Council asked to ban budget tactics
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer
City Councilman John Henry Felix is proposing that the city change its financial policies to prevent future mayors from balancing the budget by tapping special funds, restructuring debt and relying on sales of property.
Mayor Jeremy Harris has repeatedly used those tactics to pay for city services in the billion-dollar city operating budget in recent years when property tax revenues have been in decline or stagnant.
Felix, who heads the council's Policy Committee, said he would like the changes to take effect as soon as possible. "It's essential we do this now," he said. But Felix doesn't think it's practical to try to change the rules midway through this year's budget process. "Hopefully, these measures will get the attention of the administration."
This year the City Council, often led by new Budget Committee chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, has balked at the budget techniques, complaining that they postpone payments until future years. Harris is planning to quit in July to run for governor. Felix's ideas already have Kobayashi's attention: she was the first council member to sign on in support of the fiscal changes.
No one from the Harris administration responded to Felix's proposals yesterday afternoon.
Felix said the proposals won't affect the budget that the council is currently amending. In that spending plan, Harris proposes to take $60 million from the sewer fund and $18 million from the garbage fund. The administration maintains that the transfers don't slow down the pace of construction of improvements and repairs for the city's aging sewer system.
And Harris has said repeatedly that his philosophy is that it makes more sense to leave money in taxpayers' pockets rather than sitting in special funds.
But Felix complained that the techniques are pushing the debt off to future years and will come due after Harris has left city hall. "We have to live within our means," Felix said.