Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wichmer: "These brochures contain factual statements on the status of the plan,"

however, potential cuts to city services if the sales tax measure fails are details of a worst case budget scenario, they are not "facts."

"The Springfield News-Leader's" Wes Johnson covered a story titled: "City swaying tax vote, citizen claims." The citizen cited is one of the members of the group formed to oppose the police/fire pension sales tax which will be on the ballot in February.

Steven Reed's claims might just be sour grapes but he does raise one interesting point when, as the article quotes him, he says:

"The current literature supporting the one-cent sales tax has a 'what if it fails, what services will be cut.' That is clearly implying vote yes."

I don't know whether literature outlining the services which will be cut, if citizens vote no on the pension sales tax measure next month, implies voters should vote yes but, I do believe it is misleading and doesn't qualify as a "fact."

Burris outlined a worst case budget scenario on January 6 at a City Council luncheon. Burris recommended severe cuts to the budget if the sales tax measure failed and sales tax revenues decreased at a rate of 1.5 percent for fiscal year 2008-09 and another 1.5 percent in fiscal 2009-10.

Burris' recommendations are just that. The city manager makes recommendations in the budget and the City Council enters into budget discussions. We need to keep in mind, however, the tentative and/or final budgets for fiscal 2009-10 have not even been presented to the Council, as yet. The City Council has some sway and input over what budget recommendations are accepted and may modify particular areas of the budget, if they choose.

Under the City Charter, next year's fiscal budget begins on the first day of July. Section 5.8 of the City Charter indicates the city manager has to submit a final budget with an explanatory message sixty days before the beginning of the new fiscal budget year. That would mean Burris must present his final budget no later than June 1. The budget is to, "provide a complete financial plan for the budget year." It is to include reasons for any major changes from the preceding year.

Section 5.11:

"After the conclusion of such public hearing or hearings, (see City Charter Section 5.10, find it in my "links") the council may insert new items or may increase or decrease the various items of the budget, except for specified fixed expenditures. If it shall increase the total proposed expenditures, the council shall also increase the total anticipated revenue to at least equal such total proposed expenditures. The budget shall be adopted by the favorable vote of not less than a majority of the entire council, not later than the last Monday of the month preceding the first month of the budget year for which the budget is intended. Should the council take no final action on or prior to that date, the budget as submitted shall be effective without council action."

In the current fiscal year, the Council began budget discussions in March.

It needs to be kept in mind that Burris' worst case budget scenario is just that, and the Council has leeway in increasing or decreasing various budget items.

It needs to be kept in mind the City of Springfield satisfied the state's legislative mandate to make a full actuary recommended contribution at least once every five years in the last fiscal year. This year Burris is recommending the City make it again (and that may be the wise decision) but, it is not required or mandated the full actuary recommended contribution be made in the next fiscal year and the contribution is not a fixed expenditure.

There will be 9 members of City Council weighing in on the issue before the 2009-10 fiscal budget is adopted. Four of those Council members will be newly elected (in April). We can't know the outcome of those budget discussions and we don't, yet, have a tentative budget (as outlined in City Charter Section 5.7) and there has been no final budget presented to the Council at this point.

I haven't seen this "brochure," however, if, as Reed stated:

"The current literature supporting the one-cent sales tax has a 'what if it fails, what services will be cut.'"

I don't see how such details can qualify as "facts," the way City attorney Dan Wichmer is quoted as describing the brochure in the News-Leader article. Wichmer said, "These brochures contain factual statements on the status of the plan."

Burris can recommend any budget cut he'd like to recommend to the City Council in his budget "scenarios," they are still scenarios and to include them in the brochure as though the cuts will be made and it is an established fact, in my opinion, is very misleading.

It ain't gonna be over till 9 Council members sing.


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