Little Rock's budget plan — tax and spend | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Little Rock's budget plan — tax and spend

Posted By on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 at 6:15 AM

Kathy Wellls provides a detailed report on last night's presentation of the proposed 2011 Little Rock budget ($134 million) by City Manager Bruce Moore.

It balances by relying on carryover funds, tapping reserves and a windfall from a bond refinance; by keeping 200 positions open, and other stopgap sorts of measures. Union employees were promised a 4 percent raise no matter what this year after takebacks last year and so ALL employees, including highly paid administrators, are getting a 4 percent raise next year. Not many private businesses would build a 4 percent ongoing expense increase into a budget with expenses $5 million greater than regular revenue sources. By way of comparison: The state is looking at a balanced budget on current income with pay raises projected at 1.8 percent. There's a serious question whether all employees should get 4 percent.

The idea of course is to create a built-in demand so unsupportable by existing revenue that taxpayers will approve a sales tax increase. That will depend, I guess, on what taxpayers think of city services and city money stewardship. Thanks Little Rock National Airport, for a solid example of city budgetary concern. And thanks, too, for the city's historic resistance to public accountability. And there's also this:

No mention in Kathy's report of whether the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce will keep its $200,000 city taxpayer subsidy in a year when the city is essentially borrowing to maintain services at existing levels. But if I know Mayor Stodola, (beneficiary of chamber financial support and junket companion of the chamber) I know that will be the last item cut. It's vital, in Stodola's view, to subsidize an organization that fights the interest of working people in favor of corporate profits and that campaigns against the local school district.

UPDATE: Now I see taxpayer subsidy of the anti-environment, anti-union, anti-universal health care (except when taxpayers subsidize THEIR employees blue-ribbon health coverage) and unaccountable Chamber of Commerce WILL continue. Moore repeated the gibberish Stodola has told me. Recent job announcements prove the worth of the investment, he claims. Since we don't know how the money is spent, it's hard to see how Stodola or Moore can make such assertions. Correlation is not causation. Industrial locations have far more to do with labor, natural resources, transportation, costs, location, taxes and all the rest than chamber of commerce schmoozing. If the city wants a liaison to development efforts, it should put that person on payroll —as it once did at far less cost — and have their work accountable. Chambers have long done this sort of work on members' contributions and that's how it should continue. If governments are to subsidize them, as is happening all over Arkansas, they should be fully accountable. And a meritorious lawsuit awaits on whether this sham "services contract" is constitutional. And this final thought: If the economic development effort has been so great, why are revenues in the toilet and times here so hard?

Bruce Moore, despite promises to provide this budget presentation in response to an Arkansas Times FOI request yesterday afternoon never provided it. It is in the same wastebasket with my repeated requests for details on chamber spending of city tax doillars.

UPDATE: The Democrat-Gazette this morning reported that North Little Rock will respond to an uptick in tax revenue with a modest 1 percent bonus for all city employees, who haven't received a raise in more than two years. Dare I say that Commodore Hays sounds more prudent than leaders in South North Little Rock? He might give up his own $900-plus as a gesture of solidarity with those on the lower end of the spectrum, however. Also City Attorney Jason Carter, who hardly deserves a bonus for his TIF legal work and other affronts to the public interest.

By Kathy Wells
for Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods

City Mgr. Bruce Moore presented the LR Board of Directors with the legally-required balanced budget for 2011 last night, relying on $1.5 million from refunding a solid-waste bond to provide the sum stagnant revenues failed to supply city officials. Also keeping Little Rock finances positive were a $1 million savings by keeping 200 posts vacant; a $1 million carryover in sales taxes from the year-end; and a $300,000 one-time transfer from Fleet Services to the General Fund.

Moore, Mayor Mark Stodola and other directors admonished peers and the public that there would be no similar balancing of the 2012 budget from these sources. They began to lay out the case for a sales-tax increase in the new year.

Moore proposed a 2011 General Fund budget totaling $134,371,418, an increase of 1.39 percent over this year's budget. All programs and functions will essentially continue at this year's levels.

Public hearings on the proposal will be held at:
6 p.m. Mon. Nov. 29, Southwest Community Center
5 p.m. Tues. Nov. 30, Dunbar Community Center
7 p.m. Tues. Nov. 30, Northwest Police Substation

Moore said he expected the Board to vote upon the proposed budget on Dec. 7.

Previously, he told the Coalition the budget proposal, and revisions, would be posted in a more timely manner on the city website than last year. There's no word on when these numbers will appear.

Notable items in the budget include:
* a raise of 4 percent for all employees;
* estimated revenues before transfers of $129 million; the transfers and carryovers increased the total to the $134.4 million final total;
* another reduction in debt, since a short-term loan will not be procured next year, putting police cars further behind in replacement, which reduced the General Fund by $1.3 million;
* savings from keeping positions vacant at $5.5 million, which is $556,707 more than this year;
* no increased cost for health care in the city plan;
* an additional subsidy for CATA, the bus service, totaling $710,698, to provide for increased fuel costs;
* PIT funding was put at $2.5 million - the final sum for the 2010 budget;
* An increase in the Zoo budget of $254,625 was linked to the opening of the Penguin Exhibit and a membership drive; the budget includes a subsidy from the General Fund of $1.7 million;
* The Golf fund revenues include a General-Fund subsidy of a $1 million;
* The Jim Dailey Fitness & Aquatics Ctr. revenues include General-Fund transfers of $351,286; this budget will restore operations to 7 days a week, and return to regular summer pool hours;
* The River Market continued to get a subsidy of $250,000; and
* The parking enforcement line of the Street fund continued to get $194,071 subsidy.

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