The Good, The Bad, and The City Budget

Albany City Manager Alfred Lott is feeling pretty proud of himself right now. After all, he’s managed to craft a budget that doesn’t require laying off any city employees. He also does a few really good things as far as I’m concerned. He cut funding for the South Georgia Wildcats, fireworks shows, and the city’s office for Small and Disadvantaged Businesses. As I personally believe all private businesses need to be 100% privately funded and managed, I have no problem with any of this. But, as they say in infomercials, there’s more.

And yet, Mr. Lott still wants to raise property taxes .7-mil, which he claims will amount to about $1 million, to fund the city’s new gang task force. Mr. Lott said in an interview with WALB that he believes the tax payers will be OK with this increase since it goes for a specific function. Unfortunately, I suspect he’s right. And what’s more, I suspect the City Commission will agree as well.

However, here’s a couple of things to think about. First is the concept of property taxes. A property tax isn’t really a tax on your property. Nope. It’s rent you pay to the government for the privilege of “owning” property. If you think you really own it, don’t pay your property taxes and see what happens. That’s right, it’s the same thing as if you don’t pay a landlord rent…you’re out on your butts. You have no real property rights except that which the government gives you, because they’re the real owners.

Next, I have a problem with the idea that taxes need to increase to fund a gang task force when the city’s budget is already bloated. Just take a look at the Flint Riverquarium, or as I call it, the albatross. The city finances this thing, dropping millions each year to subsidize it, and it still operates in the red. Mr. Lott? If you want to free up some money, try privatizing the Riverquarium. A non-profit can be founded with the purpose of running it, but would be tasked with all funding for it. Then, if it closes, it closes. It’s called the free market, and this thing was never going to generate the revenue that was claimed.

Further, you could phase out the trash collection monopoly, open it up for competition, and wash your hands of the whole thing. Competition would keep prices low, probably on par with what people are already paying for trash collection, and the city’s part in this? Zero. Let’s privatize as much as possible, removing the city’s finances significantly, and allowing them to focus on public safety offices like police and fire departments.

But then, people might figure out that they don’t need as much government as they’ve been led to believe.

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2 Responses

  1. About the Riverquarium…I think you may be on to something. However, it is actually owned by the State of GA’s DNR. If it was not subsidized by the city ($275k by the way), I don’t think it would close. Why couldn’t it be a regional office for the DNR, complete with a teaching/research aquarium? The state will not voluntarily take it on, but what if local government subsidy suddenly ceased? Would the DNR let it be mothballed? I doubt it. It would be used for something. Maybe the non-essential aspects would be shut down.

    The state operates museums in Macon and Tifton that started much the same way as the RQ, but got to expensive for local government to handle. This was my initial reaction when the RQ threatened closure several years ago, if it did not get government subsidy, i.e. let’s see what happens without the government funding. Will the DNR step in? Will the RQ just cut costs?

    Some will argue that the RQ is too valuable to downtown revitilization to take that risk. Perhaps that would be true if it totally closed. But what we really don’t know is what minimum level of funding is really required to maintain it as a downtown attraction.

    Some will argue that the City was gifted the RQ by the state, so it would be political suicide to not subsidize it. I don’t buy that.

    For the record, I like the RQ. It is beautiful in many respects. However, I think it was a $30+ million mistake. It should have never been built. It is similar to the Civic Center in that respect.

    The RQ was also built in such a manner as to cause unnecessary expense in operations. Instead of pulling cold, fresh water from a well, it uses city water which must be chilled and de-chlorinated. This has helped jack up utility costs to over $250k a year. I have already inquired about a conversion, but the cost-benefit at this stage makes it a bad business decisions.

    Moreover, the nonprofit entity overseeing construction neglected to obtain the permit required from EPD to discharge fish-litter water back into the Flint. Thus, the RQ is paying to send its used water back into the city sewer system at an unnecessary cost.

    Of course, now we are stuck with both, at least in the interim. All we can do is make sound decisions going forward.

    As for the Civic Center, I have Googled to see if any government has had luck at selling their civic center. I found none. It would be wonderful to sell it. It would be nice to have it branded by say Miller.

    I also asked GMA to give me some research info about privitization of management of civic centers, and they could not provide me with any success stories. There are, however, some cities experimenting with it. Most are doing it in limited areas like food service. That would not be helpful. We need to think bigger. We need the power of the private sector to get the thing utilized as much as possible. Unfortunately, the utility for this type of center in this type of market is very, very low. The entertainment industry has changed drastically in the last 25 years since its construction. Honestly, the private sector may do not better with it, but it is worth a try.

  2. […] any further with all the extras that the city puts out that government has no place involved in. Early today, I made a suggestion about the Flint Riverquarium, or as I call it, The Albatross (TM). The idea of privatization can work in other ways as […]

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