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A closer look at the 2009 Budget
Assistance Programs down 18%, No comment still from the Post and Courier
Warwick Jones

We have provided more details of the City’s draft budget for fiscal 2009. From our observation, there are no surprises. The main features were disclosed at the last Council meeting - namely a draw down of a net $1.7 million in fund balances, an increase in parking fines, restraint of cost of living increases, and a restraint in hiring.

We have set out the details of General Fund and The Enterprise Fund. As has been the case over recent years, the General Fund has operated at a deficit which is matched by a Surplus in the Enterprise Fund. In the précis which viewers can see, rounding of figures sometimes give a very slight mismatch of totals.

General Fund Revenue – up 1% to $126.1 million
By pressing Download file viewers can see a summary of the General Fund Revenue. We have highlighted in red those items that seem unusual.
General Revenue - All the highlighted items in the General Revenue seems to be one time events. We are told that they were separated in the years because of suggestions by the auditors. In fact all of the items were recorded under other items in the years they were not broken out
Specific Revenue - We don’t pretend to understand Municipal accounting so we asked City staff why there was a $2.4 million increase in the General Fund Balance from $4.024 million in the 2008 budget to $6.44 million in the amended 2008 budget. We were told it represented $1.75 million deduction from the 2007 Fund Balance for purchase of Fire Department Equipment as recommended by the Fire Review Task Force, and similarly spending of $139,866 for a Traffic and Transportation project. It also represented $532,769 of spending drawn from Undesignated Fund Balance which includes $228,000 donated for Fire Department uniforms.
We highlighted Business Licenses to show the severity anticipated in the economic downturn. The anticipated decline is near 50%.

General Fund Expenses – flat at $126.5 million
Download file We highlighted Fire Department expenses only to show the large increase that has occurred since the Sofa Store fire. We also highlighted Economic Development for which there was no provision for 2009 but a $286,000 provision in 2008. This reflects a change in the Department structure of the City. Business Development and Business Services are new items and aggregate $549,000 for 2009.
Non departmental expenses have fluctuated over the years and the item is complex to explain. Suffice to say that the small amount in 2009 reflects the low level of salary increase expected in 2009. It is usual for City Departments to determine budgets based on existing salaries and wages, and for COLA to be adjusted through this account. The COLA adjustment in made by Council just prior to accepting the Draft budget. Consequently it is not possible to break it out immediately for each department

Enterprise Funds- Surplus to fall to 356,000 from $1.5 million in 2008
Download fileThe only item we have highlighted is Parking. Staff tells us that the increase in parking fines is expected to raise revenue by $350,000.In 2009, the City is projecting Parking revenue of $15.739 million, a fall of 3% from the 2008 budgeted figure. This revenue is derived from parking garages, meters, and fines. Actual parking fines are projected at $2.63 million up 6% from $2.468 million in the 2008 budget, a modest increase considering the large increase in the fines - $8 to $14 per offense.

And finally Assistance Programs
Reflecting the severity of the times, handouts by the City are projected to fall 18% next year to $401,000.

Download file Because of public pressure led by the Post and Courier, Charleston County has dropped it Outside Agency Contributions, an identical program to the City’s Assistance program. In terms of recipients, there are names common to both the City’s and those of the past County’s programs. We have said it before, and will say again - the Post and Courier’s failure to make any comment about the City’s program and to pillory that of the County is a blatant display of hypocrisy.

As with the County programs, there are many names which deserve support. But there are also names that are unknown to us and most of the public. The City says that it has a tight approval process and recipients have to meet tight rules. So did the County’s. And there was also a discussion in County Council meetings about the allocations. The names of recipients and the amounts in the City’s Assistance Program are buried on page 106 of the 173 page Draft Budget Document. There is no discussion on Council. And surprise, surprise, the program has received no comment from the Post and Courier.

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