Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thompson Shuts Down the Smoke Machine

Doug Thompson’s column in today’s Morning News is a masterful critique of the rhetorical and management style of Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody. It cuts to the chase and asks all the right questions about the city’s current budget problems and the proposed solutions.

These days, he notes, Mayor Coody “says the city depends too much on the sales tax. One year and one month ago, the mayor was begging voters to double the city sales tax. Without it, we faced severe sewer rate increases to pay for $62 million in cost overruns on a $120 million sewer project…The solution was a sales tax increase. We had to have one immediately.” Now, with sales tax collections down and a $2 million deficit, “The solution the mayor's proposing is a tax increase, a property tax increase the city council 'has' to pass before Nov. 1…The biggest difference between this year and last year is we've used up one tax and are moving on to another.” So much for rhetorical and logical consistency.

The mayor’s secretive management approach, Thompson says, also reveals two problems and certain consequences. Instead of consistently presenting last minute surprises and demanding immediate action, Thompson says he likes Alderman Kyle Cook’s proposal to temporarily reallocate some of the existing tax revenue from capital to operations and see what shakes out. “They might even make some cuts, cuts they can't make now because a detailed budget isn't ready. Who knows? It might start a new tradition of weighing the city's budget needs before the last minute…This would also mean the council would make a decision instead of rubber-stamping a city administration recommendation before they have all the facts.”

The Coody administration’s response to the budget shortfall, Thompson insightfully recognizes, “so far has been to blame Rogers for taking 'our' revenue away. We might as well blame Rogers for having a lower nonsense tolerance too…Suppose Rogers had a cost overrun of more than 50 percent or more on a sewer project and didn't tell anybody about it until drastic action was needed. The mayor of Rogers would be stripped naked at the next council meeting and ridden out of town on a rail…A $2 million shortfall in the city budget might only get him a light flogging.”

Thompson concludes, “If we're not going to 'sell out' to business for the sake of keeping revenue, then we'd better get a grip on city finance and stop lurching from crisis to crisis.” Since the Council seldom gets the bad news or a detailed budget proposal in time to rationally consider either budget cuts or revenue needs, Alderman Cook and his colleagues would do well to take Thompson’s advice seriously, act responsibly, and get a firm grip on city finances and spending. Otherwise, Mayor Coody will be half-way justified when he blames them for the problems.

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