Here are my comment why I voted against the 2015 budget. I hope that these issues are addressed and I can support the 2016 budget.
I can’t support this budget.
A budget is a statement of priorities and values and this proposal by the city administrator does not reflect my values or what I feel are the most important priorities for the community.
Among the priorities that I have are public safety, affordable housing, a public transit system for those most in need, and access to community amenities for those who would most benefit, particularly children. This budget fails do deliver on several key priority and instead focuses a continued subsidization of unsustainable sprawl development patterns.
I would like to articulate many of the reasons why I will not support this budget. Nearly every one of these points I have made for years. I am past the point of giving deference in hopes that next year will be better. It never is. These are serious issues that we face and they deserve serious consideration in our budget.
I would also add that we have not seen (as of Sunday evening) a revised budget, rather we can only reference changes included in this packet.
- Budget was completed without community input. – Only a cursory input role was given to the city council. Public involvement was not even permitted until the budget was being presented to the council. I suggested that the city of Rochester take a look at programs that allow for public input and provide an opportunity for public education on city priorities only to have that notion go nowhere. The little opportunity for input was provided in looking at 2015 staffing and even then the city administrator failed to fund his own priorities let alone ours.
- Funding of operations with dwindling 1 time funds. – When I see annual items like road maintenance being funded by reserve funds I get nervous. When I hear that those reserve funds are just about gone I get just plain scared. The replacement of levy funds to take the use of reserve funds is a 5% tax increase staring us in the face.
- Failure to adequately fund maintenance of existing assets. – The city of Rochester has facilities that bleed energy, parks that lack investment, a shortage of tens of thousands of street trees, and non-motorized routes that don’t get cleared in the winter. While we fail to maintain these systems we continue to subsidize new infrastructure.
- Failure to fund an adequate transit system. – We don’t currently have transit system that is effective for anyone that doesn’t work regular business hours downtown. 2nd and 3rd shift workers are not served. Workers who don’t work regular hours or downtown are not served. Kids in the vital 3-7 PM hours particularly in their lower income neighborhoods lack access the amenities. Opportunities for transit-oriented development are lost because there isn’t the transit there to support it. This means that the growing senior, low income, immigrant, and millennial communities do receive the transportation options that they prefer or need. Budget life it pretty good for middle aged affluent white males though.
- Failure to create a transit management agency. – One of the biggest failures of the last 4 years has been the continuation of a silo mentality in public transportation. Even though Mayo, the School District, and the city are all using the same vendor we don’t even hold meaningful conversations. The downtown masterplan had a key follow on step of creating a TMA and still nothing ever happens. $10 million dollars that the school district spends busing kids add no value to their education. A neighborhood circulator bus system that passes school could eliminate much of this burden on the district. We continue to run multiple hotel shuttles, employee shuttles, city buses, school buses, and other private shuttles on our most congested roads at the most congested times. While DMC will certainly help, we still need a unified vision and we are not getting that. I do not agree with continuing to ignore the findings of the RDMP and I see efficient transportation as a budget priority that is being ignored.
- Failure to secure meaningful matching funds. – Because we could not come up with $300k in matching funds we are losing out on $1.2M in matching funds to secure 3 new buses, this could greatly improve service to under served areas.
- Failure to create, account for, and fund meaningful utility funds. – One of my basic requests that have not been met is the creation of street utility and sidewalk utility funds. Even if these funds were funded by property taxes initially we could at least better understand how much we need to fund in order to maintain our current infrastructure.
- Failure to articulate a realistic capital improvement plan. – This has immediate impacts on development. Just updating 2016 and 2017 is not enough we either need the entire CIP to be reasonable OR we need to change references to adequate public infrastructure considering the CIP. This is fundamental to land development in Rochester and the system is totally broken.
- Apply state aid funds in a manner, which highlights the importance of these funds. – This shouldn’t be hard yet my request to simply fund public safety with LGA was again ignored. This would not cost the city a penny and had no council opposition and it still didn’t get done. We hear from state officials about the importance of using these funds in a manner that has broad support and yet we still don’t do it.
- Failures to account for DMC impacts to capital improvement plan and tax levy. – It would be unfair to paint this as a reason for voting against this budget however the necessary outline to do what is needed. The community and the city will need a roadmap for the length of DMC along with likely funding sources for projects throughout the remaining 19 years of DMC.
- Imposition of a fee structure that heavily subsidizes development. – While we were unable to meet police, fire, and infrastructure funding requests our budget continues to heavily subsidize new development services and infrastructure. Further this development is often done is such a way that the resulting properties require a subsidy every year there after. Only in city government would we accept losing money on 90% of our public investments and funding it with the other 10%. We simultaneously plan for terrible development patterns like putting storage in walkable urban neighborhoods or low-density auto oriented retail in prime transit oriented locations. After making those terrible decision we subsequently subsidize the development and services provided forever after. I agree with the strong towns presenter at the NLC who described our public infrastructure as a Ponzi scheme. If we continue to go down this path a day of reckoning is coming and it is going to be ugly.
City government really only does 4 things; public safety, public works, public amenities and “other.” In real per capita terms since 2001, “other” (including overhead) is small and relatively flat over time. Public amenities, many of the things that make Rochester special, is down 26%. Public Safety and Public Works, which are heavily tied to suburban sprawl, have grown by 10% but the need and unfunded liabilities have grown far faster. In fact, just costs that are negatively affected by suburban sprawl are up 27% while everything else is down by 8%. Since 2001 the total operating budget of the city is basically flat.
To best articulate how twisted our budget priorities are, just within our sewer fund we will offer the development community a subsidy of more than five million dollars in 2015. Those five million dollars could instead be shifted to address critical needs in staffing, public transit, and community services. Because we are burying enormous subsidies in flat charges it hits our poorest citizens the hardest. We know that the poorest 1/5 of US citizens pay 43% of their income for transportation. Those very same citizens that desperately need an adequate transportation system will not get it in this budget. Rather these very same families will be hit with higher fees that have the effect of subsidizing McMansions and strip malls for the benefit of the wealthy.
We really beat ourselves up in this budget process only to learn that the levy that we were fighting to reduce was going to result in inflationary level increases to homeowners and flat levels for most businesses.
I do not believe we will be successful as a community if we continue to build assets we can not maintain, subsidize development which requires ongoing subsidy throughout its lifespan, and turn our backs on the desperate needs contributing citizens who make our service economy run. Yet this is what the budget we are voting on does.