The agenda material has just been released for the second budget workshop to be held on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 1pm.  SEE:

Raoul Lavin, Administration & Professional Services, is listed as author of the report.

In the report, he makes the following claims.  Budget Hawks offers a different analysis of the information presented by Lavin.



Lavin:  Municipal Cost Comparison  The municipal cost comparison is one budget tool that is used to evaluate the City’s commitment to meeting community priorities. Comparison cities are selected based on their mix of services, population, percent of taxable value and other factors, in order to make a meaningful comparison to Tallahassee.  This careful balancing of taxes and service charges has been managed such that the City is still able to provide the second lowest Total Municipal Cost for households with median property values compared to the twelve relevant peers. The charts that follow present the municipal cost comparison findings in detail.

BH:  Choosing cities to compare based on subjective characteristics such as “sense of place” and “sense of community,” undermines the results of the comparison.    How would one go about proving that Pensacola has the same sense of community or sense of place as Tallahassee?

This sentence was removed from Lavin’s first report of the peer city comparison to the commission at the first workshop:

“While other cities in Florida may have similar features statistically, and lower costs for city services overall, they may not be a good comparison based on more subjective measures like sense of place, appearance of public spaces and infrastructure, recreational and cultural opportunities, and community engagement.”  

BH:  The key part of the missing statement is that there are cities with similar features statistically and lower costs for cities overall, but were eliminated  because of the “subjective” (his word) measures like sense of place, appearance of public places, and community engagement.

How does one go about measuring community engagement?  Using voter participation or by counting how many people come to budget workshops?  

BH:  Budget Hawks has provided the city manager and to the commission with its own peer city comparison using the same cities to compare.  BH based its comparison by first providing the actual annual expenditures of each city but then subtracting  to costs related to owning an electric utility (Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Lakeland).  The results show Tallahassee as the 10th highest spenders per capita out of the 12 cities chosen by Lavin, Wigen, and agreed to by city manager Fernandez.

Although the alternative comparison presented by BH contains spending inequities that are common to all attempts to compare heterogeneous subjects, the BH approach is no less valid than the city’s methodology.

The city’s comparison uses averages that are derived solely from residential data that do not capture the per capita cost that is important to accuracy results.  Commercial factors are totally left out of the city’s presentation.  Factors that would potentially affect the city’s study like average cost of city discretionary sales tax are also left out of the city study.  

BH:  Budget Director Bob  Wigen  presented a chart that seemed to indicate visually that the city spending. growth rate was the same as the population growth rate. Wigen echoed that claim in his verbal explanation of the chart to commissioners.  See Tallahassee Reports Video

BH:  Actually, during the relevant years between 2010 and 2015,  spending grew by 17% while the population grew by 3.7%.  These number come from the city’s own chart, apparently was missed by Wigen.  

BH:  CRS provided the city with testimony from the FSU Distinguished Hilton Economics Professor Shawn Kantor PhD who said that based on his analysis of the city spending history, the city was spending like its 2005, a timely reference to Prince’s Partying like it 1999. Commission Richardson and Mayor Gillum seem to miss the point the professor was making and the humor of his Prince reference, defended staff’s analysis.

Lavin’s report is quite lengthy and the remainder of the report will be analyzed by BH in a later blog.