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Not exactly change agents

Council_6What's up with the Common Council?

Vetting the city's annual operating budget, and, to a lesser degree, the federal block grant budget, are among the major responsibilities of a Council member. After all, money is what drives city operations.

This year, however, the Council all but rubber-stamped both budgets. It's becoming a trend.

The Council changed Brown's proposed $435 million operating budget by $653,456. That's less than 1 percent -- 0.15 of 1 percent to be exact. Last year, the Council changed the budget by 0.22 of 1 percent.

The Council this year gave the mayor the budget he wanted largely in exchange for a small boost -- from $75,000 to $110,000 -- in what each member can spend in his district at his discretion. In other words, a little more pork.

One could argue that there was a lot to like in this year's proposed operating budget. More cops. Lower property taxes. Pretty safe, politically.

I've pointed out in previous posts, however, that the Brown administration's budgeting strategy relies on continuing increases in state aid to balance the books. There's no effort being made to close a huge structural budget deficit.

Shouldn't that strategy be worthy of debate? By not only the Council, but the Control Board? It's the elephant in the room, if decision makers want to acknowledge it or not.

111404 Then there's the block grant budget. I did an investigation in 2004 detailing how the city had squandered more than a half-billion dollars in federal block grant funds, going back to the days of Jimmy Griffin. Too little spent in the poor neighborhoods the program is intended to help, too much on the salaries of bureaucrats and the follies of ill-fated projects of developers with political connections.

It's still going on. Steve Banko, whose local HUD office oversees the city's use of block grant funds, fussed in an Artvoice story a couple of weeks ago that little has changed under Brown.

Reported Artvoice:

"What bothers Banko ... isn’t just that the city administers its block grants so poorly, it’s that it tries to be sneaky about it."

Where is the Council in all this? Demanding change? Insisting that money be put to use in smart ways in the neighborhoods they represent?

Nope. They're approving what Brown puts in front of them.

This year, the Council changed the mayor's proposed $23.8 million block grant budget by $250,000. That's 1 percent. More than the rate of change with the operating budget, but still infinitesimal, especially considering the block grant program's continuing problems.

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Local Government | Taxes
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