Monday, April 22, 2019

Jacobs Presents A "Tricky Budget"

Transparency lost
Town manager Mary Jacobs presented a solution to the substantial losses incurred by the town owned community center and 45-hole country club: Bury the losses.  Bury them so deep that they can't be easily identified.

Thus, the 2019-2020 town manager recommended budget doesn't include a separate community center fund, as it has in prior years. Rather, this "fund" is proposed by her to be buried in the general fund, commingled forever in the parks and rec budget, where detail of revenue and spending will not be reported.

This allows the town to take the half cent sales tax, "...previously deposited into the community center fund, now goes into the general fund as a whole." (source: Town Manager presentations to council, 4-17-19). Thus, we will never see that money returned to us through a reduction the sales tax back to pre-country club days.

Are you kidding? Budget includes $6 million in golf course bonding
It is beyond our understand as to why Jacobs budget includes the $6 million in bonding that the prior council approved for capital improvements to the town owned country club and Community Center.

Bonding did not occur last year because the prior council was sufficiently savvy to realize that the public does not want to go into debt to pay for parks and recreation. Council figured this out after the town rejected, through vote, council's earlier attempt fund Naranja Park improvements through bond funding. Their attempt to go around the will of the people by putting bonding for golf course improvements in last year's budget was duly noted in their sound defeat at the polls.

Can't compare this year' budget to last year
Jacobs also used a reporting trick. Instead of reporting the budget in the same manner as last year, which includes full disclosure of fund balances, as required by state law; she elected to present only the operating portion of the budget, and not the balances of the funds themselves. Or, at least we think that's what she did, but we can't be sure!

This reporting allows her to state that her 2019-2020 town manger recommended operating budget is $107.5 million.  Last year, the budget was $143 million. But, like we said, we can't compare the numbers.

Jacobs moved ahead with major accounting and reporting changes without Council approval.
Rather than presenting her recommendations for accounting and reporting changes for council to consider, Jacobs chose to include these changes in her recommendation.

Transparency and comparability matter
Transparency in numbers and the ability to compare one year to the past are principles of financial` reporting. Rather than follow the principles, Jacobs chose to present a budget that is less transparent and more confusing.

More importantly, we think: Burying the enormous financial problem presented by the town owned country club and community center is simply wrong.

We do hope that the new Budget and Finance Committee and Town Council see through these accounting and reporting ploys. We want more transparency when it comes to all town activities; not less.