Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mayoral candidates Q&A: Finances

The following questions were sent to mayoral candidates in mid-August, along with a number of questions on other city issues. See our previous posts with Q&As on public safety and economic development.

Republican candidate Jim Gordon did not submit answers to these questions.

In the last budget process, we heard officials say the city needs to find additional and creative sources of revenue. What creative, sustainable revenue sources would you propose in the annual budget? 

Patrick Madden: Too often, creative sources of revenue are uncertain and generally not sustainable. I am for smart well grounded budgeting. Budgeting ought to be done on a three year rolling basis so as to minimize “surprises”. Collaborations and intergovernmental agreements need to be more exhaustively explored. The city charter defines a number of positions in the city as optional.

Jack Cox: I have found in the past that every time a city official talks about finding creative sources of revenue, it usually results in some form of new tax or fee. There is typically only one source of revenue for any level of government in this country and that is tax revenue. Although I will aggressively seek all opportunities to expand property, school and sales tax revenue by reclaiming vacant property, I plan to fix our financial issues with sound money management practices. I will always offer a balanced budget and offer it on time. Every department will be required to make sacrifices until the city’s finances stabilize. The first cuts will be in the Mayor’s office. All unnecessary party patronage jobs will be eliminated. City departments will be combined where feasible and city employees will be cross trained to ensure every department has backup personnel. My job as Mayor will be to work with every department to find ways to reduce costs while increasing efficiency with the least amount of interruption to city provided services.

Rodney Wiltshire: I’ve worked hard to pass the Troy Solar Farm. The Farm will take advantage of an otherwise unusable landfill, lessen the fossil fuels Troy uses, and save taxpayers $300,000 in its first year alone. Over 25 years, the Solar Farm will provide over $25 million dollars in taxpayer savings. Reducing our energy expenditures is one of the easiest way to cut waste from the budget. The
Solar Farm is just one way of pursuing that goal. Mandatory recycling, and the compost project, would lower our landfill tipping fees, which eat up over $2.5 million/year from our budget.

Which currently filled positions in City Hall would you remove, and which vacant positions would you fill? 

Wiltshire: With my private sector experience as a small business owner I will run city hall more like a business- cutting fat and investing in what’s important.  My administration will be focused from
day one on appointing competent professionals who work to serve the public and provide a high
return on investment to taxpayers.
I will appoint a Commissioner of Public Works and a full time Comptroller – both crucial to the functioning of any city, let alone one in transition like Troy, but frustratingly absent now.  I will also appoint a full time grant-writer. Our previous grant-writer, Bill Roehr, secured millions of dollars in grants every year for Troy, more than paying for his position by giving Trojans money that was easily available with the proper outreach.
Within City Hall itself there are some redundant positions that I would reorganize or excise. I would have to review the entire budget, from the perspective of the Mayor's office, to ensure that positions we cut or merged would make for a maximally efficient overall picture.

Madden: I will develop an organizational plan that reflects our priorities and our financial position. In my view we will need to prioritize our finance operations and look to streamline the general services of public works and public utilities.

Cox: I plan to be an extremely hands on Mayor, I will not have the need for the majority of the optional positions. I do not have a definite answer to this question until I am elected, as each filled position’s benefits and effectiveness needs to be evaluated before I eliminate it. I can tell you that I will have a Deputy Mayor, Corporation Council, City Engineer and most importantly a Grant Writer.

The 2015 budget was built using one-time cost savings measures. How would you cut costs in the budget sustainably? 

Witlshire: See above answers.

Cox: Cost cutting measures both one-time and long term only deal with part of the problem. Increasing revenue is the other half of the equation. Getting the city into a mortgage instead of paying rent for City Hall will save money, but the benefit will not be realized for a decade. Many party patronage jobs will be eliminated under my administration but that may not be the case under the next administration. I will work diligently to find places to cut expenses citywide in every department but you can only cut so deep before you compromise the quality of city provided services. Increasing revenue is my primary goal. Every time we open a new business in the city of Troy or build / rehab a home we are not creating new revenue, we are merely replacing lost revenue. Even if we are fortunate enough to rebuild our business and industrial tax base as well as get a large portion of the currently non tax bearing property on the tax role, that’s all there is. We are a mature community that has very limited ability for expansion. We are finite in size and already heavily developed. It won’t be long before almost every project presented to the city will involve some form of demolition. We need to start building budgets that will maintain harmony with our limited future earning potential while maintaining an acceptable quality of life.

Madden: We will invest in operational and productivity improvements. We will explore technology enhancements and better management structures all with an eye to focusing our finite resources on our agreed upon priorities.

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