Reporter Loses Hed Over Budget

Headlines are pretty important in journalism, but you’d never know that from reading the Republic. In yesterday’s Scottsdale edition, the headline paints a pretty rosy city budget picture that isn’t borne out by the article. In fact, I’d say the headline missed the point entirely.

In fairness to the reporter, it is my understanding that the Republic employs folks other than the reporters to write the headlines for the reporters’ stories. I presume also that the Republic employs someone to edit and check that the heds match the ledes and that both match the story beneath. But, this won’t be the first time the headline simply doesn’t tell the story.

If you read only the headline, “Upcoming city budget reflects healthier outlook,” you’d never know that the current city budget missed the the “outlook” by a significant margin. The real story here is actually buried in the article, and the headline could have been more accurately written as, “Healthier outlook follows shortfall.”

Conservative approach

Sales-tax collections this year have fallen short of projections adopted in the current budget, which ends June 30 [emphasis added].

The city is [now] forecasting annual revenue to come in at $95.8 million, down from an initial $97.3 million.

The sub-hed says “Conservative approach,” but then how does that translate to a shortfall? We are $1.5 million short, people! Not a huge percentage of the total budget, to be sure, but when we started out with an $8 million deficit (which Mayor Lane continues to deny and the Republic won’t report), it adds up to a shortfall of over 4%…and denying it doesn’t fix it.

“That has caused us a bit of concern in trying to make (up) ground,” said Mayor Jim Lane, noting that the city will have to look “very critically” at projected revenues and take a cautious approach “not to over-estimate and over-forecast.”

Similarly, City Councilman Dennis Robbins said that “starting out conservatively is a good way to go.”

Funny, I’ve heard Lane’s and Robbins’ words before…Oh yeah, it was ME addressing Lane and the council last year prior to adoption of the budget. I told them they were basing the budget on overly-optimistic forecasts and that they weren’t being conservative enough with the budget. But, no one would expect the Chamber of Commerce newsletter (the Republic) to report THAT.

Scottsdale has several months of sales-tax collections left to analyze before adoption of the final budget.

“Right now, we’re talking about revenue projections in January for a budget that we’re not actually going to adopt until June,” Robbins said. “As we get closer to the actual budget adoption, we might be able to bump it up 1 or 2 percent.”

This remark from Robbins is exactly the opposite of a conservative approach to budgeting. He’s advocating committing to spend as much as the revenue forecast.

Probably the biggest news in this article relates to infrastructure maintenance and construction. Lane has complained frequently about underfunding transfers from the “General Fund” to the “Capital Improvement Projects” fund in previous years–even though Lane was part of approving eight previous budgets, and as a former CPA you’d think he’d have figured this out prior to the last couple of years.

Yet, the Republic buries this nugget at the end of the article:

Also on Tuesday, Derek Earle, acting executive director of public works, will give a presentation on the city’s 2013-14 capital-improvement plan budget.

The plan, which outlines ongoing and future city projects, is similar to past years, with “very limited funding” available from the general fund to pay for future projects, Earle said.

So, to summarize: it’s not really the reporters fault that the headline doesn’t really match what was written. The information IS in the article. But…as community advocate Chris Schaffner might ask: Who’s name is on the by-line?

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1 Comment

  1. “Shortfalls” are always the fault of taxpayers. Never because those in government were overly optimistic or if were truthful “made and error” in their forecasts. Bottom line, The Scottsdale Taxpayer always get screwed.

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