We meant to post this yesterday but we kicked it down the road. Or, we punted. Any ubiquitous phrase will do.
The four mayoral candidates reacted to the proposed 9.3% tax hike unveiled by Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia. One even swooned. The reactions are a fascinating study.
First, however, it should be made clear that the tax hike was not a surprise to anyone on the City Council. The hike is being used to cover $1.9 million in pension fund costs owed to the State. The money was due last year and we deferred payment until this year under the Wimpy Doctrine of "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." Now, they'll break our legs if we don't pay.
Last year, the Council asked the Mayor to have department heads submit department budgets with a 3% cut. This would have resulted in over twenty-five layoffs, including eight in the TPD and ten in the Fire Department. Obviously, these cuts were not adopted. All of this was in hopes of addressing what we face today. The Record covered the story back in November, 2014.
So, a significant hike was inevitable, this year or last year. Everyone knew it. After the Tutunjian Administration ($12,000,000 over seven years) looted the reserve fund to avoid large tax increases, citizens are finally realizing that shit costs money and costs go up. Couple that with the fact that 86% of the budget is spent immediately for salaries, pensions, benefits and debt service, and you know taxes will almost always go up (unless you dip into the rainy day fund, now depleted to $600,000). So, Lou got caught holding the bag.
So, what do the candidates have to say:
Wiltshire, who is City Council president, said he did not see how the council could approve the increase. “[This tax increase] is terrible and it’s the result of kicking the can down the road and playing politics with Troy’s government,” said Wiltshire, a Democrat running on the Working Families Party line.
Wiltshire criticized the Industrial Development Agency for “too many giveaways” and the current administration for not filling the position of city auditor.
“For me, we need to cut on our expenditures in areas we have control over,” said Wiltshire, identifying energy conservation as one area of possible improvement.
Well, either Wiltshire helped to kick the can down the road or he didn't know the can was being kicked down the road. Either way he's being disingenuous. As for not voting for it, Wiltshire may or may not know that the proposed budget will go into effect if the Council doesn't vote for it (or vote a revised budget). Not showing will not cut it this year.
Wiltshire offered no examples of how 'playing politics' or the IDA resulted in the proposed tax hike. We know, and so does Wiltshire, why the money is needed. Apparently, the reporter did not ask the follow up question. Wiltshire, in the past, has demonstrated an astounding ignorance of the IDA and PILOT programs. Although, he recently told the Reddit Community that he would work with the IDA to keep Troy's economic engine motoring.
The Tutunjian Administration understood the benefits of the IDA when it vigorously pushed tax breaks to bring Dinosaur-Bar-B-Que to Troy. The total package was over $600,000. This to a company whose majority owner is a hedge fund controlled by multi-zillionaire George Soros.
Now to Jim Gordon, the other candidate currently on the Council:
“This year, possible, the mayor presented a more realistic budget, unlike in past years when he presented a smoke-in-mirrors budget,” said Gordon. He said the tax hike, requiring council approval, punted the ball to the city council.
“Last year they kicked the can down the road and this year they punt the ball,” said Gordon.
Apparently, Gordon was not on the Council last year. And, the Charter actually punts the ball to the Council. That's the process. Gordon may not know that.
Under Section 70 of the Charter, the City Council has the authority to recommend changes to the proposed budget. Did either Gordon or Wiltshire make specific recommendations last year that might have lessened the looming tax hike? Gordon, like Wiltshire, buried his head in the sand for an entire year. Now, the have sandy heads. We don't have to tell you what that means.
The silver lining? We get to see two mayoral candidates in action as they roll up their sleeves and trudge through the budget quagmire. We can hear what they would do and what cuts they recommend. We get to see their leadership skills; Not just talk. Here, they can act. If they can provide Lou with enough cuts to lower the proposed tax increase 4-5% then they'll be heroes.
The candidates not currently in government get a free pass on this. They can say what they want, sound wise, self-righteous, conciliatory, etc. There is not anything they could have done in the past few years, or ever, to prevent the large tax increase.
Madden, the executive director of the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, said hopefully, the council will engage in the process this year and come up with some ideas. “But I also know if there were any easy fixes, the mayor wouldn’t have proposed a 9.3 percent increase,” he said.
Madden asked why the council had not addressed the anticipated hole in the 2016 budget from a deferred payment in 2015. “Where’s the council been on this question?”
He advocates for changes in the budgeting process, like forecasting beyond 12 months.
“We’re not doing the hard work that we need to be doing, we’re not acting strategically, we’re kicking the can down the road year after year,” he said.
Jack Cox, Jr., who is running as an independent candidate on the Revolutionary Party line, said he was glad he was not on the City Council, like Gordon and Wiltshire, “because I don’t have to vote on this budget.”
With a 3.8 percent tax increase in 2015, the city taxes will increase about 13 percent in two years, said Cox.
The tax hike, he said, “clearly shows that the current administration, including Rodney and Jim Gordon, have a lack of understanding on how to manage money.
“At the end of the day, these people are making deals and doing things with the understanding that its others peoples money and there’s no end to the revenue stream and that’s public sector thinking,” said Cox. “We need private sector influence.”
With some deft maneuvering, the tax hike will be less. Perhaps 6%. Not great but better than what we face now. Lets watch and see what they do. If the men who would be mayor can't straighten this out, there's no choice but Madden.
Whether it's settling suits caused by the previous administration or making up for their raid on the reserve fund, we will be cleaning up Tutunjian's mess for years.