The latest numbers provided by the city of Rockville regarding the city’s budget are prompting more questions than answers.
Since 2009, according to numbers provided by the city, Rockville has accrued more than $17 million, give or take, in budget surpluses above and beyond a 15 percent targeted surplus rate.
In other words each year the city hopes to have at least a 15 percent surplus and in the past five years has accrued a total of much more than that. The city has used this money to pay down debts and other projects which leaves about $6 million of collected taxes doing nothing but gathering interest.
In 2013 alone the city had $3.4 million above the targeted $9.79 million it hoped for in surplus.
The city did nothing with this surplus – and didn’t bother to assign that money to pay for anything.
While being fiscally conservative is a fine thing for a city and city staff should be lauded for efforts to maintain a healthy balance sheet, one can make the argument the city has taken these efforts to an extreme.
“The City’s AAA rating was recently affirmed in March 2014 by Moody’s Standard and Poor’s,” City spokesman Marylou Berg recently told us. “These organizations cited Rockville’s conservative fiscal management and strong financial position. Moody’s noted several items that could potentially decrease the city’s credit rating, including ‘continued us of fund balance that draws reserves below current levels.’”
In short the City of Rockville is defending its Dickensian fiscal management policy by saying additional expenditures which might sap the city’s reserves could jeopardize the city’s credit rating.
The only time since 2009 the city did not hit its targeted 15 percent surplus was in 2012 and it only missed it by $2,430 while in every other fiscal year from 2009 to 2013 it accrued the $17 million.
It has spend this money in a wise manner, paying down on capital projects to reduce future borrowing, paying health benefits for retirees and bailing out RedGate. “To the extent the unassigned General Fund balance exceeds the target, the city may draw upon the fund balance to provide pay-go financing for capital projects, for other one-time capital items or for additional contributions to reduce the (health benefits for retirees) or pension fund liabilities,” Berg explained to us.
Finally, she said, “In addition, Mayor and Council or the City Manager may commit or assign the fund balance that exceeds the target, respectively.”
At the end of the day what this apparently means is the city can use this money any way it wishes, if it can find a logic, reason or rationale to do so and the city council votes to do it.
So, here the city sits on a huge heap of money. It is unassigned. It has no purpose. It won’t do anything to protect the city’s credit rating because the city has more than what it needs to protect its line of credit.
This begs the question; why doesn’t the City of Rockville give its police officers a stepped raise?
We have asked this question repeatedly and will continue to do so until we get an answer.
When we asked for a copy of a photograph of a piece of art to help promote a Rockville event, the city had no problem providing us with that photograph in a timely fashion.
When a reporter from this newspaper asked why the city manager didn’t propose a raise for city police we are still waiting for an answer. Why? It is obvious providing us a photograph is easier, but it is far more important to address a very serious issue.
The city police have not had a stepped-raise increase going on five years. The City of Rockville sits on millions of dollars that are unassigned – according to the figures they provided us.
Doing the math, the city could afford raises for its entire police force for the next five years – easily – by using the unassigned millions it sits on currently.
Yet, it has failed to do so.
Meanwhile it continues to embrace questionable relations with its own staff as former employees have sued the city claiming age and sexual discrimination.
Logically the city could go a long way to repair hard feelings by giving everyone a stepped raise.
It can certainly afford it.
The bottom line: It’s good for the city and would go a long way to showing employees that management cares about them. The question is does management care?