Bill Wayne's Political Pages - The Gadfly
Gadfly 61
Submitted to the Warrensburg Gazette for September 21, 2000

The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.

Dear Editor

If the papers are to be believed, Warrensburg is nigh onto broke. The City may not be able to afford to continue popular capital improvements, keep employee pay competitive, avoid deferring equipment maintenance & upgrade, etc. This, despite forecasting record sales tax revenues and property tax receipts. Warrensburg taxpayers, who include anyone who shops in town in addition to those who live here, ought to be told why. While I’m not privy to their discussions, here’s an interpretation:

  1. The “Taj Mahal”, aka the Community Center, continues to be a net drain on revenues. Revenues are forecast at $144,000 while expenses will be $514,000. This $370,000 operating deficit is only partly offset by $300,000 from the ˝ cent sales tax, a surplus over debt service needs. As is typical of government planning, those who sold us this glorious civic monument overestimated revenues and grossly underestimated operational costs.

  2. Ambulance service, which the City took over providing a couple of years ago, isn’t covering costs because it suffers from the same problem that caused private services to fail – difficulty in collecting fees for services rendered. Somehow, when the City took over the service, they felt that they could do better. Another plan based on the view through rose-colored glasses.

  3. A typical governmental attitude of ‘we’ve got money, let’s go spend it.’ City staffing has almost doubled since 1992. The City has been spending like our current good economic times won’t end, instead of building up reserves for an inevitable downturn. We have even heard talk about tax rate increases because there’s just so much to spend money on.

So, what can be done about the City’s financial problems? First, the Council could try to make the “Taj Mahal” more self-supporting by charging those who use it instead of shifting costs to the taxpayers; maybe they could even privatize it or contract it out. Second, they could see how many of the 64 new city employees are really necessary (I wonder what our police-population ratio is compared to similar cities). Third, prevent even larger future deficits by staying completely out of the funding loop for the new bus service, which will need revenue sources to cover the 90% of projected costs not covered by fares. Fourth, they & city staff could remember that there’s a difference between spending their own money and spending money extracted from taxpayers – but I doubt if they will.

The difference between local spending issues and national ones is but a matter of degree. Right now, we’re watching the ‘major party’ candidates fight over who can give away an unrealized and non-existent ‘surplus’ for new benefit programs in order to buy votes. We know, from the history of similar programs, that they’ve significantly underestimated costs either through incompetence or cynicism. And their promises will come home to roost in economic reality just as promises about our local “Taj Mahal” have.

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