Soooo….let me get you two pieces of info before I get started: One – the schools and the City have this thing called the "Revenue sharing agreement". It says that 58.5% of general fund revenues are to be shared with the schools (whether you love or hate it really doesn't matter right now). The "General Fund" is comprised of property taxes, business taxes and a few other taxes. When the City setup the fire levy, we met with the schools in advance and increased the percentage of the general fund they received to compensate for the removal of the fire budget from the General Fund. Ok, hold on to this for a minute.
Two – The cost of operating the jail has continued to climb. We have been locking up more people and, because we're short at least one judge, people are staying in jail longer when they aren't released before trial. Some of that operating cost was built into the budget but over the years as the costs climbed, the Managers of years past "fixed" the situation by using savings accumulated over the course of the year to pay the balance due to the county. Those savings are collectively called "Year-End funds." As long as the budget variance wasn't much it wasn't a big deal but it has become an operating expense and not a one-off. ok, also hold on to this.
Now comes the rest: the proposed budget was never really presented to the public. The Manager gave a short speech and that was it. I was disappointed that there was no presentation. Really, the first time the public will see a budget presentation will be right before the public hearing!! That's not very transparent. In looking at the budget forecast an odd thing turns up. It's easier to show than describe so here:
This is a list (out of the forecast) of all of the tax revenues that the city is to share with the schools. Real Estate, Personal property, etc, etc all makes sense but wait, what's that last? The jail is revenue to share? I didn't know we made money on the jail?….hmmmm…Oh, no…oh my. It's in parens so it's a "negative revenue" to share. That's interesting. My take on that is the proposed budget takes about $1.2 million right off the top before revenue is shared with the schools! I've checked with other folks and the consensus is that this is exactly what's happening. Put differently, the City's base budget doesn't include enough revenue to fund our obligation to the jail so we are taking money from our kids education and putting it towards the jail. Krooks before Kids? Doesn't sound like a great strategy to me and this proposal should be DOA.
I don't see how, given the revenue sharing agreement, the proposal can just strip a million bucks right off the top. The City has never done that before that I can recall. I've read the revenue agreement and I can't see where this is something allowed. Yes, running a jail is expensive. No, I don't want to pay more taxes but, unless we're going to go all "Sheriff Joe" and put up a tent over by the airport, we have to have an operating jail and the revenue sharing agreement (again, liking it isn't germane) foresees that as the city's operating expenses go up, the schools will follow a similar trend. Look, until about 60 days ago it was me on the other side of the dias so I'm sensitive to the fact that the revenue sharing agreement makes things more expensive for the city but enrollment has continued to climb and operational costs, including salaries, don't get cheaper. Just like the City, the Schools have seen their expenses go up.
I'd like to see the Council cowboy up and take this on. We don't have endless resources and I don't want another tax increase but the elected bodies have to sort something out here.