Sometime next month, the Anaheim City Council will consider setting aside a portion of the Transient Occupancy tax (TOT) to fund a neighborhood improvement fund. Mayor Tom Tait asked staff in December that this idea be part of 2013 budget discussions.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring campaigned on diverting 1% of TOT revenues into neighborhood youth and social programs.

Mayor Tait’s proposal is more focused on the physical aspects of neighborhood improvement, in addition to intensifying community policing. According to this December 26 story from the OC Register:

Tait wants a neighborhood-improvement fund established that could use some tax revenues to upgrade neighborhoods through additional graffiti removal, street repaving and increased community policing.

 Several council members have called for a similar idea. Tait suggested that the improvement fund be included in discussions about the city’s 2013-14 budget. 

I know the residents of West Anaheim have specifically called for more attention to issues that they uniquely face in maintaining a better quality of life,” Tait said. “And there are other neighborhoods that – with a little more attention – can provide a safer, more livable environment for the residents.”

These are all good, legitimate and necessary responsibilities of local government. My question – or concern, really – is about creating a special fund with a dedicated revenue source.

These are needs that can be identified and budgeted for in the ordinary course of establishing city spending priorities. If a street that needs re-paving gets it, does it matter whether or not the money comes from a special Neighborhood Improvement  Fund with its very own TOT set-aside?

The danger of setting aside a set portion of TOT revenue for a special fund is it immediately acquires the qualities of an entitlement, with its own set of attached interests who will take a proprietary interest in the revenue , continually pushing for increasing the percentage or fighting any downward adjustment.
This kind of set-aside budgeting looks gimmicky, has a poor track record and tends to distort municipal budgeting and unduly tie the hands of future councils facing different priorities.

Putting more city resources into neighborhood improvements of the sort described above is all to the good, but the council would be better advised to do so through ordinary budgeting rather than revenue set-asides and special funds. These are ordinary city government responsibilities that are best met through ordinary methods.