The $77 million deficit is a symptom of underlying problems:
- Place the City’s checkbook online for all citizens to see.
- Keep and reward employees based on productivity not longevity.
- Zero Based Budgeting (ZBB) – where all expenses must be justified for each new budget period. ZBB can’t just be a symbolic gesture. We cannot pare down school infrastructures or necessary social programs that have an effect on the city as a whole.
- Define in detail the activities in the budget; why they are needed and what services do they support.
- Hire a City Manager that has experience with numbers 1 to 4 above.
Here’s an interesting idea. Let’s put the city expenditures online for the public to see. In New York, City Controller John Liu puts it all online. “Want to know what the NYPD pays for badges? What schools spend on consultants? How much taxpayers dropped on condoms this year?”
“We have this information and New Yorkers are entitled to it,” said Liu. Wow! Transparency! Count me in. Don’t you think we as taxpayers of Fort Worth are entitled to it too? Let’s make this the new Fort Worth Way.
Whether it is my business, my home or my government, I like to see that money is used wisely. That the money is used for its intended purpose, not wasted and stays within the budget allocated. Lastly, a fiscal conservative avoids deficit spending. That is digging a deeper hole in debt.
A fiscal conservative doesn’t look to pare down every budgetary item to its minimum bare bones level. If they do, then that’s a fiscal conservative without vision. In corporations where I have had executive roles, fiscal conservation and quality of life issues had to balance. You can have a fiscally tuned corporation, but if the employees or the customers aren’t happy, then you’ve cut without vision.
My wife is a big fan of Dave Ramsey. She runs a tight ship when it comes to the household budget. If someone wants something that is not on the budget, she doesn’t say “yes” or “no”, but rather, “You know what the budget is. What are you willing to give up to get it?” Like a fiscal conservative, she avoids deficit spending. She recognizes that there are times we borrow for things like real property because it is a long term investment. And while we could cut hundreds out of our budget, like getting rid of our DirecTV and high speed internet, that would have a negative impact on the family’s quality of life.
Dumbing It Down
Six years ago, I dumbed down my life. I had lived in big houses and drove expensive cars. In 2004 I moved to a modest middle class home and still drive my incredible 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee that I purchased new. What’s remarkable is my quality of life went up, not down. There’s less expense, so less stress. And there’s more money for a rainy day or investments.
To me, the city government spending should be dumbed down too. We can’t buy the new shiny car while the roof on our house is collapsing from badly needed repair. With over $1 billion in infrastructure costs needed to repair our “roof” we still want to buy the shiny new streetcar that affects a few, not the many.
Running for District 7 City Council, I am paying much more attention to the roads as I drive on them. Beach Street north of 820 going towards Keller is a traffic nightmare. Roads throughout the city need work.
Zero Based Budgeting (ZBB)
Investopedia defines zero-based budgeting as, “A method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified for each new period. Zero-based budgeting starts from a ‘zero base’ and every function within an organization is analyzed for its needs and costs. Budgets are then built around what is needed for the upcoming period, regardless of whether the budget is higher or lower than the previous one.”
ZBB is the idea that budget writers start their work on fiscal plans with the assumption that they don’t have a single dollar to spend that is guaranteed, and that they’ll have to justify every penny they ask for as they seek ways to continue providing public-sector services like police, fire, rescue, trash pickup and others. ZBB can’t just be a symbolic gesture. We can’t pare down school infrastructures or necessary social programs that have an effect on the city as a whole, even though they may look like easy targets. Further, police and fire have unique programs. In the military, you don’t manage the war fighters budget the same way you do a desk jockey in Washington DC. It has to be done thoughtfully with leadership and a clear understanding of the services provided.
ZBB cannot be done in one fell swoop. It starts with hiring a City Manager that has experience with ZBB and agrees that it is a viable means for fiscal responsibility and transparency. ZBB implementation starts with a few departments each year. Since the General Fund has the largest city budget, that would be where I’d like to see it start.
ZBB helps us answer the question, “Who authorized this expenditure?” and let’s the voters know the who, what, when, where and why of inefficient spending.
In my business, before I spend money I want to know, “Why is this expense needed?” “How will it improve our efficiency or service?” And after we spend the money, “Did we get what we paid for?”
In the 2011 Fort Worth City budget it describes the general purpose and function of a department, but underneath it are hundreds of line items or activities. I would like to see a clear description for each of those activities and how they support the mission and citizens of the city.
Further, rather than a proposed budget recommendation with a dollar value assigned to it, I would like to see three alternative funding levels to the line items, with the pros and cons of each. At least one of the three alternatives must be at a lower budgetary requirement than the previous year. This detailed process prevents haphazard across the board cuts to vital social, police and other critical services necessary for the citizens of Fort Worth. As I stated earlier, this is a much more complex and thoughtful budgetary process. So implementation must start a department at a time and would take approximately four years to complete.
It’s Too Complex
I can hear the naysayers. “It’s too complex! It won’t work!” As the 16th largest city in the United States with a $1.3 billion annual budget, it’s time we think like a Fortune 100 company. If a candidate tells you that zero based budgeting is too complex, won’t work or worse “It’s Not the Fort Worth Way,” send them packing. They wouldn’t cut it in a Fortune 100 company, so why would we want them leading our city?
Quality of Life
I love Fort Worth! It has almost anything a family could want from parks, recreation, lakes, restaurants and museums. Together, let’s focus our attention to the problems which are at hand. Let’s fix them. Let’s get our budgetary house in order, repair our roads, not allow taxes to increase and as a city, spend only what we make. Let’s get the city’s expenditures online for all of us to see. Together, we will make a difference.
Early Voting June 2nd – June 10th
Even if you did NOT vote in the city wide election, ALL registered voters are eligible to vote in the runoff election.
Election Day – Saturday, June 18th
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