The public doesn’t generally understand the complexities of the various funding sources and spending restrictions in local government.

Especially during these difficult times, the general public believes that their public agencies have large discretionary income, but that is not the case. 

Restricted revenues generally received from Federal or State Government has very specific restrictions on what that money can be used for.  Fees collected from development and enterprise activities, such as water, sewer, parks, public works construction, streets and the like can only be used for those purposes.

If the fee money is not used for those purposes, two things happen: fees get reduced or the fees are returned to those who paid them. 

You can’t simply reallocate the revenue to the General Fund by law. 

General Fund property taxes and sales tax for cities make up the majority of the discretionary revenue, but with a close look at public safety police and fire, you will find that just those two services use up most, if not all, those sources. 

Generally speaking, most elected officials and citizens are very reluctant to reduce public safety services.  So, when we see a major loss of property and sales tax, it is a very tough decision to cut public safety. 

Other programs like Parks, Recreation, Libraries, administrative services, etc., take a much larger hit against their budgets, in some cases resulting in elimination of specific programs and services.

Critical policy decisions must be made in order to maintain a responsible and reasonable balance of services. 

The public focus should be on those choices being response times for police and fire services, number of personnel and a review at the program level of all services. 


Rick Kirkwood recently retired following 32 years in public administration; 29 years as a City Manager in California, Washington and Utah. You can weigh in on his blogs through the comment board below.