Editorial: Mount Vernon budget tries to ignore true costs of services
Any financial planner will tell you that buying day-to-day necessities like groceries or gasoline on the credit card is a sure way of getting saddled with debt.
The same holds true for government. When leaders borrow for payroll, pensions or property tax settlements, as is being considered in Mount Vernon, where the mayor and council members are considering bonding $2.5 million for them, they are ignoring the true cost of city services.
Putting such payments off only compounds the city's fiscal problems.
Taxpayers understandably weren't pleased with an initially proposed 9.8 percent tax increase, but the modified $99.4 budget proposal still increases the load by 6.5 percent. That may be a bit less from the pocket in the short-run, but it punts those expenses into the future. Those bills eventually come due.
"It's not free money. You have to repay it," said Mount Vernon Comptroller Maureen Walker, who as a member of the city's Board of Estimate and Contract, last Thursday voted against the proposal. But Mayor Ernie Davis and City Council president Roberta Apuzzo approved it, which means the City Council and the public now get a say on the plan. A public hearing in scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at City Hall.
Among other challenges in the budget are too-optimistic revenues -- including a $500,00 increase in certain real estate receipts, a $240,00 increase in penalties, and thousands more in tennis permits -- cuts to the public library, a proposal to privatize streetlight maintenance, and an unrealistic expectation that workers of two city unions will agree to contribute to health care costs in upcoming contract talks.
Notwithstanding pie-in-the-sky hopes like closing the books on those contracts, the multimillion dollar bill for certioraris highlights the fact that Mount Vernon hasn't done a citywide property assessment since the end of the Civil War -- so tax settlements aren't going away. Nor are pensions, health care and other recurring costs.
Leaders should take another look at the balance sheet and be honest about what these services really cost taxpayers.