Mayor Marion Barry's financial advisers yesterday struck back at critics on the D.C. City Council who had charged that the mayor used overly optimistic revenue estimates to help balance his 1983 budget proposal.
During the first formal presentation of the plan to the council, Budget Director Gladys W. Mack denied the administration had "massaged" Department of Finance and Revenue estimates "to make them fit our budget requests."
"Some members of the council have expressed doubts about the budget," she added. "If any member believes our proposals are unrealistic, they should make changes, not just speak of changes."
Carolyn L. Smith, director of finance and revenue, insisted her department had been "conservative" in forecasting a 14 percent increase in tax revenues next year, compared to an estimated 8 percent increase between fiscal 1981 and 1982.
Smith also testified that the Department of Finance and Revenue came within 1 percent of accurately projecting the city's tax collections in six of the past 11 years, including fiscal years 1979 and 1980. (Audited figures aren't available yet for the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 1981.) However, the department underestimated tax revenues by 5 percent in fiscal 1977 and by 8.7 percent in fiscal 1978.
"We have never made revenue estimates based on some optimistic or pessimistic basis," said Smith, who has headed the department since late 1979. "We always try to make reasonable and professionally based estimates."
Last week, Council Chairman Arrington Dixon said Barry's 1983 revenue estimates from income, sales and property taxes appeared overly optimistic in light of the downturn in the economy, the slump in the real estate market, and high unemployment. Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At-Large) went further, describing the mayor's estimates as "pie in the sky."
Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, described the budget as a masterful election-year gimmick that neglected the city's $388 million accumulated debt and other long-term financial ills.
Echoing that theme as he formally announced his candidacy for mayor, Council Member John L. Ray (D-At-Large) last Saturday accused Barry of playing "tricks" with the budget.
But council members who attended yesterday's hearing were relatively subdued in criticizing the mayor's plan.
Kane, for instance, spent most of her time complaining about her difficulty in obtaining accurate monthly reports of D.C. revenue collections.
She also questioned Barry's aides about the city's error-prone system for billing for water and sewer charges. Delinquent payments currently total $17 million, according to William Johnson, director of the Department of Environmental Services. However, Johnson claimed the billing system had been improved in the past year, with nearly 48,000 unsettled accounts cleared up.
Dixon, who announced Monday that he would seek a second term as council chairman, stressed his desire to work closely with the mayor's office on the budget. But he admonished the mayor's staff to make a timely disclosure of relevant budget data.
Ray stayed long enough to hear the administration's testimony and then left without asking questions or commenting. Wilson didn't attend the meeting, explaining later that he had talked to Barry about the budget Monday night and didn't expect to learn anything new at the hearing.
"It was clear to me they weren't going to answer any pertinent questions," Wilson said. "They would only give their side of the issue and the standard line."
Council Member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large) said he doubted the city's new legalized gambling operation would raise $26 million in revenues next year, as the administration expects.
"I just don't forsee people taking money from essentials and spending it on gambling," said Moore, a Baptist minister who opposed the gambling referendum.