Sunday, September 30, 2007

It Depends on What the Definition of Debacle Is

When someone asked Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody about the "sewer debacle," he bristled at the term and insisted that being more than $70 million over budget and three years behind schedule was only a "hiccup." The city is facing a few more potential hiccups next year with a proposed S35.5 million budget, which is about $2 million above expected revenue.

To make up the projected deficit, Mayor Coody is asking the city council to approve an increase in property taxes and shifting 10% of the city sales tax revenue from capital projects to general operations. That would cover the bottom line, but it will have consequences that need to be explained and justified. The mayor should be very specific about what he would fund and which capital projects he plans to cut if the funds are shifted. Only then can residents decide whether that is a wise policy. One thing we know is that the administration has already recommended cutting out any cost of living salary adjustment for city employees; that is the first indication of what their priorities are not.

The options for cost savings are limited, because 60% of the city budget goes for fire and police protection. Mayor Coody and the City Council need to look closely at every expenditure and decide what can be eliminated when the fat is trimmed. Perhaps they could do without a few of those enormous consulting contracts awarded to out-of-state corporations? Perhaps they could put the airport on a cash basis or lease it to a private concern? Perhaps they could take bids on the ambulance service instead of buying a pig in an intergovernmental no-bid poke? Perhaps they could stop spending money to improve private lakes used exclusively by members of the property owners association? Perhaps they could explain why they sink so much of our tax money into the Chamber's energy hog that is called Lights of the Ozarks? Is that really an essential city responsibility worth a tax increase?

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