Deconstructing the City Budget
Post by Brenda Konkel on 7/6/2005 10:30am
In a time of increasing pressure to protect the taxpayer from the evils of government spending partially spurred on by tax caps (2003), pledges (2004), flat out gimmicks and general feeding of the hysteria surrounding the perception of spending run rampant in City Government, it seems it is time to dig deeper in to the City Budget. This year will likely see the types of cuts proposed in 2003 and 2004 and accusations by the self-proclaimed Ã¢â‚¬Å“fiscal conservativesÃ¢â‚¬Â that Ã¢â‚¬Å“theyÃ¢â‚¬Â are spending your tax money foolishly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“TheyÃ¢â‚¬Â being all elected officials that do not give in to the gimmick/press release-of-the-day. What many of us see as investments into the community to keep our high quality of life in Madison and in many cases save us money in the long run will be spun as foolish spending by a bunch of misfits who don't know anything about budgeting.
So, you would think that asking some questions about getting better information for council members and the public would be embraced by tax-cappers. However, last night when I tried to raise these issues, my attempts were met with silence by fellow council members, followed by an offer from the mayor to discuss this Ã¢â‚¬Å“off-lineÃ¢â‚¬Â and later, ridicule and off-camera snarky comments in the hallway about micro-management from our Council President Van Rooy and others. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure how it is micro-management to ask for more detail in the $44 million police department budget when cuts in the past have been proposed for $10,000 to the Sister City Project. Surely, there must be $10,000 in the $44 million police department budget to cut as well, if you can find it. To explain further, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll have to take a little journey in to the City Budget with me.
The operating budget contains funding for the operating expenses of each department and it is broken down into 9 line items including permanent salaries, hourly employee pay, overtime pay, fringe benefits, purchased services, supplied, inter-departmental changes, debt/financing uses and capital assets. If you want more detail you can look at the permanent salary detail, minor objects and capital assets for each department.
The capital budget contains funding for major projects such as $29 million in street repairs and construction, another[url=http://www.ci.madison.wi.us/comp/2005Capbud/Adopted/CIP53o.pdf ] $7 million[/url] in other engineering projects, $14 million in TIF, $3 million for an east side police station, $2.5 million in library expansions and so on. The capital budget projects out 5 years of expenses but these projections are not budget commitments and are changed on an annual basis.
So, lets take a look at the $44 million police department budget. (Hey Ã¢â‚¬â€œ IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve already burned this bridge, I might as well just go with it.) At this point your eyes have probably glazed over, but donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worry, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all of three pages long with lots of white space. Clicking on the link is an illuminating experience. You will find that for 2005 we have two programs in the police department. Field Operations which are $39,373,690 and Support Operations which are $4,718,020. There is a one paragraph description of these services. Additionally, in this case there are 6 Ã¢â‚¬Å“budget highlightsÃ¢â‚¬Â to further inform you about changes from last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s budget. Then, on page 3 there is the break down into the 9 budget line items. Are you hungry for more information? Permanent Salary Detail will show you each of the positions in the department along with Workers Comp, Premium Pay and Vacation/Comp time accrued. This accounts for $26 million of the budget. You can also look at Minor Objects to find out that purchased services is $1.4 million, supplies are $750,000, there is $2.6 million in inter-departmental charges and $6,000 for debt/other financing. On the bottom you can see that they charge $1.1 million to grants and other departments. Finally, you can see that they are spending $18,000 in Capital Objects. If you were following along only a little, you now realize that the detail doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t add up to $44 million. WhereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d the rest of the money go? The "details" only add up to about $31 million.
Now, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get me wrong, this isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the police departmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fault. I merely used them as an example. A review of the Common Council budget only shows $140,743 of detail in permanent salary detail and minor objects. The full budget is $329,522. I can tell you that $145,968 is alder salaries, but that still leaves $42,811 of other expenses to decipher.
One final exercise to take you through. Visit the police department website and see all of the wonderful things that they do. Now that you are intimately familiar with all of the details of their budget, can you, John Q Citizen tell me how much it costs to run the Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force? Or the T.E.S.T. (Traffic Enforcement Safety Team)? Or the alcohol enforcement project? Or the Safety Education Unit? Well, you get the point.
Anyone else think that the information we get on the budget needs some tweaking? Or are my concerns merely my attempts at micro-management?