The City of Annapolis remains in a precarious financial situation and ti appears to this observer that Mayor Josh Cohen is not in control. At a recent city council work session, Finance Director Tim Elliott told the council it is "Very tight...I'm sorry I don't have better news but I think we need to be honest about it and deal with it"
We have already taken out a ten million dollar line of credit to deal with this cash flow crunch. That's ten million dollars out of about an eighty-million dollar annual budget. Cohen has said all along that this is a short-term measure mainly to deal with lower than expected revenues that will mainly be resolved when tax revenues are provided to the City in October. Cohen believes that all will be resolved and all for the low, low cost of only some tens of thousands of dollars in short-term interest.
Eliott warned that "It could mean in the fall we might not be able to make payroll."
Alderman Ross Arnett asked, "What do we do if the this picture holds true?"
Elliott said, "And that's one thing we're discussing. There are options...."
Arnett asked "Does the council have a right to know what the plans are?"
Elliott explained that "By October 31st, it looks like we're pretty good, but we're still slightly under water....whatever happens to transportation?...the real concern is about getting to the second half of the year..."
Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson recounted the borrowing to shore up the cash flow and asked what happens on August 31st?
Elliott said, "I'm counting... I'm hoping we can secure some revenue, there's the grants, payments for outstanding litigation on the police station and then some other reduction in costs that have not materialized yet."
The City is currently paying outside lawyers to pursue a claim against the construction company originally hired to renovate the police station. While one may question if it is throwing good money after bad, this reporter does not know if there was even a bond, but of course, even if there is a judgment, one cannot know for how much or when it will be delivered. Many residents are still reeling after the City paid millions out for the Market House debacle. The shoe is on the other foot here, but how much are we basing assumptions of improved "revenue" on a possibly favorable lawsuit?
Elliott blamed much of the continuing situation on mismanagement at the departmental level and once again, transportation is apparently to blame, not just for expected operating losses, but for deepening debt. Each department head is of course appointed by Mayor Josh Cohen and reports to his handpicked so-called "City Manager" Mike Malinoff, who is really a city administrator because he too is a political appointee reporting to the mayor.
Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson asked Cohen how he would handle department directors who overspent.
Cohen said "That's something that we are going to work out during this fiscal year. Umm, we can say conceptually that if a department overspends its budget, that the department will be held accountable....so what does that mean? That's something that we're still going to work out how it's going to be implemented. In principle, that's something that we're still going to work out how it's implemented......But its going to be an ongoing process....."
Finlayson said "It sounds like something that needs urgent attention....we're running out of time."
At which point they briefly adjourned to take an official photo.
Here's my take on the situation. FUBAR AND SNAFU. All the mayor can say is that we have an onoging pocess to stop the bleeding? Are there no controls in place at the level of purchasing requests to stay within the approved budget?
This all goes back to Cohen, who has not only had seven months to make sure his appointed departmental directors control spending, but has a fairly simple tool at his disposal to handle those who overspend. He can fire them. Instead, he told city council some mealy-mouthed mumbo-jumbo about "conceptually" and "in principle" how this will be, or might be handled.
You can see it all for yourself at a 26-minute video on the city's web-site. Try this link:
http://origin.peg.tv/pegtv_player?s=annapolis or go to http://www.annapolis.gov/ and go to CityTV on demand, and then click on city council work session 7-16, part two. The best parts begin at about 9:00 and then the last few minutes are real doozies, especially where the Mayor hems and haws about our City going broke, because he cannot control his own appointees from overspending our money.