My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

The 5-Year Forecast

The council is currently working to craft a 5-year forecast.  In a typical year the 5-year forecast would be done by November 15th and forwarded to our friends on the School Board.  What was to be the final worksession on the 5-year forecast was held this past Wednesday (no citizens in attendance).  The Council failed to reach a consensus.  This seems to have happened for a couple of reasons:

1.  The forecast documents were not distributed in advance of the meeting.  This meant that Council members had no time to consult with one another on the different scenarios.  Put differently, there was no time for politics and politics are necessary right about now.  The proposed tax rate increase was 9 cents.  I'm surprised staff would propose such an increase.  Safe to say, that ain't happening.  Council needed time to consult to figure out what was workable.

2.  This year is a little different.  The City is planning to sell a bond next year in order to build some roads and do a couple of stormwater projects.  The 5-year forecast prepared by the staff includes a suggestion that the Council raise taxes to support that bond.  I've been on the Council for 6 years and can't remember ever voting to raise taxes to support the general fund in a meaningful way.  Neither can most of my fellow Council members.  That means that it's kinda new and needs discussion. 

Of course, the elephant in the room is the evolving CIP process and how we craft the forecast to respond to that process.  It seems clear at this point that on either the City side or the Schools side something is going to get built: we have a lot of aging infrastructure and enrollment keeps climbing.  Do we put money in the forecast to support the construction of a school in a couple of years?  Does putting the money in the forecast now "telegraph" our intent?  Should it?

For my part, I favor a straghtforward, honest process.  I do believe we need to start doing some capital projects.  That's going to take money.  I do want the Council and Manager to scour the city budget so we can keep our costs low.  I want the schools to do the same.  I want the schools to know that, while we're prepared to pay for infrastructure, they need to keep a tighter lid on costs.  I don't want to achieve any of these ends by playing games with the CIP.  Let's put the funds into the forecast and pass the guidance on to our staff and schools.  It's the only way to have a healthy, community-based debate about the whole thing.  Further delay in putting this information out there only stunts the process.  

IMPORTANT:  The next 5-year forecast meeting is Tuesday night at 5:30.  If you have interest in CIP funding for schools, etc, you should be there!

IMPORTANT 2:  Here is a link to the staff proposed 5-year forecast.


  1. Your "Important" line – just an FYI….I was asked by Ellen Purdy to serve on the School's Stragic Plan "Subcommittee for Fiscal Integrity".  After some discussion with her, I agreed to have my name submitted as a possible member and was selected to be on it.
    Now a bit of my background:  five year forecasts are nothing new to me.  Built them for years in the Federal Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution System (PPBES).  In that System, the Future Year Defense Plan (FYDP) is built with Prior Year, Current Year, Budget Year and two Out Years.  There is even a version that projects out to 25 years (that is REAL fun to build!).  Tied into that system also is a 2-Year Operational Budget process (Current Year and Budget Year) so that as you are executing the active year, you can make adjustments in the Budget Year as needed based on program analysis.  That naturally impacts the two out years as they also are adjusted. 
    PPBES is built on 6 Principles:  Decisions based on explicit criteria, not on comprimises; Needs and costs are considered simultaneously; Major decisions made by choices among explicit, balanced and feasible alternatives; there is an active analysis being done by Staff to provide relevant data and UNBIASED perspectives; Analysis done is available to all parties and must form the basis for major decisions; and a multi-year plan is required to project the consequences of present decisions into the future (and that plan covers a set time period, funding levels, facilities, equipment and personnel – ALL five elements of cost factors).
    Bringing it back to the City, keep in mind this 5-Year forecast is "new" as a process to the City.  And keep in mind this past June our City Credit Rating was restored to the positive.  Also remember the much discussed SAFER Grant where going in to add FRS Staff and what happens after the grant period expires – there is a bill to pay if those positions were to continue after the grant period ended. 
    For the City Staff to VERY wisely place the 2014 Bond Issue with corresponding rate increase is sound financial planning and even fits into the six principles the Feds use.  And, at least in my view, it reinforces the intentionality the Council wants to see in the Budget Process when y'all implemented the 5-Year process.  It also, under a logical, planned process, does telegraph your intention to at least identify when an item would be considered for funding with the correlating impact to a tax rate.
    Now back to the SAFER Grant – oh look!  In FY2014 the current Levy rate increases by $0.019 to cover the Emergency Manager and 12 SAFER Grant positions.  Then there is the next Levy increase 2016.  This also is excellent projection by Staff for decisions made by the Council which accolades are due for since when the Grant was pursued, Staff did advise on out-year impacts.
    I agree with you 100% there should be a straightforward, honest process – the Staff Scenario provided is exactly that!  There should NOT be "politics" – politics have gotten us to a point where now we are faced with the hard decision that things have to be built (albiet with a CONSOLIDATED, UNIFIED FORMAT CIP by the City and the Schools).  If I took one of those big maps of the City and took different colored dots and placed ALL identified needs ("needs" being a cornerstone of PPBS I mentioned above) on that map, the final picture would be one hellava graphic to show this City must begin to fix its infrastructure WITH the same intent the Council put effort to bringing Old Town back to life.  Maybe that needs to be produced and posted somewhere on the web so people see if we don't support moving forward, well, then the roads return to gravel, heavy rains flood roads, and buildings continue to be sink holes for money in to stop them from falling down.

  2. Long time listener, first time caller

    November 18, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Mr. Harrover, your efforts to communicate with the citizenry are, as always, commendable.   Reaching out to increase the number of folks involved might sometimes slow things down, but it's not like you guys move at the speed of light anyway.    
    Maybe I'm just a little slow, but the statement that you 'can't remember ever voting to raise taxes in a meaningful way to support the general fund' , how most council members haven't either, and that this is new and needs discussion, struck me as odd.   These may all be true statements, but isn't that one of the primary roles of government?    Or am I confusing the term general fund with something like 'the funds that generally fund Manassas?'     If the above referenced council discussions are  geared towards 'what is best for Manassas', then great.   If they are geared towards, 'how do I pacify the thousand or so voters who put me here', then we might just be screwed.    You can't have solid services without paying for them.   If council feels that some of those services aren't worth paying for, then I hope they say so in public, and make it part of their strategic vision.    But I prefer that Manassas not crumble because some folks don't ever want to see their taxes go up.  I prefer that the  fiscally conservative policies of recent years continue, but sound financial planning doesn't always mean do more with less.   Sometimes a family needs another car.  Sometimes a family needs a new furnace.   Sometimes a city needs a new school and roads built.   Sometimes you just have to buck up and pay for them.  
    Keep the info coming, 'cause with the end of the JM,  you and the Patch are the only game in town.    

  3. "Manassas Embarks on the Biggest Capital Improvement
     Program in Manassas History
     $ 34 Million for Schools and City Facilities
      – This important step was only taken after a careful year-long study by the
      City Council and School Board Members.
     – The City has to meet  new demands caused by growth in fiscally
      responsible ways.
     – Based upon projections being made at this time, Manassas at full build out,
     will be a City of 37,000 people."
     (TOWN HALL NEWS – June 1988)
     2010 Census of Manassas – 37,821

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