Maryor Warren's First Budget Balanced on Back of Children

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last week city council had open hearings about Mayor Warren's first budget, which is the sign that the process is over. As usual there are numerous problems with this budget While I will touch on the randomness of departmental purchasing and the increasing level of management in the city recreation department the real problem is that we are balancing our budget on the backs of the children of our city. The biggest single line item of the budget is the Maintenance Of Effort or MOE. This is a $119.1 million dollar transfer of city money to the City Schools. While other districts collect taxes in Rochester the city collects taxes for the district and then gives them their share. The State mandated this amount back in 2005 because the city was not paying RCSD a enough money, and for the past 10 years this is the amount the city has paid. Since this time the city budget has risen by almost 25% and they have collected 12% more taxes but the schools have had to make due with an amount set in 2005. As a result they have made cuts teachers, eliminated programs, building maintenance, and many other things. Needless to say in this time our schools have suffered. Thus it is particularly gulling that the city raised taxes by almost 3% and yet gave no more to the schools. This is shameful. Refusing to pay for education is embarrassing enough but council has found numerous other things to cut which help our residents. One of the main purposes of government is to maintain the routine things that make things work. As a result the have schedules for replacement and maintenance. These are included in the capital improvement budget and cover a variety of small expenditures for things ranging from office furniture to vehicle replacement. The Mayor has chosen to cut a number of these things like playground equipment replacement, lighting on fields in our parks, replacement of fire vehicles, street light replacements, fire communication maintenance, funding for new home buyers, affordable housing support, public art, project uplift, basketball court replacement, and many more. All this amounts to less than $5 million in funds. Yet these are all things which protect and help the children of our city and build more stable neighborhoods. In short these are more cuts to the children of our city. Of course things are not all austerity as there was plenty of money projects and big developments. They could not afford $500,000 for to promote home ownership but they could find $1.7 million for land acquisition for economic development. Replacement for playground equipment was delayed for want of $50,000 but there was more than $1.2 million for landscaping at the huge developments at Midtown and Erie Harbor. Further they increased the contingency budget by $5.7 million which will be used to give gifts to developers who are building in the city. In sum there is at least $8.6 million for the rich developers who enjoy tax free status but there was nothing for children. This can also be seen in the recreation department. For years I have criticized the city for cutting recreation and that trend reverses this year. Unfortunately the increased spending will not go to helping children. The city uses the time honored tactic of reorganizing the department to find ways to cut services but increase costs as the office of commissioner had its expenditures increase by $1.6 million. They found much of this money by changing Youth Services and Employment opportunities to BEST and YS. This one change saved $889,400 by reducing programs that helped children and providing summer employment add this to reduced staff and services at recreation centers and the city could afford 6 new middle level paper pushers in recreation. Of course there are a lot of other problems. The city continues to spend millions on chip and seal road maintenance which dumps gravel onto roads and into the sewers. This process may extend the life of the roads but it also damages our sewers and makes them smell awful. They also have kept the office of parking and municipal violations. This office deals with tickets the city writes but in every other city in the state this is handled by the City court which is paid for by the state. So we continue to waste three quarters of a million on a court which the state would pay for if we let them. Finally after two years of decreased management the city is once more increasing the level of management in many departments. There is also the continued problem of spending our reserves. For years the city has enjoyed a very good credit rating in part because we had enough in reserves to cover operation costs. Unfortunately this is no longer true and now we have to use Bond Anticipation Notes to cover routine cash flow problems which will cost the city $1.65 million. This along with a debt load which is 70% the legal limit and our city is starting to use up all its financial options. No analysis of the budget would be complete without some review of purchasing. In general the city continues to purchase more every year. This year they will spend more than $90 million on goods and services. For most departments spending was actually down despite rising costs, yet for Environmental services saw large increases. This makes me wonder which departments are being honest and which are being optimistic. Of course there is a bigger problem as the city has very strict controls on the spending for small amounts, but for too many purchases there are no bidding, no requests for proposal, and no understanding of what or where the spending is going. Further the city has started replacing the request for proposal process with a request for qualifications which replaces cost as the final arbiter of purchasing with a much more arbitrary procedure. As a result contracts on things like parking control systems are being awarded to companies which bid $1.2 million higher than the lowest bidder. Thus it would not be surprising to find that perhaps as much as $14 million are being wasted overpaying for things we need. So here we are with a new budget. It is balanced for right now but it is mortgaging our future and short changing our children, and weakening our neighborhoods. It is failing to maintain equipment and pushing off capital expenditures which should be routine. Yet only 3 people showed up to give council their opinion and council would grant each of these only 3 minutes to try to stop the pawning of our future.

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...on Transforming Rochester on Rochester Free Radio. You can see when it's on at the Rochester Free Radio show schedule.

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