Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Budget Questions

The ACHD Commission met for our "budget overview" yesterday and I'm pleased to say that even Commissioner Rebecca Arnold could be there.

As I was the only commissioner to ask any questions regarding the proposed $78.7 million budget, I thought I would just reprise my questions and what the outcome was.

Our overtime budget is $272,000, a good portion of which could be alleviated by changing our work week from Sunday - Saturday to Friday at 5pm to Friday at 4:59pm. This way any call outs on the weekend can be adjusted with comp time during the week. Outcome - maybe.

Since our lobbyist, who costs $68,000 per year, has not provided the commission with any reports per the contract, I think we should do away with them particularly since we also pay for lobbying through COMPASS and the Highway District Association. Well, apparently our attorney took it upon himself to be the gatekeeper and keep all those reports to himself but that's ok because the commission really doesn't want to be bothered with knowing that stuff. I've asked for a copy of their final report from the 2008 session. Commissioner Arnold was beneficent enough as to allow that to happen. Outcome - way too valuable a service even though we don't get reports to know exactly what we received in value.

We subsidize Commuterride with $250,000 of taxpayer funds. I think we should do away with that subsidy. Well. How stupid was I? However we will be reducing their travel and meeting budget by about $8000 and well get some update on their statistics and how they advertise. Outcome - not much happening on this front.

We did remove the Kuna Mora Road study from the budget saving $25,000 and about $4000 in other study placeholder funds. Outcome - something.

We are going to look into cheaper vendors for credit card payments.

For some reason the commissioners, including those who don't get the Statesman, think the Road Wizard in the Statesman (which they don't see of course) is the greatest thing since sliced bread and refuse to get rid of it which would save around $60,000 per year particularly if we wrote it in house. I did get some agreement on looking at their circulation figures over the last years because personally, I don't think they have a very high readership. Outcome - we'll see.

I believe we can cut the property tax budget by $1 million which would return some real taxes to the property tax payer. (Note I think this could be done without sacrificing any road maintenance, planning or construction of new roads.) Yet, I don't think I'm going to get any support for that. Right now that discussion has been put off until August 2009 at the public hearing. If no one shows, then the commission will assume there is no support for reductions in taxes.


At July 24, 2009 at 4:42 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because of the length of my comments, I may have to post this into several parts - for that I sincerely apologize. Over the past several weeks I have watch and read with interest as you discuss the tax issue and the ACHD revenue stream. I do have a few questions and comments for you regarding your comments.
As I understand it, ACHD employees had voluntarily taken a furlough day each month for Fiscal Year 2009, and understand that this need may well extend into 2010. This furlough day saves Ada County tax county taxpayers how much? Maybe $60,0000/year or more? Why haven't you mentioned that and given kudos to the employees who are trying to reduce the budget?
As I have driven by ACHD on occasion, I have seen vehicles, that in better days would have been replaced. This includes the what - Ford Tauruses and several older pick up trucks? And some of your heavier equipment has also not been replaced lately. Isn't this also a way to do the job with less/older and also saving taxpayer dollars (at least up front) by not having to replace this equipment? Although it is also true that the cost per vehicle mile and overall maintenance cost would be less with newer, more fuel efficient (or green) vehicles. Funny, you haven’t discussed that in your comments.
I also understand that for the most part, ACHD is mot hiring new people to replace those individuals who retire, get fired or otherwise leave the District. In general, if an employee leaves, they may be replaced internally, but ultimately there is a reduction in one employee. Is that in fact true and how much has that saved the Highway District?
Also, I understand that for the most part, ACHD no longer has the number of temporary workers that it had this time two years ago. Student helpers and part time employees have been released. How much has that saved the District? I also understand that you are missing several employees long term for unknown reasons – has the District made any effort to replace them?
As I understand it, CommuterRide is a part of ACHD. If you pull the $250k out of its budget, who will make up that difference, and how many more cars will be added to the already busy interstate and major surface street volumes during those peak hours when so many motorists are already complaining?
If ACHD has made these efforts to reduce their current budget, I can only see one possible option that will save the residents of Ada County a significant amount of money, and that is to consider cutting or delaying a project. Projects are the only real big budget items that can be slipped from one fiscal year to another and save a Highway District significant amounts of money.
So which , if any, project do you think the District should halt. I understand that it is a hard decision, since a large number of projects have already been delayed at least once, and some more than three years. Should you let the intersection of Eagle/Victory (with a signal at Easy Jet/Eagle) go for another year or two? That would save $6.4M as it is for two projects.

At July 24, 2009 at 4:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ten Mile, Franklin to Cherry would save taxpayers over $8.8M, but it would have a significant impact on the Tem Mile Interchange that ITD is planning, plus it would inconvenience West Meridian residents, and the City of Meridian.
Not building Deer Flat between Ten Mile and SH69 would save the District $895K.
You could eliminate all of the pedestrian and bike projects in the valley and save a ton of money, and there are a number of motorists that obviously feel the same way. I, for one, don't agree with that thought, but it would save money.
There are a number of other projects in the ACHD 5 Year Work Program (available online) that could be cut in other years. Unfortunately, even when the economy is bad, people want and expect the roads to be maintained, striped, and safe.
Unfortunately, there is no one single easy answer and the distain and vitriol that you have for ACHD and its employees is evident, in your words and the way you treat the people at ACHD on those rare occasions that I have been there as of late. You can't believe that people work there - or words to that effect, was a statement that you made in an earlier posting.....gee, who works there, slaves and slugs? I apologize, but you have really gotten me going on this. Oh, by the way, all of the cuts that you have already mentioned seem to come to about $679,000 – less that 1% of the total ACHD budget, and less that 20% of a larger project cut that might make a more significant dent in the budget. So, which Commissioner’s District is going to have to take a painful budget cut and then explain why it was done? One of the Commissioners that you don’t really like or get along with – opps, that right, you don’t like or get along with any of them, or the people that work at ACHD. My apologies!
Oh, by the way. While I have no intention of disputing any of the facts that you mentioned previously in your earlier posting, there is one small fact that you did not mention - the percentage of Idaho land that is owned by either the sate of federal government and therefore does not generate any income or revenue for local or state agencies. Ada County employers and agencies provide services not only to the resident of Ada County, but to thousands of others within the state, and when they are hurting, Ada County hurts.

At July 24, 2009 at 7:51 AM , Blogger Sara said...

There are a number of ways to cut the budget that would not impact the service to the public or the projects currently on tap. By reducing the budget collected from the property tax, the taxpayers would see a reduction in their taxes, something I think is important. I will be posting about those as we run up to the hearing in August.

It is unfortunate that you choose to go behind the cloak of anonymity because it appears that you are very knowledgeable about some things that go on at ACHD. One would almost think that you yourself are a commissioner, however, if you were I'm sure you would have brought out these issues at our meetings. Have you ever thought about running for public office? We always need engaged people to be involved.

And slaves and slugs? Where do you get that?

Anyway thanks for your comments. They are very interesting.

At July 24, 2009 at 12:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Commissioner Baker,

Thank you for your response. As far as cloaking myself in anomymity, it is one of the options that you have offered, and at this time I shall take advantage of it.

No, I am not a Commissioner, nor am I an employee of the Highway District. I am merely a resident of your District that disagrees with the way you do business. You and I are acquainted, but I shall leave it at that.

Knowledgeable about some of the things at the District, possibly. I ready the paper, your blogs, the Five Year Work Program, listen to Boise City Council meetings and ACHD meeetings as time permits and try to be situationally aware of things around me. While I understand your motives, I dislike your methods.

As to the slave and slugs comments, you previously made a statement that you can't believe that real people would work at ACHD. Well, if not real people, then who?

As to budget cut, reducing the budget by the $679,000 that you have discussed equates to less that a 1% reduction in the ACHD budget and means an approximately (and I think I'm being generous here) $10 reduction in the tax of an average homeowner (assuming there are only 67,900 homes in Ada County (and I'm sure there are more). Again, to make a significant dent in the budget, such as you propose,, I am wondering which project you want to cut, or delay?

At July 24, 2009 at 12:42 PM , Blogger Sara said...

Again, you should think about running for office. We need knowledgeable people in office.

At July 26, 2009 at 10:52 AM , Anonymous Ted said...

Mr./Ms. Anonymous,

I have to agree with Commissioner Baker that you should run for office. I have read all of her posts and while I think she is doing a good job trying to actually help Ada County and its taxpayers, your comments are needed to keep everyone working towards that goal. You can dislike a person's method but if your method is replying to posts on a blog under a cloak how can you possibly point a finger.

I think Commissioner Baker was merely trying to show examples of where with little changes Ada County can save money. Sure postponing a project would relieve the budget of that year but I am sure you know every year it is put off the costs go up exponentially. I am not sure why you are so disgusted with the idea of saving a mere $10 per homeowner. Is $10 so worthless to you that you start your fires with President Hamilton's face?

Any amount the Commission can save for getting rid of useless things such as the Road Wizard and lobbyists should be considered.

Now don't be shy go ahead and run for the Commission and instead of secretly mocking people and saying how small their changes would be (because I guess doing nothing is better?) you can run and hopefully you will get the support and votes such as Ms. Baker did. Then perhaps you can help make a difference.


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