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Our Opinion: Mayor applies positive spin to budget shortfall

News Tribune editorial

A response by Jefferson City’s mayor in reaction to a $1.68 million budget shortfall leaves us perplexed.

“Due to a software upgrade and process change that was instituted this year, we were able to identify this issue early,” Mayor Eric Struemph said in a news release Wednesday. “In years past it may have been much later in the fiscal year before the problem was brought to our attention.”

Such positive spin is positively dizzying. The statement is more damage control than explanation.

Governments — and businesses and households — have been balancing budgets since well before the advent of “software upgrades.”

And we would contend “identifying this issue early” would mean sometime before the city slid into a $1.68 million hole.

The city’s languid response to the shortfall also is disturbing. A Feb. 14 email from City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus to elected officials and department heads reads: “I can tell you that overall we will come up short in the general funds. I consider the situation to be serious.”

More than a month later and well into the city’s second quarter — its fiscal year begins in November — action to offset the shortfall will be compressed into the remainder of the fiscal year.

The mayor’s assessment of what the city is facing is similarly optimistic.

“First,” he said, “we must immediately fix the 2013 budget, so that we are not in a position at the end of the fiscal year where we must try to transfer funds around to ‘keep the lights on.’ It is the goal of everyone I have spoken with that this be done with no adverse impact on essential services.”

If that “goal” can be attained, it will be a testament to the operations of city departments, which will feel the budget pinch.

The City Council on Monday will discuss specific budget cuts designed to offset the budget shortfall.

For city residents, the most noticeable cuts may be in the Public Works Department, where reductions in street materials and seasonal employees may mean potholes are not patched or rough roads are not resurfaced.

City departments — including the police and fire — facing overtime cuts likely will realign and reschedule manpower to cushion any significant impact on public safety.

Other proposed cuts include: reductions in allocations for economic development services and some community events; eliminating security screenings at council meetings; and an early retirement incentive program.

“The bottom line,” the mayor said in his news release, “is the city is facing a significant revenue shortfall and it is our job as your elected officials to find a solution.”

Regarding that statement, we couldn’t agree more.

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