Sunday, June 27, 2004

Ummm...Just a Bit Longer?

I know, you're still waiting for the big "Half-Bakered looks at the County Budget and Flays it Alive" post. The person I need to talk with at the County Finance and Administration office was on vacation last week, so I'll call her Monday afternoon and try to talk with her. There are a class of what look like account transfers I'd like her to explain, as well as a lot of small items and what look like some omissions from the document I got.

But I'll say that initially, there isn't a whole lot left to cut in obvious ways. Some departments that are already pretty small don't seem to have a purpose now, but closing them amounts to a couple of million. Susan Adler Thorp was right in saying that most County grants to small programs were stopped a couple of years ago, and there still a few left but they amount to a paltry sum indeed.

I can't find the Millington Public Golf Course explicitly in the budget. I think I know where it's buried, but I'll have to ask. Otherwise, it'll be getting into the details of how the County Sheriff works and I'm not qualified there.

I'll also note that there are no cuts in the Mayor's office or in the County Commissioners' offices. I tried to float the idea of symbolic cuts to the top level of the Administration (say five persent or so) as a way of sharing the pain and showing the leaders mean business, even though it would amount to tiny savings, and Thorp shot that one down quickly. And all that free stuff the upper level gets is hiding behind broad labels like "Communication" and "Transportation," where you don't really know how it breaks out.

Astute reader Aunty Goob of Goobage ("Statisticulating" with the best. Welcome back from hiatus, by the way.) wrote to remind me of the Shelby County Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. This is the financial audit of all accounts and properties being held by the County. Think of it this way: the budget is just the record and plan of incoming monies and expenditures. It is silent on assets.

The budget is like looking at a person's paycheck, bills and receipts; the inflow and outflow of money. The CAFR is like knowing what a person owns. It would include the house, the cars, the 401(k), equity and insurance policies, savings accounts, etc. In the County budget document, there are listings for "Rental Income" and "Sales of Property." That's only money coming in. The CAFR tells you what the County owns, and what's in accounts.

Very few people are aware of the CAFR and for good reason. It turns out that unspent money from the previous year's budgets get banked up. It piles up in accounts all over the place and it's a lot. But getting that information is made difficult. Yes, it's on the County website, but look at the warning page you have to go through first. Then look at the length and complexity of the document. Law requires it to be a public thing, but they don't make it any easier beyond that.

Reading and understanding that is a project for a later time. But I will come back to it, that's why I mention it here to you, as a reminder. The County (as well as the City and State) is sitting on a lot of money that could be returned to us or used to balance the budget. (Like selling that extra car.)

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