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Harsh City Budget Cuts "Unavoidable" and Only "the Tip of the Iceberg"

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While we had Angela Hunt and council member-elect Ann Margolin on the phone yesterday, Unfair Park asked for their evaluations of the city's $190 million budget deficit. Hunt says right now it's hard to pinpoint the cut resulting in the biggest impact to residents because it's early in the process, and things are about to get worse before the council votes on a final budget in September.

"We've only hit the tip of the iceberg of what we're cutting," she says.

With approximately $1 billion in the general fund to work with, Hunt says roughly $300 million is not tied to police, fire, code and sanitation, leaving little room to find the $100 million remaining after City Manager Mary Suhm's suggestions to slice $90 million off the shortfall. One item concerning Hunt at this point is the lack of funding for city prosecutors included in Suhm's recommendations to close the rest of the gap.

Hunt has also been examining an Excel spreadsheet of the budget in an attempt to get a better handle on what should stay and what should go, in addition to chatting with council member Dave Neumann.

"He and I have commiserated about how devastating this budget is and how it's somewhat frustrating to hear folks say, 'I want this back in and that back in,' because it indicates to me that they're not quite understanding how devastating this budget is," she says.

Margolin says the budget cuts will be "extremely significant" as the council will be reducing or eliminating funding to programs and services provided to residents for years.

"There are going to be people who are personally affected by it who have a particular interest or stake in something that are going to be very upset with what happens," she says. "I see it as unavoidable, and I hope we can mitigate it as much as possible."

Margolin, a former Park Board member, wants to make sure reduced funding for parks is temporary and doesn't ruin the progress the city has made to improve them since the 1980s. But she's unwilling to back off her campaign stance that she won't support a tax increase in order to save parks or anything else from the chopping block.

"While we can look at an individual who benefits from a given program and say, 'How can we take that away from that person,' other people are invisible," she says. "There are people for whom $50 a month in tax increase is a real problem, but they're not as visible as people who will come down and lobby for the XYZ program."

A lot of residents are worried about a tax increase given the down economy, Margolin says, and she's hopeful it will rebound soon so next year's budget will allow the council to reinstate funding removed this year.

"I'm really willing to let some things suffer for a year or so, and then reevaluate and see what we need to do," she says. "This could really hurt some people, and if there's any way to avoid it, I want to avoid it."

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