The Lubbock City Council is comprised of people who are, individually, each likely to be a person of excellence in their own field. At a minimum, each has managed to win election to public office. Collectively, however, they aren’t very good. “Dysfunctional” is much clichéd but it is an appropriate description for this bunch. Seeing them try to work together is like watching a six-way tug o’ war with the seventh Councilman standing ready with a vacuous smile not knowing whether push, pull or pray.
Budget is arguably the Council’s most important responsibility. Ten months out of the year Lubbock City Council holds pep rallies. But for two months it is supposed to do the hard work of deciding how and how much money the City will spend.
The proposed budget projects General Fund revenues to be up $14.2 million, or 9.9%. The rate of inflation is less than half that, so you’d think that City Council could balance its budget with relative ease. And with increased revenues of $14.2 million we’d hope that LP&L ratepayers would get a break from Council robbing the city utility of the cost for street lights ($3 million). That leaves $11.2 to spare for raises and increased expenses.
But Council isn’t very good at its job. Not only does abandoning the money grab from LP&L appear out of the question, City Council is now considering borrowing from Lubbock’s future by taking away 1/2 cent property tax, $616,000, from the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance (LEDA). Taking over 17% of the City’s investment in economic development instead of cutting other expenses is like cutting your retirement investment from the family budget instead of scaling back on eating out.
LEDA is run with less than one fourth the dollars that Amarillo spends on economic development. And, while competing for jobs with tax dollars is distasteful to this Republican with libertarian leanings, it is the world we live in. Cities competing for companies to relocate and expand in their jurisdiction is a natural consequence of the free market and a mobile society. When choosing between Lubbock and Midland for relocation of 35 jobs a nickel lower property tax is less likely impress a business owner or decision maker than a $5,000/job incentive offer.
LEDA has chosen to meet this challenge with incentives, a state-of-the-art business park, rail port and other creative marketing. Even though outspent more than 4:1 by Amarillo, it has been suprisingly successful and it is debt free.
However a reduction in funding by 17% could force LEDA to borrow to continue to develop the business park. Council knows this; or it should. And it knows taking money from LEDA isn’t cutting expenses, it is borrowing from our future.
We pause here to note that if the budget was so tight that $616,000 mattered that much then city leaders should have considered it before they spent $400,000 to capriciously fire City Manager Lee Ann Dumbauld. An award winning budget officer might come in handy right about now.
The deal isn’t done. It’s not too late to tell your Council members to do their job. There is still time to do the work, get involved with the budget and cut expenses, even a half dozen city jobs if necessary, and balance the budget without borrowing from our future.