Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Part of Balanced Don't You Understand?

Alderman Bobby Ferrell last week sponsored a resolution asking that Mayor Coody submit a balanced budget to the City Council this fall. It passed 5-3, with Ferrell, Nancy Allen, Kyle Cook, Shirley Lucas, and Lioneld Jordan voting for the balanced budget proposal. Fiscal sustainability it is called.

“It’s really very, very simple,” Ferrell said. “We don’t budget anymore than we anticipate taking in. It’s as simple as it can be. You forecast your spending not to exceed that revenue coming in, period, which means that you don’t forecast to spend reserves. To me, it’s a no-brainer. And, yes, there is an intent here for people to tighten things up.”

"That’s what we try to do," said Dan Coody, who hasn't submitted such a budget in years, who always dips into the city's reserves to fund current operations, and who then raises the sales tax to fund cost over runs like the sewer plant debacle. “I can tell you right now there will be cases where I will ask to use reserves,” said Coody's budget man Paul Becker defiantly. "I don't want to tie their hands with this type of request," Coody squawked, and when asked if his budget would exceed revenues replied, "I don’t know yet."

The Mayor implied that the only way to have a balanced budget was either to lay off employees or cut out programs. Maybe he has a limited imagination and only two management tools. There are lots of ways to cut out fat and waste in government at all levels, and it would be refreshing to see an elected official do that for a change.Coody took the easy way out last year, trying to raise property taxes instead of living within his means. When the City Council rejected his tax increase, he pouted and left the county for a vacation overseas. The Council worked on without him, and now revenues are running ahead of projections and no services were abolished.

Today, Coody's Pep Squad on the editorial board of the Northwest Arkansas Times took up his cause and demonstrated that they don't know any more about balanced budgets that does our mayor. They go on about how a balanced budget could require cutting out police and fire services and berate the Council for asking that the mayor submit a balanced budget without explaining how he should do that. They complain that the resolution "seeks to force the mayor and his administration to tighten the budget and make the cuts before the budget proposal ever reaches the City Council." That's what the executive is supposed to do, so what's the problem?

Think of it this way, boys. If Walter Hussman sent you a memo from his Board of Directors and said balance the budget at the Northwest Arkansas Times, don't you think he would expect you to do so, not spending more than you brought in? Would you whine that he didn't tell you how? Would you complain that the budget is his Board's problem and responsibility and not yours? If you submitted a budget with expenses exceeding revenue and proposed to make up the difference by dipping into WEHCO, Inc. stockholders' equity, do you think he would consider that submitting a balanced budget?

No, and neither do the City Council or the taxpayers of this city. We want responsible management of public funds, and we deserve leadership that can and will provide that. Instead, we get the blame shifting we have come to expect from this mayor.

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