City Council President Carmella Mantello offered her views Thursday night on a number of issues in the legislative response to the State of the City address. The Times Union has the story. If there is a bigger erection killer than the State of the City Address its the legislative response. We're not even sure there is such a thing. It sounds like something Mantello made up.
"Working with the mayor, the council will end fantasy budgeting and restore reasonable and realistic budgeting through a corrective action plan," Mantello said.
Mantello went on to outline goals that nip at the edge of the problem but offer no real solutions.
Hit the lights, grab a juice box (which doesn't mean what we thought it meant) and we'll turn on the overhead projector.
- Mantello said the council will consider a local law to require a two-thirds vote to tap the water fund for money.
Why? Why allow it at all? Then again, who cares? There's one pot of money. It is compartmentalized in a bizarre Byzantine labyrinth of bureaucracy but its our money. You can allow or prohibit shifting it around but it does not increase the tax base. Don't forget though, when the new Charter hits, any tapping of the water fund will require the vote of 4.6 council members.
-The council also will review the Troy Industrial Development Authority, Local Development Corp....
The IDA is a separate legal entity that self funds through fees. It does not cost the city money. Troy's PILOTS, unlike some other municipalities, do not shrink the tax base. Some may not expand it, but they do not cost the City money. We are not fans of all the local and state authorities. There are far too many. They do not have to be responsive to the voters in the same way as State agencies. But, there is little to no savings here. Wiltshire liked to blame these entities and now McGrath, who has displayed complete ignorance about the IDA, wants it as a scapegoat. They will be disappointed.
-"We must look to streamline and consolidate city government, and through this method reduce our expenditures and non-essential and discretionary areas. This would include such expenditures as overtime, not filling vacancies, and other discretionary types of spending," Mantello said in her speech.
Yes, there are modest savings to be found here. If you really try, you can probably find $500,000 to cut without effecting services to any noticeable degree. In the end, weak tea. Why? It's a one pump chump.
- A special committee will be formed to study relocating City Hall to the heart of downtown, Mantello said."I believe that the cost of renting city hall space is very expensive and leaves us with nothing in return. Rather, the people of Troy should own their own city hall and be proud of this facility," she said.
Yes, too bad we didn't have a city hall in the heart of downtown, rather than in the pancreas. We had one. It was butt ugly, but it was structurally sound. It was torn down on New Year's Eve without appropriate asbestos abatement measures. And before you talk about Harry's great trade for the Verizon Building, he was legally prohibited from making that deal based on the status of a portion of the City Hall site being State property. It's complicated. You won't understand and even if you did, you'd deny the facts. Like Harry. On the bright side, we love us some special committee action.
So, why the skepticism? The problem with Mantello's pedestrian ideas is that if they were all implemented, we'd still not cover the deficit. Even if they did, it would be for a year, at most. In 2011, for instance, 85% of the budget was already spent. That 85% is slated for debt service, salaries and benefits. So, we are not talking about shaving a few million from $65,000,000. We are talking about shaving a few million from a few million. On top of that, more realistic estimates will further reduce what can be cut.
Furthermore, not considering a mid-year tax increase is irresponsible. You don't have to pass a tax increase but why leave anything off the table.
So, where are the big ideas? Privatize sanitation. Refinance the debt. Garage sale. Lemonade stand. paper route. Maybe we can sell remainder t-shirts that celebrate the Green Island Bridge falling into the Hudson.
We are done with this topic for the foreseeable future. We know many will deny it and many won't believe it. We will not cut or streamline our way out of this long term problem. Some of what Mantello proposes can be an adjunct to a real plan but it will not address rising costs, contracts and benefits.
We are not trying to be Debbie Downer but lets put an end to the fiction that the taxpayers will not, ultimately, have to open their wallets.
Good night and good luck.