More hot data-crunching action with Ricky Burgess | Slag Heap
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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More hot data-crunching action with Ricky Burgess

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 4:11 PM

So, you couldn't get enough of my wonkery on councilor Ricky Burgess' efforts to overhaul city council's use of CDBG money, could you? Back for more already. 

Well, I've got the cure for what ails you: a closer look at an alternate funding formula based on my last thrilling post. 

The background: As fans of long-winded internet screeds know, city council gets $675,000 a year in federal Community Development Block Grant money. That money, which is to be spent on community needs, is divided up evenly among the 9 city councilors, who each get $75,000. 

Burgess advocates changing that system. City councilors should get money proportional to their districts' needs, he says. He'd base the allocation on how many economically distressed census blocks they have in their district.

Earlier this week, I pointed out that the population in census blocks varies widely: If the goal is to help poor people, I argued, Burgess should base his formula not on the number of census blocks, but on the number of people living inside them. 

Well, Burgess' office went ahead and compiled some stats using my approach instead. And the result? If Burgess incorporated my criticism of the Burgess Plan, the biggest winner would be ... Ricky Burgess.

But of course, listening to me is always a mixed bag. As it turns out, another winner under the Potter scenario would be Bill Peduto, a Burgess rival.  

Here's the district-by-district breakdown, as calculated by Burgess' office. Column "A" is the council district number. Column "B" is how much money each district would get under Burgess' original, block-based, formula. Column "C" is how much the district would get under my popluation-based formula. The last column shows the change between Burgess' plan and mine.

 

Dist# Block-based $ People-based$ Change
1 $89,742.56 $91,328.90 1.77%
2 $39,078.95 $33,821.94 -13.45%
3 $127,894.74 $108,941.83 -14.82%
4 $20,852.40 $20,277.69 -2.76%
5 $33,827.23 $26,168.01 -22.64%
6 $141,024.03 $129,474.78 -8.19%
7 $82,173.91 $76,276.30 -7.18%
8 $27,803.20 $57,363.86 106.32%
9 $112,602.97 $131,346.69 16.65%

(Note: Sharp-eyed observers will note that the numbers in Column B -- the ones spelling out Burgess' original plan -- have changed from earlier this week. That's because Burgess' staff, after taking another look at the data, had to adjust the number of census blocks under consideration.) 

As you can see, the big winners under my approach would be districts 8 and 9 -- those represented by Peduto and Burgess. Allocations to Peduto's district would be more than twice what he'd get under Burgess' plan.

Well, I'm a uniter, not a divider. (Though either formula would give Peduto well below the $75,000 he has under the status quo.)

Why the big improvement for Peduto? Burgess' numbers suggest that Peduto's CDBG-eligible areas have much higher population densities -- and more people per census block means more money for the council district. Burgess's hard-luck neighborhoods are also more densely populated: In fact, he'd get more money than any other district under the new approach. (Under his original proposal, he'd finish third.) 

The funny thing is that the specific concern of my earlier blog post was with districts 2 and 4 -- the south-of-the-rivers neighborhoods represented by Theresa Kail-Smith and Natalia Rudiak. My approach does nothing to help either of them, and actually puts an additional hurt on Smith's constituents.

There's a lesson in there somewhere about unintended consequences, I'm sure. 

Which brings me to a final thought. This whole discussion presumes that councilors only give money to organizations within their district. That's the whole premise of the Burgess plan, right? If councilors get money in proportion to the needs within their district, they ought to spend that money on their district's needs. 

In practice, though, councilors sometimes do give to deserving groups that lie outside their district, and there's no rule against doing so. If Burgess is going to tie allocations so closely to the district's plight, maybe there should be. On the other hand, when councilors do focus only on their own backyards, it isn't always necessarily a good thing

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