Sometimes we just shake our head in disbelief over the priority that local officials and elected leaders place on issues that we regard as entirely frivolous.
No where has there been a better example of such misplaced spending of tax dollars as last week’s meeting of Burlington’s city council, where the council seemed actually to be interested in shelling out $3.6 million to put down artificial turf on three soccer fields at Springwood Park.
Out of all of Burlington’s municipal needs, this should be a priority?
But even more than our puzzlement over the substance of the synthetic grass idea is the urgency that city officials seemed to have placed on implementing the idea.
Oh, they really want to hurry, officials told the council, in order to get everything in place to start – i.e., and be obligated to spend – before the new fiscal year that begins July 1.
Why, we continue to wonder?
Increasingly, we think local governments might as well ditch their annual budget process – since they so rarely pay any attention to its parameters anyway.
Why would there be such urgency to “beat the clock” just 60 days or so from the start of a new fiscal year?
Our usual supposition in such cases (and here) is that by expediting such a large expenditure now, they can camouflage – or attempt to disguise – the overall cost in the future, relative to other spending requests.
Parks and recreation’s budget is going to look $3.6 million less than it actually will be – if, in fact, this new expenditure somehow is rushed to the front of the spending line before the fiscal year begins.
The artificial turf won’t have to compete with other, ostensibly needed, parks and recreation requests, if officials can sneak this huge expenditure in early.
But, dear taxpayer, just get ready for the rhetoric even now.
Despite having millions that they were ready to part with last week, we’ll wager that when the real budget comes along, the city officials and the city council members will claim there’s just not enough money to go around without keeping the tax rate higher than it otherwise would be without such expenditures.
This year, the rhetoric is not that artificial turf or other spending ideas will cause a tax increase; rather, it will simply affect the degree to which the tax rate (will, can, or should) be reduced because of the revaluation which is set to add millions to local municipal tax bases.
Our commendations to council member Kathy Hykes, not usually a budget hawk on most city spending topics. “I’m struggling with the cost of this,” she said last week. “I don’t know where the money is coming from.”
Except that, as usual, we can remind all council members where the money will be coming from: out of the taxpayers’ increasingly depleted pockets.