‘We are loading our budget with new and big dollar expenses’ but ‘our revenues are lower this year’

Alderman Bill Nickels 

Context is everything in government. Especially with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA). We have to consider each department and their requests for funding, separately, on the merit, then in context with overall budget requests and fixed expenditures. We have spent a ton of money during the last year. Taking the conference center in its entirety, a bond for College Street Elementary, looks like money for new lights in the parks (with a spending freeze in place and during a pandemic). Recreation department is meeting to discuss necessary repairs to the recreation center. Fire department is due a replacement fire truck ($500,000). Public works is going to have requests. Do we give raises to our excellent employees this year? What about Bonnaroo, new Industry? Every good thing has a cost.

We look at these expenditures as they come up one at a time and never, never in context of the overall budget. One alderman is quoted in this paper as saying, “we can look at the funding mechanism later.” This is our current approach.

We are loading our budget with new and big dollar expenses using 2019 as proof we have money to cover everything that is presented to us. Our revenues are lower this year (compared to 2020). We don’t know yet how low. This year is still unfolding. And we may well not know until 2022.

Annually, each department should present and lobby for a wish list to the BOMA. That is their responsibility. The BOMA has the responsibility of asking hard questions and considering these requests on their own then in the greater context of the overall budget. I have served one and a half years now, and I am saying that I haven’t seen any responsible consideration from the BOMA, myself included. I have voted on a couple of items because I have been concerned more about backlash or perception than responsible governance. But now there are just too many recurring expenses being added to our budget. Every meeting, large requests come from nowhere, like sudden hail or a sinkhole or a tornado. But with professional management we can better organize these expenditures. Place them in some sort of (control).

These aren’t personal issues. And we can’t let anyone obfuscate and make them so. For example, no one is more a champion of the conference center and the necessity of this facility than me. No one. I support this as a necessary community gathering spot. We have to have it. That being said, we have to look at the new expense in context of the overall budget. And we have to think about the funding mechanism (tax dollars) now, not later.