In mid-March, forced by a serious bout of pneumonia to spend quiet time at home, I was able to more closely examine budget and other documents and to reassess my advocacy for the proposed city service fee. After much calm reflection, I concluded that I personally, and council majority collectively, had made a mistake in focusing solely on the “revenue-raising” option as the preferred strategy to address the projected General Fund imbalance.
Council first learned details of the fee proposal at the Dec. 10 work session. Had council been informed of the fee idea in July when the Strategic Research Institute first polled likely voters to test their support of a city service fee, we would have had several months to examine the idea and to explore other remedies to the budget problem.
As I looked at the issue more deeply, I realized that my initial support was based on several false premises:
The idea that the only solution to the budget imbalance is to raise revenue via a city service fee is false. There are other choices, and the full Budget Committee will closely examine them if the ballot measure fails.
The notion that there is simply no money left to fund the “threatened” services is false. A partial list of places to look for re-prioritization of spending would include:
• Recent history of departmental end-of-year fund balances
• The city’s share of the Riverfront Urban Renewal District fund balance and ongoing yearly diversion of tax receipts from the General Fund
• Money currently spent on neighborhood and citywide “visioning” and “economic development” projects
• The reserve for revenue shortfall fund balance
If the measure fails, the manager, council and staff will be forced to re-examine how the city prioritizes General Fund spending and to initiate a fundamental restructuring.
If the measure passes, it will be viewed as a validation of current practices, and the manager, council and staff will see no reason to make a deep structural change. This is why I’m opposing the fee.