Number crunching

Monday, I completely forgot about the City Council meeting. They are just so fascinating that I can’t imagine how that happened… The big news coming out of the meeting was that Pro Portsmouth’s debt to the city for police services at their events was not half-forgiven, as they had asked. I have mixed feelings about that decision; on the one hand, people or groups who incur public expense should certainly be responsible for it, and an event (like First Night or Market Square Day) that ties up the public streets and drags out the police certainly incurs public expense. At the same time, however, I really do wonder first, whether that many police and emergency service personnel are really needed for such an event, and second, whether they really should cost as much as the city claims. It would be interesting to see if Pro Portsmouth can perhaps negotiate to cover some of the responsibility with private security in lieu of government employees. (The PD would doubtless fight such a move, as it would mean a loss of potential overtime income for its officers.)

Market Square Day is also in the news today concerning its impact on local businesses. There is a lesson here that can be more broadly drawn about major events—the Olympics, Super Bowls, political conventions, and anything else that city governments and civic boosters lobby to bring in, including the Portsmouth Criterium. These events are often sold to the locals as a great way to bring business to town. In fact, as many people stay away to avoid the crowds as are drawn, and many of those attending the event do not in fact patronize businesses in the numbers promised. The events are at best a financial wash, and at worst, can temporarily hurt local businesses. The hope for something like Market Square Day is that it promotes Portsmouth to people who then might return on a different day but who otherwise wouldn’t, and that may still be true. (I am hopeful that Seacoast Liberty will have a booth at Market Square Day this year, so this is certainly not to denigrate the event; there is an interesting economics lesson here, all the same.)

Meanwhile, I have finally started to look at Portsmouth’s fiscal 2009 budget (which ends this June). It is no surprise that the schools are by far the most expensive part of local government, accounting for M$35 out of the M$67 operating budget (and M$82 total budget). The police department is M$8.6, the fire department M$6.8, and the rest of the municipal government M$16. Debt service accounts for M$7.5; as I get into the details, I will be interested to see what kind of debt we are servicing, where it comes from, and how we can avoid incurring such debt in the future. I suspect it’s interest on bonds, a good reason to be wary of bond-funded programs.

Tomorrow, I am meeting with another local Porcupine who may be interested in joining our cabal. If so, that would make us three times as large as we were a month ago—a 200% increase—and infinitely larger than this time last year! (See? I can play with numbers as well as any politician!)