Two years ago, I worked with my colleagues to create the city of Tucson Independent Audit and Performance Commission. We did this because we wanted an independent body to review and critique city programs, policies and functions to help management perform more efficiently and effectively.
Two weeks ago, I requested a study session with mayor and council to discuss the commission's review of the city's annual financial report (CAFR) for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011.
Their report pointed out that city golf, which is structured as a sustaining enterprise fund like Water and Environmental Services, is instead being subsidized by the city's general fund.
As of June 30, 2011, the general fund has covered an accumulated $6.9 million in cash deficits. This is unacceptable.
Since that meeting, city staffers have denied that these funds are a subsidy. They call it a transfer from the investment pool. They call it depreciation. They call it a misunderstanding.
However, in the written response from the city staff to the commission, the staff describes golf's increasing cash deficit over the past six years as a transfer from the general fund. It's also in the CAFR on page 40. We should all be concerned about this reaction to our inquiries about city finances.
It is undeniable that golf provides numerous benefits to our community. However, what is especially important in today's difficult financial times is to truly identify costs and benefits so we can make informed decisions about the future.
This isn't an attack on golf. It's a request for a more conservative approach to mitigate or prevent risk to the general fund.
Since our April 24 study session with mayor and council on this topic, two articles in the Arizona Daily Star have discussed golf's financial operations and its impact on the city's general fund. I am pleased the Star is helping to communicate this dire situation to the public.
Per my direction, mayor and council are continuing the discussion of the general-fund subsidy of golf as part of our budget process for this fiscal year. In the city manager's proposed budget, staff shows $6.8 million in projected revenues, yet the estimated actual revenues for 2012 show $5.6 million, which is a $1.2 million difference.
The staff is again being too optimistic in budgeting.
If we do nothing, projected revenues and expenses indicate that the cash shortage will likely increase to more than $8.5 million by June 30, 2012. Again, this is unacceptable.
I don't care what we call it - a transfer, subsidy, loss or deficit. Bottom line, I want to make sure that golf repays the general fund and finds a way to cover its annual expenses within the next two fiscal years.
I'm glad we are moving forward with a transparent discussion on golf finances and I appreciate the work of the audit commission.
Our community and mayor and council deserve to have all of the information needed to craft an informed and balanced budget.
We will adopt this year's budget on June 5. The public has the opportunity to participate at all of the upcoming council meetings - May 15, May 22 and June 5 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 255 W. Alameda St.
Please send me your suggestions and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 791-4040.
Regina Romero represents Ward 1 - the west side, south side and downtown - on the Tucson City Council.