Mr. Mayor and Honorable Members of Council:
Watching all of you cut and paste the budget for the next fiscal year has been like observing politicians make sausage. It is definitely the worst of both politics and pork processing. On the positive side, keeping school funding at the level requested by the school board demonstrates some degree of leadership. You could be doing better with the rest of it, though.
First, Council Member Meeks was onto something when he questioned the lockstep raises for current and retired city employees. One group of retirees came into an enormous windfall last fiscal year with the elimination, at a major cost to taxpayers, of the Social Security offset. The participants in the Portsmouth Supplemental Retirement System plan should be able to get along on what amounted to a 100% increase in net benefits for the remainder of their lives without panhandling the citizenry for more. Additionally, shoring up the PSRS with $173 million in pension obligation bonds and making the actuarially appropriate annual required contributions should allow that plan to provide its own benefit increases from earnings on investments. That is the way private sector plans work and should be the model the city follows.
Second, I cannot support a budget that cuts library hours of operation. I watched as various council patrons undid the braindead across-the-board cuts that applied to their own pet programs/projects. I say “braindead across-the-board cuts” because nobody has to make a business case for reducing funding which would require an examination of what a particular service provides to the community. Libraries go hand-in-hand with K-12 education in my view of essential services. Any council member unable to grasp that notion is unworthy of my support at election time.
Third, at least a couple of council members have questioned, during this budget cycle or previous ones, the annual half-million dollar operating subsidy to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. When deliberations concluded last week, the VSHoFM appeared to have escaped the wild swinging of the budget ax unscathed. If I had had my way, no public money would have gone into that private venture ever, but even I do not advocate a “cold turkey” withdrawal of tax dollars. What I believe necessary is a fiscal “methadone” program, weaning it off the city subsidy. I submit that a 10% reduction this year would be an equitable starting point for an entity that even in the worst of the recent recession never took a cut in public contributions to its operating budget.
Fourth, I strongly disagree with using the waste management fund as your fallback “cookie jar”. Those moneys were set aside by people concerned about more than making themselves look good in preparation for the next election cycle. The kind of “easy money” it would provide for funding expenses unrelated to its intended purpose will come with future pain for the taxpayers. We’ve seen enough of that kind of “can kicking” at the federal level.
Last, I am extremely displeased with members of council who berate or threaten city staff when a council member perceives a lack of respect but who are themselves less than respectful in their demeanor and choice of words. My grandfather taught me that respect begets respect. People who browbeat their teammates and subordinates are no better than bullies. I would suggest that you all start by dropping the informal way you address each other when you are working in the public sphere; use titles and surnames. Address the citizenry in the same fashion, and insist that they reciprocate.
Please let me know if you need additional information.