(October 15,2002 // link)
It is not surprising that the discussion of whether or not citizens should have input on bike week planning and management has turned to a discussion of the budget and taxes. This attempt at deflecting attention away from the issue has not and will not have the desired effect because people are in fact talking about bike week and its place in the whole scheme of city government. Discussion is what I encouraged, and discussion is what we now beginning to have. This issue is important to many citizens and taxpayers who do not make money on the event. They have a right to have a say in this discussion. Let’s stay focused and not lose sight of the fact that Bike Week is the issue and that the issue is not going to just go away.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the budget and taxes, but I also want to discuss the impact of Bike Week on the budget and the city. Let me say at the outset that I do not now nor did I ever advocate ending the event; I advocate an open and inclusive dialogue on how the event can better fit into a long range vision of our city’s future.
As for the school budget (approved by the entire city council): it does not comprise 60% of the cities tax burden. While approximately 60% of the cities gross budget is expended on schools, only 55% of the money raised by taxes is spent on schools. That is because our school district seeks and obtains substantial federal and state grant money which is returned to the city in the form of income. It is simply not accurate to look at a budget without considering the revenue side of the equation.
How does that 55% number look as compared to the rest of the state? That number is right in line with most districts. For example, Gilford spends 62% of its funds raised from taxes on its schools, Belmont spends 65% (the Shaker Regional School District, of which Belmont is a part, spends an average of 67%), Meredith Spends 53% (Its Interlakes Co-op spends 58% total), Concord spends 58%, and Winnisquam spends 63%. These numbers reflect the relative cost of running what, for most communities, is the biggest business in town. The source of these numbers is the State Department of Educations publication Valuations, Property Tax Assessments and Tax Rates of School Districts 12/6/01.
School budgets comprise the higher percentage of municipal budgets because schools are service businesses. In Laconia the school district employs over 400 full and part time employees and operates over 420,000 square feet of building space. It serves over 2,500 meals per day and runs its food service program in the black. Lest we forget, we are also educating approximately 2,500 children and running extremely successful adult ed, alternative and vocational programs. All of this is accomplished within a fiscally and educationally responsible budget. In contrast, the city employs about 100 people and operates 100,000 square feet of buildings, along with the city parks, public safety services and roads. The city does this on a tight operational budget which must by looked at in light of the city’s increasing needs. Balancing the needs of the city with the cost of services is a concern to us all; which brings me back to Bike Week.
Right now the city spends time, effort and resources in the planning, preparation and oversight of the event. Our city officials, including members of the licensing board, spend a lot of time and effort trying to minimize the impact on the city coffers. If vender licensing remains the only source of funds available to offset the cost of the event, the cost of licenses alone will compromise the future of the event.
If the city realized a fee that amounted to $5.00 per bike week visitor who rolled over our streets, we would realize 1.5 million dollars in revenue (assuming 300,000 participants). After paying our expenses we could make a real dent in the projects listed on the City CIP plan year after year. Many of us would like bike week a lot more under these circumstances. A budget must be looked at from both the expenditure and the income side. Just as the school district aggressively manages its budget to maximize its non-property tax based budget revenue (federal, state and private grant sources), so can the city if we can consider Bike Week as an asset for the benefit of all and not just a fortunate few. This should be of interest to the entire counsel, especially those who do not directly represent the Weirs.