MOUNT VERNON … We Have A PROBLEM
PART 3 OF 3
We’ve come to the end of our 3-part series on Mount Vernon’s finances and we’re no closer to a realistic budget or a competent fiscal plan for this City. All of the finger pointing I told you was going to happen in the article “Being Accountable Starts With us” has happened in spades. All of the science fiction budgeting I told you was going to happen in the article “Budgeting Our Way into The Poor House – A Mount Vernon Specialty” has happened. Sadly, it was TWO YEARS ago I told you about the same problems we’re seeing today in “Money Burnin Mount Vernon” in terms of this City leadership’s inability to get a handle on its finances. I’m not pointing this out to gloat, because I am heartbroken and saddened by it. This is OUR City. I’m very much a part of this City, and it truly hurts. We don’t have years to waste on the same old tired issues.
If Mount Vernon is going to “move forward,” it’s got to get away from the problems of the past and stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again! This year’s budget is another mistake and I have to be honest with you. It’s going to cause future problems in so many ways.
With Mount Vernon facing a fiscal CRISIS, we should start by analyzing what is NOT changing. The Mayor’s office salaries aren’t changing. The only thing the Mayor cut out of her budget is travel expense and promotional spending and that’s because COVID-19 is limiting travel for everyone. Forget cuts, some departments are getting raises! The Office of the City Clerk, Human Resources, the Department of Election, the Department of Management Services, the City Jail, the Animal Shelter, the Youth Bureau and the Planning Department among others. On the other hand, departments that should never suffer cuts like the Police Department, the Fire Department, the Buildings Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Programs for the Aging, were on the table for major cuts.
This budget shows you all you need to know about an Administration’s priorities and it’s clear that safety and core city services are NOT priorities. Keeping loyal bureaucrats and friends employed ARE the priorities. With crime going up and buildings falling down, it is obvious that these priorities need to be modified and re-imagined. Our seniors are going to have to fend for themselves because the Planning Department needs more money – a department that hasn’t done anything meaningful in a decade (including when the current Mayor was in charge of it).
On the revenue side of things, the current version of the budget is just as bad. With over 46.7% of businesses in the City closed and not reopening because of COVID, the budget still counts on the same (even slightly higher) amount of sales tax revenue, and that’s a problem. Despite the fact that no one can transfer a title to real-estate property in the City, it projects an increase in transfer tax revenue, and that’s a problem. Then, there are huge increases on the sales and rental of City-owned properties when it takes up to two years to clear a title before that city-owned property could be sold. Another problem.
As always, Law Department left off all of the settlements they enter into for legal cases against the City. There’s MILLIONS in judgments this year alone. The City hasn’t paid off the real estate tax settlements for the last three years, let alone this year’s settlements. They also ignore the fact that the Law Department spends WAY MORE every year on outside lawyers than they budget to spend – sometimes over a million more. Why do we have a Law Department if outside lawyers are going to do all of the work?
It’s almost the middle of February and there’s still no budget in final form. By the time this budget is passed by the Board of Estimates, sent to the City Council, becomes subject to a public hearing, published in the newspaper, changed and passed by the City Council, and sent to the Comptroller to process the bills, which takes about two weeks, it will be APRIL. We should probably expect our City tax bill (if we’re lucky) about the same time we’re doing our Federal and State taxes.
There’s a better way to manage this process. When I left the Mayor’s office at the end of 2019, I sat with the Mayor several times to help with a smooth transition. I left the Mayor a blueprint for how to get the budget finalized, even leaving a proposed budget for 2020; but the Mayor chose to do her own budget, which she has the right to do so. However, the administration had a whole year to work on this budget and it should not be late. As Mayor, I was able to get the numbers I needed from the Comptroller by sitting down together and setting egos and politics aside. As a CEO, the victory doesn’t lie with who’s right or wrong, it’s about what works or doesn’t work to get the job done.
As many of you have heard, I was recently endorsed by the Democratic Party to run again for City Council. I am truly grateful to the Democratic Party leaders and the Democratic Party Chairperson for their recognition and endorsement. As a lifelong Democrat, I am committed to helping this City rise economically. What I’m not going to do is engage in science fiction and pretend that our real priorities can be ignored.
No one is coming to rescue us. Not the State or the Federal government, especially, without a plan in place. We need to do it ourselves. It’s OUR City. It’s time to take control and stop pretending that hope and good intentions are substitutes for hard work and competence.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at Andre@andrewallace.com