Despite the title, the actual budget doesn’t get presented. Normally, the “presentation” or outline comes out in late May as part of a regular meeting. The full budget is debated a few weeks later. This year, the schedule got disrupted by the “cyber incident,” so the council called a brief “special meeting” to receive the presentation. Of note, the City could have passed a 1/12th budget to buy some time, but were able to squeeze in a complete budget under the deadline.
The full budget should drop today and will be taken up at an absolute marathon of a meeting on June 20. Nevertheless, the outline of the budget provides some decent fodder. Before we get to it, let’s check the mailbag:
Your blog is my favorite thing ever. It saved my marriage. One request: can you please add more highbrow cultural references? Art is the handmaiden of human good, whatever that means.
Dear Mr. Citizen, Sir –
The blog is a work of staggering genius, and I’m looking forward to your FY 24 Budget content – but don’t you think it would be EVEN BETTER if you used more GIFs as a crutch?
– Ed Howe
Wow, what convenient writing prompts. Thanks, real people.
This looks like one of those “2 birds / 1 stone” opportunities. The only true American art forms are jazz and pro wrestling. Sadly, quality jazz GIFs are hard to come by. Therefore, I am pleased to present the the FY 2024 Fiscal Budget Summary featuring GIFs of your favorite WWE superstars.
1. A Boost in Capital Project Spending
The first item that caught my eye (after skipping to the tax increase) is the FY2024 investment of $31 million in capital projects. As per the City Manager’s letter attached to the loan order:
The City of Lowell continues to maximize tax payer’s dollars by pursuing state, federal, and private grant sources to fund capital investments, where tax dollars are only required to match a fraction of the overall project costs. The FY2024 capital budget makes an historic investment in roadways and bridges, increases the commitment to accessibility from 5% to 7% for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requirements, and continues the city’s momentum on investments into city and school facilities.
For context the past few loan orders for capital projects are as follows:
FY 2024 = $31,000,000
FY 2023 = $12,913,500
FY 2022 = $13,745,294
FY 2021 = $6,771,100
FY 2020 = $25,243,294
FY 2019 = $9,903,391
FY 2018 = $11,077,544
FY 2017 = $7,360,320
Want to make the city noticeably better? Start throwing money at problems. As I see it, we’re going to pay one way or another. Pay for proactive maintenance and improvement – or absorb the massive costs of neglect. $31 Million is a hefty price tag, but if we can start to get out in front of some of these things, we’ll save (or perhaps even generate) money in the long-run.
Councilor Gitschier (echoed by Councilors Robinson and Scott) took exception to the $300K allocated to Fire House improvements (an explicit council priority), while $2M is allocated for repairs at Cawley Stadium. Councilor Drinkwater cautioned against pitting one line item against another.
Let’s listen to Councilor Drinkwater – this type of sniping is unhelpful and the Cawley money is part of the five year plan approved by this same council last year.
Now, let’s ignore Councilor Drinkwater – Do I see a half million for guns? What the hell?
Don’t confuse me for a “defund the police” advocate, but when the “new firearms” line item is 48.8% of the “housing & homeless initiatives” item and almost 5x the item for “traffic calming and pedestrian safety,” I have questions. Did all the current firearms suddenly go bad? Will every officer get a new gun? Will they get 3? Is it just one giant tactical warhead?
2. Hol Up, We Have to Pay for This Stuff?!
5.5% last year, 3.5% this year.
3. Dynamic Pricing For Metered Parking
Bring it on. The City’s parking system has been a shambles lately, but things are looking up. New equipment is coming on-line allowing us to move to a new dynamic parking fee strutrue for metered spots:
The new parking fee structure has the potential to reflect the goals and changes recommend in the 2021 parking study:
But – does this proposal nail it…
3A. Transient Garage Rates vs. Meter Rates? Jury Still Out
Do these rates, coupled with the modest on-street rates “incentivize greater use of the City’s underutilized parking garages?”
This fee schedule looks too close to the on-street rate. Parking garages are pits of despair. So why are we pricing them them so close to the on-street rate? Perhaps we should lower the garage rates or increase the on-street rate?
3B. Passholder Garage Rates vs. What’s Fair? Also Not Sure
There are too many garages and passholder agreements to list here, but generally, the new proposed rate structure is as follows:
Councilor Jenness, who represents the Downton electoral district, noted that the new “very large increase” in fee structure results in the following bump:
Residents = 28%
Group Rate = 34%
Market Rate = 25%
DT Residents 62-64 y/o = $130%
Our parking fund is an enterprise fund. An enterprise fund is a self-supporting government fund that sells goods and services to the public for a fee. These fees should, in theory, cover all of the expenses of the enterprise. However, our parking enterprise fund is broken in that we are losing money – specifically with our garages, and are projected to keep losing money in years to come.
When the fund runs short, taxpayers have to subsidize someone else’s car storage. I don’t think I should have to worry about what it costs someone else to store their car any more than I worry about what it takes to store their dishwasher. BUT – what if people leave downtown because the rates went up? Wouldn’t that hurt the city? Should we be trying to balance the books of our enterprise fund on the backs of our loyal monthly passholders?
Meh. The garage deficit suggests that some groups have been paying too little for too long. Further, if the few bucks in extra garage fees is your deal breaker, I’m not sold on the argument that you’re propping up the downtown economy.
If we continue down this path, we’ll be forced to sell some garages. If you don’t like the city rates, you’re in for a rough ride.
4. Stunner from Out of Nowhere – $13M for a Legal Settlement
[sidenote: ^ this is precisely why people hate garages]
Not exactly out of nowhere – the settlement was reported weeks ago.
No discussion last night. Likely because it falls into the “is what it is” category. But, oof. Seriously. Oof.
4. Our Yearly Choke-Slam Through the Top of a Cage Onto a Steel Chair
GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY! THAT’S THE CHARTER SCHOOLS’ MUSIC!
It didn’t come up last night, but in recent budget presentations, the city has done a good job at trying to highlight the charter schools’ impact on the budget:
FY 24 Presentation:
FY 23 Presentation:
FY 22 Presentation:
As long as they get to pretend they get better results, I guess we’ll just keep doing this? (Save your e-mail – I don’t care about how your kid flourished)
5. New Position of Sustainability Director & New DPW Division
May these items are not that exciting, but I had no Stone Cold, and I panicked.
6. Time for the Measured Public Response
“Everything needs to be better, but it also needs to be free!”
“…and fix the damn potholes!”
Seriously though – In the past 2 years, we’ve seen an increase of 9% in taxes, plus increases in water and sewer rates. This is, of course, ON TOP OF the increase in basically every other aspect of spending necessary to keep living. I love to see investment in the city. I’m happy to pay more to make Lowell better. But it’s hard not to feel the pain tax increases can cause. I can understand why people would be pissed/concerned/alarmed about another increase.
It’s an impossible task of balancing the need for services with the desire to avoid squeezing people who are already struggling to get by. It’s a real pickle. I guess you try to find new sources of revenue or something? I don’t know. I’m over here curating wresting memes. Does it look like I would have answers?
6. The Rest
A. The full Proposed FY 24 Budget should be out today. I’ll try to throw a link up on my Twitter feed or this website when it drops.
B. Tune in for the full budget meeting on June 20th. It’s your money they’re spending.
C. I had more fun than usual this week and it was mostly cut and paste. Win/win for everyone.
^ never forget.