Sunday, July 1, 2007

Inside Ann Arbor's Budget

Have you ever wondered why your taxes are so high but the city is always short of funds?
Here are the top 3 reasons:
1. The City moves money by charging $8,500 per employee for IT services.
2. There's also $9.5 million in the fiscal year 2009 budget for the proposed civic center. High water bills and selling off of public property are used to finance this.
3. Parks funds are raided.
more ...


R said...

Karen Sidney should find out how much the City Attorney's office charges individual departments for "services rendered".

I wonder what the hourly charges are for Attorney's office charges for "billable hours" for it's services to other city departments? Are they in line with what private attorneys charge?

Specifically, what was charged to the Building Department, now the Planning and Development Services unit for representation on code enforcement cases for Housing and Building? How much per hour? For what services? What was the conviction rate? Were court fines levied and recovered? What was the money used for in the Attorney's office?

Where did the money go?

Citizens' News Service said...

I don't know what the city attorney charges other departments, but I do know that increases to the city attorney's budget have exceeded inflation.

The 2008 budget gives the city attorney's budget an 8% increase, even though the total general fund budget increased by less than 3%. It's not clear what the public gets in return for these generous increases.

The city attorney did advise council that it took only 6 votes, rather than 8, to spend $1 million on a new city hall design.

The city attorney also appears to have advised settling with the Glen-Ann developer despite a very strong ruling from the state upholding the decision of the city's Historic District Commission. Council had approved the Glen-Ann project but the Historic District Commission rejected it because the 10 story building was out of character with the single family residential historic district. The settlement allows a 9 story building.

R said...

It makes me wonder if a department head "goes along to get along" that their budgets are either increased or "protected" from cuts that affect other departments.

It appears to me that city departments like Planning and Development, who actually bring in fees for service are being used to increase budgets of other city departments like the Attorney's office.

Isn't the A2 Utilities described as an "enterprise" department and allowed to make a profit, over and above what their actual costs are?

If so, where does the "profit" go? and if it does make a "profit" why are our sewer and water rates being increased more than the cost of inflation? Could some of this money for increases being siphoned off to support other departments?

Does the Human Resources department charge other city departments for "services rendered"? Or is it one of those city departments who have seen increases beyond inflation with support from other departments?

Citizens' News Service said...

City finances are confusing because of the proliferation of accounting devices that link bureaucratic spending priorities to funding. While it is appropriate to charge the water and sewer funds a municipal service charge for the costs of city HR, payroll and other services, it can be tempting to inflate these charges to get money for things that have nothing to do with providing water and sewer services, such as a new police/courts building. Because costs are never in the same place from year to year, it becomes impossible to determine if a department is doing more for less or less for more. The result is that the public is shut out of meaningful participation in the budget process because they have no way of knowing what is really going on.

The first step to changing this situation is to get council members who will push the city administrator for better financial disclosure. For example, city employees have on line access to city revenue and expense reports as well as the complete budget reports. The public should have access to these reports. While not everyone is a financial guru, there are lots of residents who are familiar with large budgets through their jobs and could offer valuable input on ways to make the city budget more responsive to the needs of residents.