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.
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.
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 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?
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.