Letter to the Editor: Fuzzy math doesn’t pass the sniff test

Editorials, Letter to the Editor, News 2 4

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by DuPont resident Ed Healy:

During the public hearing regarding DuPont’s proposed 2013 budget, I thanked the mayor for his willingness to be open with the community. I also asked for the city council to be specific about details pertaining to the budget and to show the public the math because we want to understand it as well. In other words, our 2013 budget has to pass the sniff test. I believe the majority of DuPont residents want to see the city succeed.

Unfortunately, things aren’t adding up. During the 2013 Revenue Hearing on November 13, DuPont Interim Finance Director Steve Marcotte tried to explain how the expected property tax rate for 2013 is calculated, per $1,000 of assessed value. What was presented on slide no. 23 is that the total levy amount is divided by the total assessed valuation, and that gives us our expected property tax rate for 2013. In this case, Mr. Marcotte showed $1,444,059 divided by 1,174,492,092 per $1,000 assessed valuation equals $1.2086.

If we deem the entirety of the other information on this slide and the explanation given by Mr. Marcotte to be accurate, it would be reasonable to expect that the math calculations shown to be accurate. Sadly, they are not.

My calculator shows 1,444,059 / 1,174,492,092 * 1,000 = $1.2295.

It appears that the City has understated the property tax levy rate by $0.0209 (1.2295 – 1.2086), or 1.7 percent of the actual rate that results from using the formula in the presentation. The difference between these two rates represents a difference of $24,568 if we assume the Total Assessed Valuation figure to be accurate. I would like to know why the math formulas on the presentations do not appear to be accurate.

Another example of fuzzy math shows up when the city tries to explain how much a fireman costs.

When the City of DuPont asked the citizens of DuPont to vote for Prop 1 during the recent election cycle, we were told that it would cost us $300,000 to keep the three SAFER firefighters, or $100,000 per firefighter. The firefighter math gets cloudy when you look at the presentation Mr. Marcotte gave on Nov. 13. On slide #12, we were told how much the City of DuPont would save by eliminating four  firefighters.  According to this presentation, a firefighter costs the City of DuPont $63,669 (254,677 / 4).

If it would cost us $300,000 to keep three firefighters, how does it only save us $254,677 to get rid of four of them?

It might be useful for the City to give us a single figure that can be backed up with math. What is the cost of a firefighter in DuPont, Washington? Is it $63,669 or $100,000? Why is there a 57 percent difference in the cost to hire versus the cost to fire?

This is just two of many examples where the numbers provided by City staff don’t appear to add up. What concerns me most is that our City Council and Mayor are going to rely on these facts and figures to craft our 2013 budget. If I am alarmed by these types of holes in the materials provided by our City staff, I hope warning bells are going off in their heads as well.

- Ed Healy, DuPont


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  1. RealDuPont November 20, 2012 at 10:09 am - 

    I think a large part of what I wrote yesterday as an editorial and this information provided today speaks to a point I made in May at the Town Hall meeting held at the Home Course. There is a cultural change needed in DuPont City Hall. The culture is that council appears to advocate more for the city hall staff than they do for the citizens. Our elected officials need to stop making excuses for the staff and their burden and manage them accoridingly. After all, councilmembers and mayors come and go, but the staff doesn’t have to defend themselves at the polls.

  2. DupontDenizen November 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm - 

    Despite all the good intentions by people posting editorials, the fact of the matter is that our council members are hopelessly lost as to how to fix the problem. They don’t have enough sophistication in municipal finance to even have the slightest clue on how to solve the problem. They don’t have any ability to bring solutions to the table because they barely understand the fiscal options at their disposal.

    There are 4 members up for election next November. Citizens might want to consider finding some quality replacements. In the mean time, the financial crisis will probably just continue to fester and worsen.

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