The City Council has seven meetings scheduled for the Biennial Budget. These are very important meetings where the Council prioritizes services and decides on tax increases. Unfortunately, as a fiscally sensitive councilperson, I think our process is a bit backwards.
Our first five meetings involve Staff presenting projects, services and personnel requests from which the Council chooses without explicitly understanding budget implications. Then on November 19th, we are presented the bill for the five previous meetings. Inevitably we exceed the budget. We then make a few “cuts” but have painted ourselves in a corner and have the dilemma of redoing the budget over the holidays or raising taxes.
Even after expanding headcount during the difficult economic times of 2011 from 7.8 per 1,000 to 8.0 per 1,000, I count at least another seven positions the Council is signaling a willingness to endorse: Deputy City Clerk, Hire Ahead Police Officer, Communications Coordinator, Parks Manager, two IT positions and a TF Sustainability officer. The “cuts” will come in the form of not authorizing several but keeping the balance. As all leaders know, head counts drive budgets. Our change should be net zero.
Maybe more importantly, the Country is 37 months into a very slow recovery with stubborn unemployment. As with the Country, the economic recovery remains uncertain for Islanders. I don’t feel the economy and personal finances are sufficiently recovered. We should still be looking for efficiencies that decrease or at least arrest the tax burden on our citizens. Just seven months ago we balanced the budget on the revenue side instead of the expense side. We raised water rates, sewer rates, storm and surface water rates, EMS tax, permit taxes, ambulance transport taxes and property taxes. I think to raise taxes again is inappropriate. Furthermore, raising taxes are unnecessary with proper planning and discipline.
I will work tirelessly in treating your tax dollars as if they were my own. I recognize that there are many nice things on the market, but I think you want me to decide between those services which are critical and those which are far from critical. Additionally, I think you want me to break down those financial silos that may finance low priority projects or positions for more critical underfinanced projects.
This is a very important topic that deserves public attention and is far from complete. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.