by Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns
Earlier this year, we had a meeting at Strong Towns where I presented a 2017 budget to our Board of Directors. We spent considerable time going over it, scrutinizing our work plan for the year, how it related to our Strategic Plan and how sound our revenue projections were. There was some anxiety in the room as we are projected to run a deficit in the first half of the year (something you can help with today by becoming a member), although, if all goes well, we make up the deficit in the second half the year (again, thanks to our members).
Imagine, however, if the budget I presented didn’t balance but instead went something like this:
Projected Program Expenses: $760,000
Projected Revenue (All Sources): $390,000
Funding Gap: $370,000 (49%)
As if that weren’t bizarre enough — note that our board would never tolerate something like that — imagine that, instead of dwelling on the fact that we only have half of the revenue we say we plan to spend, I spend the overwhelming majority of the meeting focusing on our plans and programs; all those things we are planning to do with the money we don’t have. In my presentation to the board, and in their follow up discussion, I only give the briefest mention of our massive funding gap.
If this actually occurred, I should be fired, Strong Towns should be closed down and all of our members would have a right to feel violated by our organization’s incompetence. Fortunately, we operate in the real world. Strong Towns is fiscally prudent and we have a board that takes their fiduciary responsibilities seriously.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) and the 24 voting members of their Transportation Technical Advisory Committee (TTAC). After I spoke there last month, I was able to obtain the Metro Area Travel Improvement Study presentation that the TTAC received on the day of my visit. It was on the lips of some of those who later attended my presentation. My thoughts are a sharp contrast to what they had heard earlier in the day.
I found the chart on Slide 10 to be particularly humorous.
I can imagine the bureaucratic dialog that brought that about…. Let’s model all roads and no transit and then let’s model all transit and no roads and then let’s model all of both. How rigorous (not), but guess what? Slide 11 tells us that “Strategy Package 7” will have a “Lower Overall Cost” than if Omaha’s transportation planners got to do everything they envisioned. Talk about savings!
On the twelfth slide, we get a preview — in standard engineering font — of the fact that there are costs and revenues associated with implementing all these great plans.
Then, on Slide 13, we get the tragic news: None of this is remotely possible because we only have half the money we need. Sorry everyone for wasting your time.