A proposed budget soaked in weirdness and deception stalled when some unnamed official canceled RIOC’s October board meeting. Because no one took credit or offered any reasons, we dived into the ocean of complicated numbers, looking for clues to what’s behind the puzzle. We didn’t find that – yet – but we found something else, and it ain’t pretty.
by David Stone
Let’s note first, ahead of the budget details, that RIOC is in financial trouble. It’s not surprising because its finance department has been stripped of experience and talent through resignations and, more so, inexplicable dismissals.
No one’s been minding the books, much of the time. The result: the profit margin – used for operating capital for projects and upkeep – has dived about 80% from its pre-pandemic high, leaving too little left for projects, even critical ones.
The proposed budget does nothing to reverse that and, in fact, makes it worse.
The Proposed Budget for 2024
Like the rest of the state, RIOC’s budget year begins on April 1st, an ironic twist in dates. It must be balanced, although proposed budgets aren’t hard facts, they should be reasonably geared toward that legal requirement. RIOC’s is not that.
At the beginning…
The budget starts with a narrative, giving context to the avalanche of numbers ahead. It sort of does that…
In the first paragraph under Capital Projects, the writer cobbles together this masterpiece: “The Approved amount primarily consists of capital projects in the projected amount of $2,500,000, consist of steam tunnel construction of $2,000,000…”
It’s a wake-up call, an illiterate signal that they can’t be serious.
Just three paragraphs later, the narrative reads, “For infrastructure improvements, the Proposed Budget FY 2024‐25 projects expenditures in the amount of $2,500,000, a decrease of $2,965,000 from the Approved Budget FY 2024‐25 of $5,465,000. The decrease is mainly due to the projected Steam Tunnel Construction being pushed back.”
Despite the whimsical use of capital letters, how can both things be true?
In reality, we find the truth some ten pages later. RIOC is spending only $4.6 million of an estimated $21 million project cost this year. The rest is spread out through 2027.
This for critical repairs on infrastructure deemed at risk of “catastrophic collapse” years ago…
And now, RIOC seems ready to foot the bill for work they previously claimed the city must take responsibility for. The wimpiness in full display during negotiations with the MTA over Tram revenue sharing may have spread.
Money doesn’t grow on trees. It grows on…
The single most startling number in the proposed budget falls under Revenues.
RIOC projects “$39,155,275, an increase of $4,875,275 or 14.22%” for the next year, a breathtaking jump with no reasonable rationale. The unreasonable rationale is that it’s pumped up with air to cover out-of-control spending.
The grandest piece of revenue buffoonery is, “Tramway revenues are projected to increase by $2,455,439 or 53.06% mainly due to the adoption of OMNY and ridership increase.”
We’ve covered this garbage in detail already. But we still don’t know how RIOC’s deep thinkers plan to jam 53.06% more people into sardined, rocking, swaying and rolling Tram cabins.
And the expenses…
This section kicks off with a dizzying admission. The state agency that always gets it right “…projects personnel expenses of $14,074,228, an increase of $ 303,686 or 2.21%.”
That’s payroll, folks. A roster burdened with excess staff, numerous no- and low-show jobs and bloated salaries is going up… even after being denuded of its most qualified and experienced staff.
But here’s the fun part: “The projected increase is mainly due to market adjustment raises.”
But instead of saying they’re lying here, let’s soften it up. They’re hiding key facts. Like so…
Under Extraordinary Expenses, later on, they attribute a $1.4 million increase to “…the allocation of youth center personnel cost to support such service, and the reopening of the renovated Sportspark facility.”
In other words, they take salaries out of one pocket and call them something else before dropping them into another pocket, disguising a bigger-than-reported increase in payroll.
A notable omission is the list of executive salaries included last year. At the time, a couple of dozen pulled down six-figure salaries while performance hit new lows.
These were the preposterous highlights that may have led to the board meeting cancelation. Maybe board members got just enough time to look at this and screamed, “Yikes!”
But who knows? The permanent appointment of Mary Cunneen as Chief Operating Officer was also on the scary agenda but was probably not enough to power the meeting’s collapse.
You can check out the full proposed budget here. Not recommended if you’re inclined to headaches or teeth-gnashing frustration.