All in the numbers

Published 9:40 pm Thursday, April 11, 2013

By Chris Dove

It has been said that numbers do not lie. Suffolk’s 2014 budget proves that it is, indeed, not the numbers that lie.

During last month’s town hall meeting, the city’s budget director displayed a pie chart showing projected total revenues of $299 million. The chart showed 47 percent of the revenue comes from local taxes. But this month, before City Council, the budget director used the same pie chart to show total revenues of $514 million, with local tax revenues up $101 million between last month and this one. How is the city nearly doubling local tax revenues with just a 6-cent increase in property taxes? The budget director is definitely not telling the whole story on where the money is coming from.

Email newsletter signup

Revenues are not the only example of the city misrepresenting the facts. Last month the budget director used a pie chart showing total expenditures of $299 million, and then used the same chart again this month, except that it showed expenditures of $514 million.

The chart showed 50 percent of expenditures going to education. Looking at the Schools Fund budget, total revenues and expenditures are $144 million. Half of $514 million is not $144 million. If we include the extra $1 million budgeted for school capital projects, the total education budget still does not come close to half of the total budget expenditures.

Armed with the real numbers, I went to the last City Council meeting. I asked all Council members to comment on my findings. Our city’s leaders failed to respond. Mayor Linda Johnson responded to another speaker saying, in effect, we have to rush the budget approval process and not take time to modify the city manager’s budget or the city manager’s budget will automatically be approved. I personally cannot see how rubber-stamping the budget is any different than having it automatically approved.

My councilman, Jeff Gardy, did the Mayor one better. Instead of clarify the issue so the citizens of Suffolk could hear and understand, he responded that he has a policy of not discussing public issues in a public forum. Councilman Gardy prefers to inform his constituency one at a time and only if they ask. I wonder what he thinks televised council meetings are for?

The numbers do not lie. The same cannot be said about our city government. That is the real source of my disagreement with the city. Instead of being open and transparent with their decisions they use misrepresentation and deception.

During last year’s budget, council members led the citizens to believe there would be no astronomical pay raises for senior city employees. But after the election, the same council members passed large pay raises for these employees. This year, they are misrepresenting the sources of revenue, misrepresenting the proportion of expenditures that go to education, and actually stating that they will not address these inconsistencies in a public forum.

This year’s budget revenues are $514 million and education expenditures are $144 million. If 50 percent of the budget expenditures are for education, why aren’t we budgeting $257 million to teach our children?

Chris Dove lives in Suffolk. Email him at