I had the good fortune to attend this weeks budget work session. Not much seems to have changed since the last budget meeting at which the Council voted to advertise a "not to exceed" tax rate of about $1.39. The current rate is $1.36. The higher advertised rate would allow the city to do some community investments and other stuff – those details are over in the budget dox on the city site and this post is not about that.
The conflict that started this hullabaloo was what to do about the "Jail Levy" that appeared in this years budget. The City Manager, at the last meeting distributed a "Sharing Scenarios" document. If you click on that graphic, you will see that things have suddenly become far more complicated. There is something called the "Community Investment Rate" that appears to be a new levy and, as such, is not shared with the schools. The Jail Levy is also in some of those scenarios – that is not shared with the schools. In addition there are options in most of the scenarios about sharing only 2.5 cents or 3 cents. It's quite the creation.
Look, I know that there are a lot of politics mixed up in here but this really is simple: honor the revenue sharing agreement and deal with the fallout in the budget. The schools are the city's partner, not our vendor (not to mention elected in their own rite). Forget about honoring the agreement – and then insisting on givebacks or anything else. Honor the agreement. Yes, the city will have to come up with some cuts and those won't be fun but at $100k-ish it shouldn't require closing the Museum or most of the other usual suspects. Hold a couple of positions open and budget the vacancy savings. Delay filling some new postilions. We did it when we passed the CIP, certainly it can happen again.
Yes the schools will get more money but that's the agreement we have. If you add the 3 cents into the rate the overall increase is about 7%. That's a lot but the things we're buying with that money are all things that our citizens have said they support. We heard a lot in the last election from Every. Last. Candidate. about how important Economic development, fixing roads and infrastructure in general are to our city. Those things aren't free and we need to have them in order to compete with the surrounding jurisdictions.
I'd note that PWC has passed a budget that includes money OVER AND ABOVE the revenue sharing agreement to help reduce class sizes.
If the Council and School Board can't seem to make these agreements work then they should agree to set a meeting outside the budget process and figure out what does work. I can see an argument both ways but no decisions can be made without facts. Put together a committee to study the agreement. Put those with the most financial acumen on that committee and get the budget folks to start generating some spending projections. Put some average increase in the budget, include some raises, a little bit of new construction, make some conservative tax assumptions and then inject those capital projects into the projections and see what shakes out. Maybe a workable structure comes from the effort, maybe it doesn't, but It's the only way to get it done. Trying to figure this out in the middle of the budget process just isn't going to work. Too many moving pieces and actual facts and professional projections are needed. Not "feelings" or straight up dogma. Facts.