Jack is correct. I have never presented the budget to the neighborhood groups before presenting to the City Council. My visits with the groups, often at their request, is to outline the challenges and opportunities that the City is facing as the budget is being prepared. I’ve always believed that information is crucial for effective citizen participation and understanding of local government. And, I’m not sure how many people come to speak at the budget meetings as a result of my neighborhood visits. I think the record will show few if any.
Councilor Lorrey is correct that Dave Fenton, a longtime Assistant City Solicitor who is very knowledgeable on municipal law, did opine that the motion had some Plan E issues. I’ll leave the opining to the lawyers though.
On Joe’s comments, I agree that there must be a larger strategy. Taxation vs community needs vs fiscal stability…there’s a lot in the mix. Along those lines, I’m very proud of where the City has gone over the past 5 years. In 2006, the City was placed on a DOR watch list that could have led to state involvement and oversight of the City’s finances. The City bond rating was downgraded and given a negative outlook. Both are indicators of fiscal distress that have real ramifications to our costs and potential for development investment. Since the, in spite of the worst economy in about 80 years, we are in better fiscal shape. A major part of that economic downturn was massive state aid cuts that have yet to be restored. The administration should be questioned and challenged on its budget and financial management. However, there should also be some acknowledgement that our fiscal success of the past five years was not accidental. The strategy pursued by the administration and City Council(s) has largely worked.
As for property taxes, the loss of state aid, flat local receipts, to-date largely uncontrollable health and retirement costs have largely been factors in the necessity for the 2.5% per year increases. These issues seem largely forgotten. On the 2.5% increase, it has not been an automatic increase. It is the state standard for maximum increase. In reality, we could increase much more since we are so far below the legal levy cap. We have used it as a cap during the period of stress caused the factors outlined above. This planned strategy is different from a more seat of the pants strategy that has been used in the past in Lowell and elsewhere.
Finally, and I obviously can’t stress this enough, the FY13 budget is still very much a work in progress. We are shooting for a low, if any, tax increase. However, more information is needed. I refuse to proclaim “no tax increase” for political posturing and then have to cut services halfway through the year, or have to factor in a tax increase in November when the information is processed by the state. We got good news this week on the House budget however that would only bring us back to last years aid number plus it still needs consideration by the Senate and the Governor. So, we’ll see where that ends up. Other issues do look to be breaking our way and we are clearly benefitting from cost saving strategies that have been implemented over the past few years.
Again, thanks for the forum to provide this viewpoint and information.