Where’s the money?
5/11/2023, 6 p.m.
At least $2.4 million in city tax revenue appears to have gone missing.
That’s the additional funds the city was projected to have earned in fiscal year 2021-22 from owners of real estate who enjoyed years of tax abatements on redevelopment projects they undertook but who now must pay more because the abatements are expiring.
Under a 2020 ordinance that Mayor Levar M. Stoney proposed and the council approved, those so-called roll-off dollars from expiring abatements were to go to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund once the audit of that fiscal year was done.
The initial revenue of $2.4 million was to be a continuing stream of money that would flow every year and bring with it any additional money from other expiring tax abatements.
When the current 2022-23 fiscal year ends in June and after an audit, it is projected that an additional $3.7 million should be available for affordable housing, the $2.4 million plus an additional $1.3 million. The projection is that the funds would grow to more than $5 million a year before all abatements had expired.
Mayor Stoney’s office said that no ordinance to transfer the $2.4 million was introduced this year because that $2.4 million was replaced with $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars the city received.
Fine, but that initial $2.4 million remains undesignated. It could be used for homeless services. It could be used to hire more recreation staff. It could be used for any other legitimate purpose where more money is needed.
No mention of that money was made in the completed audit for 2021-22. Those roll-off dollars were not even included on the list of earmarked surplus funds that is part of the audit.
You would think council members might be interested.
Yet none of the elected members who were advised by the Free Press about the missing money publicly asked what happened to those funds or proposed a different use, not even during the review of the 2023-24 budget the governing body just approved.
The Free Press also asked the Stoney administration, but as is all too typical, no one involved in city finances ever responded to a Freedom of Information Act request for an explanation.
That’s why we are using this space to ask the question: Where is the money, Mr. Mayor?