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The city’s financial picture looks grim

It’s ugly.

A draft of the fiscal 2012 budget, which begins in July, shows a projected shortfall of at least $118 million. For fiscal 2012 through fiscal 2015, the shortfall is an estimated $542 million.

[…]

Several City Council members sharply criticized the administration in an acrimonious budget meeting last week in which many of the stark details were revealed, particularly the amount of time Parker spent on updating the city’s historic preservation ordinance in the wake of the financial challenges.

Mayor Pro Tem Anne Clutterbuck, who chairs council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, said council members are prepared to make tough decisions, but they need time to weigh the various austerity measures Parker is planning.

“It is the sincere desire of council to see the administration bring something forward so we can act on it,” she said.

Much of the frustration was over a $9 million increase in expenses and the fact that efforts to cut the budget through departmental consolidations or better management of the city’s fleet have not yet been realized.

“The feeling is, we’re going in the wrong direction,” Clutterbuck said.

The city has reeled for several years as revenues from sales and property taxes have declined, even exceeding worst case scenarios.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that sales tax revenues are finally bouncing back. Just not fast enough to really help much.

Last month’s collections of $1.6 billion, which come from sales in September, were up 6.6 percent compared with October 2009, Comptroller Susan Combs said Wednesday.

But September 2009 was near the bottom of the 14-month descent in sales tax revenue, so the strong uptick doesn’t necessarily indicate a robust turnaround is afoot.

[…]

Sales taxes this year have been higher than year-ago numbers for seven months in a row, Combs said.

But while collections for the current fiscal year might be tracking Combs’ original projection, they haven’t made up any ground for last year.

There’s clearly a lot of work to be done here. As the story notes, various cost-saving and revenue-generating measures built into this year’s city budget have not been fulfilled yet; doing them needs to be a high priority. I know this is going to go over like the proverbial skunk at the garden party, but I really believe the property tax rate cuts of recent years need to be revisited. But to a large degree, the problems are the result of the economy. When that gets going again, the forecast will be a lot less gloomy. The question is what we have to do to hang on until then, and for how long.

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2 Comments

  1. robert kane says:

    since I became involved, I have been saying the city is in worse financial shape than anyone has been willing to admit (Texas pride?). No one wants to hear bad news, I was always realistic at any forums that I spoke at about how things were in Houston, (Police, crime, flooding/drainage, recycling and finances) but everyone else ignored or kept saying “we’re doing better than the rest of the country”.

    I have also said that if things continue they way they are (White should have seen this coming but decided to watch it from his rear view mirror) the city WILL declare bankruptcy before 2021, looks like it may have to be sooner than that!

    I’ve also said Miami will be the 1st (i think they did a few decades ago) and look at this article:
    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/features/view/feature/Could-American-Cities-Start-Declaring-Bankruptcy-1326

  2. […] not just the city or the state. Maybe this will finally force the county to get serious about reducing the inmate […]