Durham’s Budget Challenge

Some have suggested that I was impertinent to challenge the Durham Town Council to a dose of fiscal responsibility, as if a lowly taxpayer has no place at court, and even less right to question their betters. Let me clarify my challenge:

“I challenge the Town Council to set the 2015 Town Tax Revenues (Budget) at no more than $6,300,000 to claw back those excesses*, thereby putting Town’s management on an equal footing with the ORCSD, and for subsequent periods to limit budget growth to no more than the annual increase in Social Security benefits.”
* From the previous post, “excesses” are defined as the actual Town’s growth in tax revenues (budget) over Oyster River Cooperative School (ORCSD) district’s 1.30% annual growth rate from 2010 to 2014.

First of all, I commend the Oyster River Cooperative School District’s Board on holding their annual increase to 1.30% over the last four years, but I am fully aware that starting from a high base, a small percentage increase represents a large sum of money. I don’t believe that a few years of negative growth would degrade the quality of education and would once again serve as proof of the law of diminishing returns. The arrangement with Barrington promises to reduce the ultimate cost to member communities (Durham, Lee & Madbury) and many will be watching carefully to see how this plays out. I believe that the underlying member community costs will continue to increase absent managerial cost control.

Second, I am not draconian. I understand the money pit construct, and how throwing good money after bad is more about face-saving than resurrecting the dead. However, the challenge to “claw back those excesses” was to achieve a 1.30% 5 year growth rate, 2010-2015, and not about the excess spending during 2011-2014.

Adjust Growth Rate to 1.30%

 Town's Tax CollectionActual Increase over Prior YearTax Rate Increase Over Prior Year
Growth Rate 2010-20146.67%
2015 - Challenge$6,224,965-$1,331,104-17.62%
Growth 2010-20151.30%

Had I challenged the Town Council to claw back the excess spending from 2011-2014, essentially matching the ORCSD budget growth rate, then I would have challenged them to reduce the 2015 budget by over $3,545,435, see Table below, instead of $1,331,104, see Table above, that is necessary to achieve the average 1.30% growth rate.

Excess Spending over ORCSD Growth Rate 2010 - 2014

 Town's Actual Tax CollectionTax Rate Increased Annually by 1.30%Excess Spending Over 1.30% Target
2011$6,352,036 $5,911,519 $440,516
2012$6,799,163 $5,988,369 $810,794
2013$6,949,352 $6,066,218 $883,134
2014$7,556,069 $6,145,079 $1,410,990
2015 Challenge$6,224,965 $0

A companion challenge would be to ask Durham’s Town Council to explain what they were thinking when they approved $3,545,435 in spending over a 1.30% growth rate in a time of low to no inflation, in a time when many were without jobs, in a time when many were cutting back to pay their property taxes. This is all before the Town office moves into their new $3,000,000 monument.

Is anyone actually minding the store?

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