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Vindictive budgeting

We ended last week talking about cutting the city budget.

As you recall, on Wednesday, city council voted 4-3 to direct the city manager to prepare a budget reflecting a 12-cent reduction in the mill rate. The budget is expected to be ready for this Wednesday’s regular city council meeting.

This is not a “budget cut,” but a smaller increase in the budget than the city manager originally wanted. It’s still about a 5 percent increase over the present year’s spending levels.

What it represents to that person in the house and land assessed in 2005 at $250,000, is a 13.5 percent increase in his or her real estate taxes, or $358 (A $30 increase in his or monthly mortgage).

In my last post, I suggested that the city manager look at cutting personnel instead of services to reach the 12-cent reduction requested by council. We looked at the number of employees in that post. Today, let’s take a look at the costs associated with those employees.

At 99 cents per one hundred of assessed value, the tax rate recommended by the city manager in his original budget, real estate taxes account for $74.25 million (if, as I was told by the director of finance, 1 cent on the rate represents $750,000 in revenue.)

Personnel costs in the manager’s original budget total $65,322,453, or 88 percent of the entire amount generated by real estate taxes. In effect, personnel costs represent 87 cents of the originally proposed 99 cent tax rate. That’s fairly significant, I would say.

Does it not make sense that if you were looking to cut the budget, you would look at personnel first?

During the tax rate session last week, the only reductions in personnel I heard discussed were deferring a position in planning, one in public works and two in parks and recreation.

The average city employee in Suffolk costs the taxpayers $54,571.81 in personnel costs, $65,322,453 (personnel costs) divided by 1,079 (total city employment). I assume the personnel costs listed in the budget include salary, health insurance and retirement benefits. So eliminating or “deferring” four positions would save the taxpayers about$218,287, or 29 percent of 1 penny on the tax rate.

Council directed the city manager to shave five cents off the 99 cent tax rate he proposed, or $3.75 million. Logic demands that 88 percent of that, $3.3 million, come from personnel cuts, not cuts to services to citizens.

The budget the city manager presents on Wednesday should have about 60 fewer employees in it than the one he originally proposed. That would leave about $450,000 to cut in services.

However, council members, for some reason unbeknownst to me (Everything, everything should be on the table, including education) told him not to touch public safety. Non-public safety employees represent $34,513,045, or 47 percent of the total generated by real estate taxes. So if the manager does not touch public safety employment, he needs to cut city employment rolls by 32. $1.987 million to cut from services.

What do you think the odds of that happening are? About the same as me being elected pope.

No, what we will likely see is a budget that reflects draconian and hurtful cuts in services to citizens, leaving employment virtually untouched. And what’s more, expect it to be approved by a 4-3 vote.

This would be a vote out of pure spite and I hope the new council corrects it.