TallahasseeVoices: Citizens Speak Out on City Budget

By: Eyewitness News; TallahasseeVoices; Lanetra Bennett Email
By: Eyewitness News; TallahasseeVoices; Lanetra Bennett Email

Updated 2-23 by Lanetra Bennett

A new survey says the City of Tallahassee's operating budget is 179 million dollars higher than it should be; and the residents on that survey panel don't like it.

Tallahassee resident Mary Allen says she doesn't mind paying for city services.

Allen said, "City services are good. I have no problem with that at all. I feel like if we get the ambulance services to the houses the way they're doing now, we're fine; and fire and rescue."

But, in the latest TallahasseeVoices Survey, only 26 percent of residents said increased numbers and quality of city services account for the city's budget increases in the last ten years.

In 1990, Tallahassee's city budget was nearly $285 million, in 2000 it was $427 million, and the estimated 2011 budget is $714.

The survey says that's a 7.1 percent growth per year, with a 1.9 percent population growth a year.

72 percent of residents say that's way too much and 26 percent of those surveyed say the city budget increased at the right pace.

Tallahassee resident Shahin Rianpour said, "The taxes should be cut because people pay more. Then years ago we didn't have that many people losing their houses. The economy was not that bad, either, and we had to pay lower taxes. Now, it's gotten worse."

The city's director of management and administration, Raoul Lavin, says about 40 percent of the budget goes to fuel the tremendous growth in fuel costs.

Lavin said, "The period that was used in the survey for comparison purposes happens to be the period where we've seen the highest growth rate in the cost of fuel. That's the result of a number of issues, including Hurricane Katrina that really impacted the cost of fuel nationwide, and has impacted our utility."

The survey says 75 percent of residents think future city budgets increases should be tied to increases in inflation and population.

Lavin says it already is in line with that growth and that the budget is where it should be.

The full survey is attached in Powerpoint format above.

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TallahasseeVoices founder, Phillip Downs, Ph.D., offers a few comments about this survey:

The City’s operational budget from 2003 to 2007 increased 56% or 14% per year. While the City has held firm on the budget since 2007, the budget for 2011 is $180,000,000 higher than it would have been if increases in the 2000s had been no more than increases in the 1990s.

A family of 4 would pay $3,600 less each year in City taxes and fees if the budget had increased during the 2000s at the same rate it increased during the 1990s.

The rapid increase in the City budget from 2003 to 2007 was a result of extra money coming in from various sources including property taxes. While City leaders can be commended for putting the brakes on budget increases the past few years, the damage was already been done. Every citizen now pays $900 more per year because of the City’s spending spree from 2003 to 2007.

In other surveys we have asked citizens what they thought they received as a result of the spending increases in the mid 2000s. The overwhelming response was “nothing” or “I don’t know.”

The City is comprised of smart, well-intentioned leaders and employees, yet budget creep turned into budget leap from 2003 to 2007 – we have all been paying, and will continue to pay, the price for this lack of financial oversight until the budget is brought back into alignment.

While the forgoing comments are my personal observations, the remainder of this report reflects the views of our 6,000 TallahasseeVoices panelists.

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Here is the survey summary:

- 72% of residents think the City budget has increased too much in the past 10 years

- Only 26% of residents think City services increases justify City budget increases in the past 10 years

- Only 40% of residents think the Mayor, City Commission and City Manager have been good financial stewards in the past 10 years.

- 75% of residents think future City budget increases should be tied to increases in inflation and population

- 78% of residents gave the City negative ratings on managing the budget from 2003 to 2007, and 71% gave the City negative ratings since 2007

- 76% of residents think City budget increases should be discontinued until the budget returns to “normal” levels

The full survey is attached in Powerpoint format above.


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