Because life works backward, particularly when you look at it askance, this year’s fashioning of next year’s Carson City budget is a bit like lines from an epic poem.
Think “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and its most famed couplet: “Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.” Actually, let’s expand that to include the preceding couplet and that entire four-line stanza: “Water, water every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink.”
Monday morning bright and early (that’s 8:30 a.m. for night owls), the Carson City Board of Supervisors in the Sierra Room at the Community Center will commence an oceanic voyage in what looks like a rowboat. Translation: much to do, little or no additional money.
First, some facts. The preliminary city government general fund budget, if approved as crafted by staff, calls for spending $59.6 million in fiscal year 2013-14, beginning July 1. That’s up about 1 percent from the current year’s $58.9 million. If adopted as is, it calls for no change in property taxes, which are at $3.56 per $100 assessed value.
There is still room to go up a dime if the board wants. It doesn’t seem eager to go there.
The big items are outside the general fund. They are for infrastructure needs — a mouthful, in this case, for water-supply and sewage-treatment construction. Those could carry water- and sewer-user rate hikes of 3 percent and 10 percent, respectively, annually over coming years.
Facts aside, the poetry in motion here is the supervisors’ knowledge — or at least hope — that an economy adrift on an ocean in the immediate past is headed back to port and potable water. Yet shrunken board revenue options, in a city and state hit hard by recession in the past five years, mean the briny H2O around us now can’t be partaken.
“Nor any drop to drink” applies despite knowledge of what may be on, or at least over, the horizon.
Because life indeed works backward, decisions must be made without adequate information about tomorrow and thus often are keyed to where we’ve been rather than where we’re going. Supervisors will hear from staff, plus public comments if any, before they turn the rudder on where to steer the city’s ship next financially.
So what does the ancient mariner’s tale mean for supervisors? In reality, nothing.
Symbolically, however, it’s another thing. Coleridge’s late 18th century poem was about the old mariner killing an albatross and being doomed to repeat his tale over and over.
We can remind ourselves that it isn’t money or lack of it that is an albatross, nor is this necessarily a repetitive tale; instead, perhaps it is just time to play the hand Carson City is dealt until the dealer provides new cards and thirst can be slaked later.
John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.