costs in the overall budget -as in the document provided to the City Commissioners- can hide actual trends that are taking place.

Here’s what this means to you:

  •  City Staff has suggested that spending has decreased by approximately $33 million since 2008, a span of five years.
  •  Staff achieved this by not attributing the change in spending to the decrease in utility fuel expenses.
  •  When looking at non-fuel spending City spending has, in fact, increased $77 million since 2008.
  •  City Staff has proposed a tax INCREASE and an increase in the electric utility transfer for the upcoming 2014 budget to cover increased spending.

4 Responses to "Is City Staff Gaming the City Commission?"

  1. There’s a book, Lying With Statistic, they seem to be using as a guide thinking nobody will notice.
    Thank you for all you do. Great Job!!

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