Common Council Charade: "Running Things Like a Business" (Part 2)

If you at least want to claim to run things like a business, then you should at least pretend — as is often the case in business — that you follow a process of due diligence in your business decisions.

What the Council is doing however — like they have proven with most fiscal decisions of any significance– is totally disengaging from any due diligence whatsoever.

A framework for a business case involving the city administering its own ambulance service with a potential for 6-figure revenues has been brought forth. While the issues are many and the business case is not complete, the Council needs to at a minimum perform due diligence in light of its significance to the budget and ultimately the tax burden on city residents.

I’d argue that it is not good enough — indeed it is fiscal mismanagement — to not even perform a thorough and careful due diligence of this issue. While the Council invokes the Charter, it is more than clear that once again they are not following the very Charter they claim to support by misapplying the requirements of what does and what does not require a referendum.

In other words, the Council should still proceed with due diligence around the business case regardless of the Charter question. The business case underlying this is simple:

Since 2004 when the Charter restriction was implemented, the city has lost potential revenue in the 6 figure range year-over-year. Let’s take a conservative approach and say that $500k per year in revenue is best-case and if we could get 50% — $250K per year– that might be realistic. If I apply $250K per year over 11 years , I estimate that the Charter restriction conservatively cost city taxpayers $2.75 million over that time in lost revenue. Using the best-case figure, I get $5.5 million over that time.

I think if the voting public realized the business case here, the views on the Charter provision would shift. It’s laughable that the same voices who constantly clamor for lower taxes and the pressing burden of taxes wholly foregoes such a revenue stream over the past decade and apparently into the next decade. That is why the Council killing off any due diligence while hiding the behind the Charter is foolish and certainly not “running things like a business”. They owe it to taxpayers to figure out if this makes sense or not– voters may very well reconsider if such a move lowers taxes or at least avoids sizable cuts in service.  You just don’t toss off the issue as a single budget cycle issue.

Let me put it bluntly using the published figures: do you think voters might reconsider the issue if it actually meant a 12.9% tax increase without the projected revenue? (figure cited by Controller Agresta assuming no tax cap in place) Might a double digit tax increase not persuade a few voters?

Let me be a bit cynical here in talking about cuts versus revenues. It’s my belief that there is an ideology that values cutting above growing, that values risk-avoidance to risk-taking. That ideology is literally killing — and killed– the city. That is the default, favored, desired ideology above all others; that is why you see zero investment in the city.

It’s like trying to landscape your property by cutting everything down and not planting a single seed. Then in the summer, constantly begrudging your neighbors for their well landscaped lawns because they had a bit of sense to understand that you need to plant things in order to grow things. You just can’t kill weeds and expect something else to grow in its place.

Without some offset in revenue, I can predict where the cuts will be applied: economic development, Corporation Counsel, recreation. The impacts from foregoing due diligence on this issue means lower growth in the future and reduced quality of life. Cutting the Corp Counsel merely allows the Council to opine on what they would like the law to be versus what it actually is.

This issue presents many things to the public; what it does not present is “running things like a business.” Or any semblance of fiscal management and governance.

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