Council Candidates on Budget Increase

Brent Finnegan -- October 15th, 2008

This is part on the ongoing Q&A series with City Council candidates. We’ll be emailing candidates questions and posting answers periodically throughout the month of October. All responses are listed unedited, in the order in which they were received.

The city budget has more than doubled in the last five years. The current numbers for next year are around $212 million. Adjusted for inflation and population change, the average amount spent per city resident is growing every year. What are the causes of this increase and what (if anything) should Council do about it?

Dave Wiens: There is only a limited amount of anything Council can do about it unless the citizens of the community are willing to do with less services. This generally is not the case. Now, having said that, we have to look at one thing the city can control and that is development. Development can be very expensive. In one proposed development, approved by this Council, land was taken from a potential revenue producing zoning classification (B-2 and M-1) to a high density residential classification. So, instead of the city possibly making money on the property, the city could now have to spend $2,000,000 a year to educate the children the property could produce alone. Then there is public works , police and fire protection that the city will have to make available to this development. These types of developments must not be approved. Richard Baugh and I fought this development in the Planning Commission. Apparently approving this was not a problem for the present city council. Development is one area where the city council does have discretion and it needs to exercise this discretion in order to help keep taxes down.
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Roger Baker: The school system has been one of the biggest reasons for the budget increase. Council needs to do a zero based budget next year and require every department to justify their budgets.
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Charles Chenault: Much of this increase is the result of capital improvements and the debt service on it. The new high school, the new joint school complex and Linda Lane alone are over $130 million. The total projected costs for Stone Spring – Erickson is over $65 million. The fact of the matter is that our operating budget has remained relatively stable the past 5 years. All budgets for the past 5 years have been flat budgets meaning no budget increases for departments. Adjusted for inflation, operating costs per capita are probably decreasing.

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Richard Baugh: First, I have to say that I have been unable to find where the budget “has more than doubled in the last five years.” From what I have seen, the 03-04 budget was roughly $132,400,000. The 08-09 budget is roughly $216,100,000. This spread covers six budget years, and the increase is 63%. Obviously, that is still a large increase.

Two factors jump out at me. One is inflation. You can look at lots of indexes for this, but the ones I checked showed a roughly 19% increase from mid-year 03 to mid-year 08. That alone explains about one-third of increases.

Then you throw in our capital projects related to our infrastructure. This includes everything from roads, to water issues, to sewage treatment, to schools (of which we have just built two, and had a new high school come on line during this period).

This is not the place for a much lengthier discussion of the issue, but I hope these few facts illustrate for everyone that growth and development policies are VERY relevant to this issue. More people and more development mean more demands for services and upon our infrastructure. Part of being the good stewards of public funds that Council members should be is making sure that growth and development does not create demands on us where too much of the burden is being borne by the entire community (meaning taxes).
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Kai Degner:: Early in the campaign, I met with a councilman who made it clear the current council had done a large amount of the heavy lifting when it comes to starting and funding the next round of major new and expanded road projects. It makes sense that those large capital expenses would significantly increase the overall budget. It’s important to look at the budget with some nuance, not just at the bottom line. Operating costs, as Charlie mentions, would be a better indicator to see if government is “getting bigger” or not.
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We have not yet received responses to this question from Tracy Evans, Rodney Eagle, or J.M. Snell. We will add their responses as we receive them. A total of eight candidates (including two incumbents) are running for three available seats on City Council.

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3 Responses to “Council Candidates on Budget Increase”

  1. finnegan says:

    Added Richard Baugh’s response.

  2. JGFitzgerald says:

    Keep in mind the unspoken (because most people in office don’t understand them) reasons government costs go up. First, those things that can be made profitable are done by private enterprise for the most part. Government takes them over (banking’s a good example) when they can’t make a profit any more. Second, government activities are often those that can’t be made more productive. A teacher can only have so many students in a class, a police officer can only make one traffic stop at a time, and a fire fighter can only go to one fire at a time. Their activities can’t be converted to drive-in, replaced with an ATM, or profitably outsourced to Haliburton. The cost of government is going to go up each year because it just does. Candidates for public office should still promise to reduce the budget because they just do.

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