The meeting started out with councilman Sam Talarico removing himself from the recently formed Government Reform Committee to which he had been appointed. His reasons for doing so were to spend more time with his kids and because he felt there were too many government insiders already on the committee. He said he wanted to give some of the local business people that are not so closely tied to government a chance to serve. I thought Sam made a great decision on this and he should be commended for trying to get more people involved with the various boards and commissions.
Next the council began voting on budget cuts and the only one that brought any real discussion was the plan to cut a half-time animal control dispatcher. The director of animal care and control, Belinda Lewis, adamantly defended the position and said it was critical to continue to provide necessary services to the city. Councilman Crawford brought up the point that the AC&C budget is going up faster than every other part of the city - it was $990k in 1997 and now it's $2.5 Million this year. Lewis countered by saying that they are dealing with annexation and that they have revenue that can offset the budget increases. She said that if one were to take into account this revenue then their budget probably hasn't increased more than the other departments.
I found this difficult to believe so I decided to do some math during the meeting to fact-check that statement. Without considering their revenue the AC&C budget has increased by 8.75% per year. According to Lewis their recent revenue offsets were $541k so that would put their revenue-adjusted average budget increase at 6.4% per year. This is likely much higher than other city departments. However, Lewis pointed out that they have already instituted a very effective volunteer program that racks up 900 hours/month and that they haven't added a single employee since 1995. That left me wondering where all the budget increases were going? In the end, Lewis got what she wanted as the council voted 6-3 not to cut the dispatcher position.
The last item discussed was councilmen Crawford and Pape's proposal to freeze the property tax levy next year which would effectively reduce everyone's property tax bill. City controller Pat Roller argued against this proposal saying that it would eliminate money that had already been earmarked to pay down the city's Police and Fire Pension debt. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I fully agree with the controller and I think the council went too far with their tax cut. I think the council did a great job cutting spending - to the tune of $1.3 Million - and I have no problem cutting that exact amount in taxes. But they went above and beyond that and their tax cut will be funded by money that was going to be used to pay down the mountainous amount of debt the city has accumulated. While citizens might be happy to see their tax bill go down even more than it would have, they need to remember that the council simply kicked the can down the road and those debts will have to be paid at some point.
Mike Sylvester brought up a great point about this during public comments. His point was that the city should be placing money that is earmarked to pay off our Police and Fire Pension debt into a separate account and not into the general fund. It's a great idea and I think the council should consider it at the next meeting.
Finally, after several of us said our peace during public comments, councilman Hayhurst uncharacteristically lashed out at the citizens who were at the meeting and voiced their opinion. He reminded us that he speaks with many constituents and takes into account everyone's opinion before deciding how to vote. He said it's very difficult for councilmembers to sit up there and listen to citizens make fringe comments using facts that may or may not be true. He also reminded us that he has all the available information on any given issue and is more knowledgeable about the issues than we are. I'm not sure if Hayhurst simply misspoke or if he really believes that he is vastly more informed than the rest of us lowly citizens. I must say that I was taken aback by his rant and I think it was completely out of line. He came across as someone who has nothing but contempt for the citizens who go to the meetings and voice their opinion. I tivo'd the meeting last night and as long as it didn't run past 9pm (I don't think it did) I will post video of his comments later this evening so readers can view it for themselves...