Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Budget Sessions Reveal a Real Cost of Debt

One of the more poignant moments in the council budget sessions came when Tom Stevenson, director of Neighborhood Services and Code Compliance, shared bad news with us on April 29. When the department’s processor saw that the mayor had denied Mr. Stevenson’s request for an additional processor, she turned in her resignation.

This department, in just two short years with minimal staff under Mr. Stevenson’s direction, has done a phenomenal job in being proactive on compliance citations, compliance inspections and a host of activities requiring extensive paperwork follow up. The workload has been tremendous due to their diligence, and the paperwork is necessary to ensure compliance follow up, proper records for enforcement, and more.

The city has lost a good employee and jeopardized the work of a department that helps lower or make more effective the work for the police and fire departments by curbing neighborhood and business blight. Mr. Stevenson even suggested a way to fund his request and to move his staff from a 35-hour week to a 40-hour week to increase productivity more cost effectively.

The mayor also denied the police chief’s request for six more officers and the fire department’s request for more firefighters to meet minimum safety standards.

While we do not support unduly expanding bureaucracy, there are times when key service agencies of the city must add employees to address the increased workload, much of it coming from growth that does not pay for itself and legislation revised in a way that does not deliver the legislative intent of protecting neighborhoods.

Why is it so hard for the city to add personnel when it’s truly needed? Who can argue with another police officer on the street?

Part of the answer lies in the administration’s quick turn to bonding debt to resolve issues. In FY08, the budgeted principal and interest payments on a substantial amount of bonded debt was $1,837,945. The mayor’s FY09 proposed bonded debt payment is $2,085,668.

That’s a 13.5% increase of $247,728 in bonded debt payments. That’s enough to pay the full salary and benefits of three police officers or three firefighter paramedics and a full-time contractual employee to support the processor workload for NSCC.

Does a city sometimes have to bond debt? Certainly. But you know with your own family budget that debt becomes a vicious cycle when it is too easily taken on, instead of working on creative revenue structures or implementing policies that save taxpayer dollars.