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COMMUNITY VOICE

Plan was always to maintain public safety budgets, not increase them

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 12:01 am

There was an article in the March 11 News-Sentinel titled, “Where’s the ‘extra’ money? — Safety unions were to gain from tax raise.” There are numerous errors and misrepresentations in the article.

The thrust of the article by Kevin Leininger was that the $4.7 million raised from the public safety local option income tax was supposed to increase the police and fire budgets and the money was improperly shifted to other parts of the budget.

This is totally incorrect. The property tax circuit breakers would have caused a multimillion-dollar budget deficit in 2014 without a tax increase.

The choice was always between either (1.) No tax increase and resultant budget cuts with a layoff of 15-20 officers in each department with no possibility of a needed new police academy and fire academy class, or (2.) a public safety LOIT increase to plug the budget deficit to allow us to maintain the previous year’s budgets without cuts. The plan was always to maintain the public safety budgets, not to increase them.

I received an email on March 11 from Jeremy Bush, the fire union representative, in regard to The News-Sentinel article. He stated when contacted by Leininger for the article his direct comment was, “I believe the city is following the appropriate use of LOIT and several Council members and representatives of the city have made statements disclosing (adding all information should be shared with citizens) all information at the Council table. I also stated that if the LOIT wasn’t adopted public safety could have faced significant cuts or layoffs. I can only apologize and ask for your understanding as I believe my words have been twisted.”

Bush’s position is certainly not what was represented in The News-Sentinel article. In contrast to the suggestions of The News-Sentinel article, the fire union knows where the money is, all information was publicly discussed and public safety LOIT money is being used properly.

In the article there were several nonsensical comments from Rep.Bob Morris that this was a budgetary “switcheroo.” Morris was quoted as saying, “It’s like being double-taxed, a maneuver around the law.”

Public safety LOIT money was used in the public safety budgets preventing cuts and layoffs. This, of course, freed up some property tax money that was used for other needs such as roads and parks. By some strange logic, Rep. Morris thought this was somehow bad and proposed an amendment at the state Legislature to address this. The amendment was not even called up for a vote, so this misbegotten idea never went anywhere.

The main objection I have to Morris’ comments is that he did not contact the city controller or any member of City Council to obtain even a minimum understanding about the preparation of the city budget. He then made several mischaracterizations based on hearsay and ignorance and even proceeded to propose legislation on that basis. One should always get complete information and hear all sides of an issue before forming conclusions and certainly before launching into possible legislation.

The City Council and the administration spent over a year studying every possibility to adequately fund public safety and other critical city needs in the face of looming budget deficits caused by the passage of the circuit breakers by the state Legislature. The public safety LOIT was properly used for its planned purpose to prevent layoffs and allow a new police academy and fire academy.

The News-Sentinel article stated the public safety unions felt transfer of revenue streams could lead to “potentially undermining their departments’ ability to protect and serve.”

The exact opposite is true — without the public safety LOIT funds the resultant budget cuts and layoffs could have compromised public safety.

These issues were discussed at length at City Council and covered in multiple news stories. The slant and misrepresentations in The News-Sentinel article are sensationalistic, poor journalism and a disservice to citizens.

Dr. John Crawford is a City Councilman.