Tuesday, September 2, 2014

El Paso's City Budget - Why We Don't Really Want Cuts

This is the time of the year when everyone gets really upset about their taxes and the budgets of the various taxing entities.

There's a few reasons for that, chief among them being the fact that most taxing entities do a terrible job of managing budgets. Rather than having a budget being a living document that you manage all year round like your own finances, the elected officials start sharpening their pencils for their once-a-year budget exercise.

Another reason is that many elected officials would rather pander to the public than roll-up their sleeves and do the hard work. The city really put themselves in a bad spot. Rather than do the fiscally responsible thing of adopting the roll-back rate so that they had some room during the budget workshops to make the best financial decisions, they married themselves to a particular tax rate that was insufficient for all the priorities that were set.

Thus a shortfall.

Why did they do that? So that they didn't have a parade of crazies marching up the microphone during public comment with that empty threat of a recall. Actually I shouldn't say that, there is one member of city council who is likely going to be recalled soon and that effort is likely going to be successful, but I'll talk about that more later in the week.

You basically have only three options when it comes to a budget.

1)Keep the status quo and spend no additional money and have no plus or minus change in your revenue

2) Increase your revenue to cover additional services, emergencies, or budgetary priorities (which could mean more debt)

3) Make cuts

Thats it, thats basically all you can do. The first option has a lot of variables and almost never realistically happens. So you are essentially left with options 2 and 3. Options that people who think about the budget once a year have to consider.

I know what you're thinking, lets make cuts. Sure, that is everyone's gut reaction but its not likely because as constituents, as much as you might try to deny it, you don't really want services cut. You don't think you get your fair share as it is.

None of you every say, "Wow, we have way to many parks in this town." Or "We are way to safe around here, we need some danger." or "You know, I'd really like to see some more house fires because I really have too many nice things." or "This road is way to smooth, I want an off-road experience on Lee Trevino during my commute to school in the morning".

If anything, you want more services.

And if you really were cool with cuts, where would you cut? Salaries are a big expense but cutting the City Managers staff will only get you so far. In order to get what you really want you'd have to cut police and fire personnel. But they have unions and contracts to protect their jobs.

Lets be real. The people on city council that say they don't want to raise your taxes are the same people that take contributions from those unions and talk about their support for the unions. I like unions so I'm not being critical, I just want to point out that you really have to pay attention to the difference between what a politician says and what a politician does.

Case in point, City Representative Lily Limon. Representative Limon much like Commissioner Sergio Lewis at the County, was supportive of increases in expenditures of tax payer money. But when it came time to set a tax rate to pay for the expenditures requested, she didn't want to vote for the tax rate that would do so.

Its like going to your favorite bar and ordering shots for you and all your friends but when its time to pay the tab, you don't want to fork over the feria.

- Representative Limon asked for more money for her staff. 

- Representative Limon asked for more money for discretionary spending. 

- Representative Limon asked for more money for the Shaver Park Lights, and 

-Representative Limon said she didn't want to cut a single job at the city.

I actually agree that city staff for council should get paid more. I think more discretionary money should be allocated to the city reps and I'm glad to see an elected official stand up for staff at the city.

But I don't think we need more money at Shaver because we already were fleeced for that debacle once. Other than that, I agree with Representative Limon.

My only question is, how do you pay for it without an increase in taxes or fees?

I''ll go further in-depth on how this played out in a future piece. Stay tuned...

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