Archive for the ‘MLGW’ Category

Strickland Worries-Police /Firefighters May Leave

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

November 7, 2019

 

There is a lead article in this morning’s edition of the CA.The Mayor worries that the recently passed ½ cent sales tax increase may result in police and firefighters may leave due to the $50 million increase in revenue.

I have written extensively in the past about another problem that is directly related to fire and police retirement, and that is the $15 million dollar hole in the pension bucket and that is the rate of LINE OF DUTY RETIREMENT at the city of Memphis compared to Shelby County Government and the MLGW. Following is an article I wrote 8 years ago and posted on memphisshelbyinform.com.

 

Wednesday, Channel 3, reported on the situation of the City of Memphis line of duty abuse to the cost of almost $12 million dollars per year. This situation has been going on for over 30 years at the City of Memphis and I estimate that the total payout is well over $100 million dollars out of the underfunded pension fund. When I alerted Channel 3 about this abuse, they did some great research on the annual cost and some of the people involved including Tennessee Republican Representative Curry Todd and others.

Comparing the 429 listed on the Channel 3 report, the number of line of duty disability retirements at Shelby County government and the MLGW are insignificant. Obviously there is a problem. The immediate problem is that approval or disapproval is given by the City of Memphis pension board made up mostly of the applicants’ co-workers whereas Shelby County turns approval over to an insurance company.

The bigger problem is the line of duty pension ordinance words. There is no provision for finding other work for the line of duty disability applicant, annual reviews or any other provisions that could prove that the applicant can or could do useful work for the city. This must be changed.

 

Recently I sent an open records request to the City of Memphis asking for the annual amount of Line of Duty payouts and they answered that it is $15.7 million dollars and remember that this is tax free to the retirees for life. I sent a similar request to Shelby County and to the MLGW but Shelby County has refused to answer and MLGW has said they are working on the request. In the past Shelby County Line of Duty payments and the MLGW have been 10 times less than the City of Memphis due to strict enforcement policies at the MLGW and at Shelby County a policy of turning over disability request to an outside insurance company.

Mayor Strickland has done a good job of reforming pension policies at the City of Memphis but he needs to reform the Line of Duty granting policies at the Pension Board.

The New Shelby County Government Is Looking Like the Old City Government

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

September 4, 2018

The New Shelby County Government Is Looking Like the Old City Government

 

The new Shelby County government is just beginning and we all wish them well. We all want and need low cost and efficient government to furnish fire and police services, bring us our utilities, repair our roads, run our legal system, furnish medical services and educate our children.

 

Shelby County government has been well run for many years as compared to the City of Memphis. Let me give you several examples.

 

In 2007 the Governmental Accounting Standards Board issued GASB 45 which required that other post-employment benefits (OPEB) must be recognized as the benefits earned rather than as they are paid. The county in 2008 made certain positive changes as shown on the attached document. The City of Memphis did nothing until 2017 when they made changes to the benefit plan. The County OPEB unfunded liability went from $319 million in 2008 to $46 million today. The City of Memphis did nothing until 2017 when the benefit changes brought the unfunded liability from $857 million to $417 million, due to plan benefit changes.

 

The City of Memphis pension board regularly approves line of duty liability at 10 times the rate per employee as the County and the MLGW. This has led to an annual cost for LOD disability for the city of Memphis of some $17 million dollars per year, 10 times that of the County and the MLGW. The problem is the makeup of the pension board membership that grants these LOD disability pensions.

 

And finally, the new County pension scam allowing benefits for life with 12 years of service looks much like the January 2001 pension scam of the City of Memphis. That disastrous action allowed elected and appointed employees with 12 years of service to receive their lifetime pensions immediately.

 

It is noteworthy that the new county resolution passed with an 8-2 majority. Commissioner Walter Bailey sponsored the resolution saying that “since elected officials with term limits shouldn’t be penalized for their public service”. Commissioner Walter Bailey was term limited after his first two 4 year terms and then reelected later after laying out for a term for another term.

 

Now some politicians want to do away with term limits. The above scams only make me want to tighten terms limits so that term limited politicians do not twist the rules to feather their nests. We need term limits pension scam rules not only locally but also for the US House of Representatives and for the US Congress.

 

What are your thoughts?

Buried Memphis Treasure, More Valuable Than Gold

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

July 23, 2018

Buried Memphis Treasure, More Valuable Than Gold

 

Recently Mr. Jerry Collins, the recently retired President of the Memphis Light Gas and Water Division gave a talk to a local group which I attended. The presentation was very interesting and full of important points. The most interesting and contraversal point was his statement that water under the tri-state aquifer is increasing rather than decreasing.

 

This statement caused some discussion and when I repeated it to my daughter she challenged me. So, I went back to the source of the statement, Mr. Collins, and he gave his reasoning for the assertion. The hydrostatic pressure of water in the aquifer is increasing not decreasing indicating more water, not less.

 

You must look at his resume to understand his qualifications to make this statement. He has a bachelor and master’s degree in civil engineering and has 30 years’ experience at the City of Memphis all related to water treatment and then 11 years as President of the MLGW.

 

Another critical point in his explanation is that regulations mandating things like more efficient flush toilets, washers and other appliances have had the effect of people using less water. The same can be said for electric and gas using appliances. Conservation by reasonable regulations can be important in preserving our natural resources.

 

Memphis, in my opinion, has a bright future if we understand what we have here. Our water resource is our most valuable treasure and Jerry Collins with his history of smart water decisions diminishing flooding during heavy rains, and water treatment has helped make Memphis a great place to live. Your thoughts and experiences would be appreciated.

 

Open The Purchasing Records

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Open The Purchasing Records

May 15, 2018

There was an interesting article in the CA entitled “Memphis has lost focus”. The article went on to quote the Chairman of the Memphis City Council, Berlin Boyd, saying “We can’t continue down this path and expect a different result”. Also Richard Smith of Federal Express and Chamber of Commerce chairman, demand that elected leaders gut or fix the city/county EDGE board. The EDGE board is well known for handing out tax freezes for various businesses. The Edge board also has rules for minority vendor participation for any EDGE granted pilot. The article stated that Mr. Smith urged the end of minority spending rules.

 

Concerning EDGE minority spending rules the article stated that Boyd said that the biggest beneficiary of the minority spending rules is white women. Assailed by critics, Boyd and Smith agreed to keep the spending rules in place.

 

I have railed against this minority spending requirement for several years. I am not against economically disadvantaged minorities getting a leg up. However what should be changed is the following.

 

The paperwork and legal qualification rules are very complicated and discourage otherwise qualified firms. There should be a common-sense method such as the better business bureau or other independent organization that gives a rating system based on customer satisfaction reports.

 

Most importantly the purchasing system should be open and transparent with the final bids and selection on line and open to all. If a minority firm is the low bidder, so be it. If it is not the low bidder and is selected, then the price differential should be no more than 3% to 5% and then the minority firm should be given a one to two year time to graduate to a no price differential status for future competitive bids.

 

The system now is not transparent and we do not know what minority spending rules are costing us and we do not know who are the beneficiaries.

 

 

 

 

Why Can’t The Public See Public Bids And Price differentials?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

April 10, 2018

 

Why Can’t The Public See Public Bids And Price differentials?

 

Bids for items purchased by public entities should be open and public information. Organizations such as the City of Memphis, Shelby County, MLGW and others paid for by local, state or federal tax money should have transparency on their bids.

However, this is not the case. Here are some local examples.

If you go to the City of Memphis website (www.memphistn.gov) and click on Business and then on RFPS and RFQS (request for proposals and request for quotations) and click on current solicitations you will see a table of upcoming quotations.

However In regards to the posting of Bid Awards online, the City currently does not post these online, but plans are in motion to soon place online links to reports detailing all bid awards for a given time frame plus the awarded vendor name, amount, description of the bid and Division name.  (attached are two examples of this report—one for 2017 and one for 2018 YTD).  However, there is no report available that includes the above information along with details on the losing bidders. Info on losing bidders would have to be obtained via the Open Records Request system on an individual bid basis or by reviewing the contract documents for each awarded contract.

If you look at the above two lists (one for 2017 and on for 2018, you will see the types of items purchased by the City of Memphis and the amounts spent. There are huge amounts of pubic money being spent.

The tax paying public is entitled to know how this money is being spent, who is getting this business, how much higher the other bidders quoted and if the lowest bidder was not awarded the contract, why not.

The rules and regulations for being able to bid on this public business are very complex and discouraging for private businesses to jump though all the hoops. I know several local business who add 10% plus whenever bidding on public buxiness due tothe paperwork.

I asked Shelby County for similar information on purchasing and their reply was as follows.

In response to your inquiry, the County does not publish the information on our website. There is no intentional exclusion of the public’s right to see the information but rather there has never been a demand for the information.  Another problem we have is that we do not have a sophisticated system to process purchasing and contracts information.  We are in the process of obtaining a modern system that will facilitate providing the information in question.

 

Occasionally we will have a request for the information you are citing but it is usually from an unsuccessful bidder or sometimes from a company interested in bidding on a certain service or commodity.  Is there anything in particular that you would like to see?

 

To date I have not gotten any response from the MLGW concerning the question of purchasing transparency.

Now here is the problem with all local public purchasing.

A local news report stated the following. “Shelby County commissioners approved a moratorium Monday, April 2, on all county contracts and budget amendments worth more than $50,000 through the end of August.

The 10-3 commission vote follows concerns some commissioners expressed last week in committee sessions about a multi-year contract worth $20 million for medical services to county corrections center inmates.

The contract is specifically exempted from the county’s ordinance setting percentage goals in awarding county government contracts to minority-owned businesses.”

Now I have no objection to seeing minority-owned businesses getting a leg up in establishing an efficient and competitive private business. If they need a price differential for several years in order to get up and running so be it. But the public should know what it is costing the taxpayers and it is obvious we do not know the extent of this public cost. Let us put it out there so we know what it is costing. What is your opinion?

What Pubic Retiree Healthcare Costs You As A Taxpayer

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

What Pubic Retiree Healthcare Costs You As A Taxpayer

 

January 16, 2018

 

Years ago, I started investigating healthcare costs for active employees and retirees at the MLGW, the City of Memphis, Shelby County and the school system. At that point (before 2007) there was no requirement that the unfunded liability of medical and other costs for retirees be put on the financial statements of the various local governmental units. I started checking on the unfunded liability which was called OPEB. (Other Post Employment Benefits, mainly health care costs and life insurance).

I was shocked by the amount of unfunded liability. Look at the history of this huge unfunded liability over a certain time period.

OPEB History- unfunded liability

MLGW 2007            658 million

MLGW           2015              461 million   down 30% from 2007

 

City of Memphis 2008                  857 million

City of Memphis 2015                  730 million

City of Memphis 2017                  504 million  down 58% from 2008

 

Old Memphis School System 2008                   1.34 billion

Current Shelby County School System 2016  1.25 billion   down 9% from 2008

 

Shelby County Government 2007                     319 million

Shelby County Government 2016                     101 million   down 69% from 2007

It is obvious that this is still a large problem. But as usual, our Shelby County government recognized the problem early (in 2007 when notified by GASB) and acted. The City of Memphis was slow in acting but eventually addressed the problem. The Memphis school  system as usual has stuck its head in the sand and is hoping for a government bailout. The MLGW is well healed and is slowly addressing the problem.

The next question that occurred to me was “What is the cost to the taxpayers for the portion of annual health care premiums for retirees paid by taxpayers?” I asked for and received the following answers.

MLGW           2528 retirees’ cost/retiree paid by rate payers            $11,733/year

City of Memphis 1524 retirees’  cost/retiree paid by taxpayers            $6466/year

Shelby County   1941 retirees’   cost/retiree paid by taxpayers            $4658/year

 

It is obvious that the MLGW is different and that Shelby County Government is more efficient. In my next posting I will take up the cost to public employees (active and retired) for their annual health care premiums so that you can compare your cost to what public employees pay and look at the annual cost rise since the affordable care act came into our lives.

MLGW Rate Increases

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

MLGW Rate Increases

 

MLGW has proposed rate increases in gas, electric and water rates over the next few years. MLGW management says that part of the need for increases are related to decreasing sales in product. Well I decided to review the latest annual report available (the year ending December 31st, 2016).

 

The City Charter designates the disposition of revenue from MLGW three divisions, light, gas and water. MLGW is not a profit-making organization but it is required to breakeven and pay it debts and keep a reserve to cover its debts and emergencies with a proper margin. It also pays to the City of Memphis a payment like a for profit business would pay.

 

I have looked at the statements of the three divisions for the year ended 12/31/16 and the electric division lost $12 million dollars after paying $40 million to the City of Memphis. The Gas Division lost $14 million after paying $17.5 million to the City of Memphis. The water division made $9.8 million after paying $4.4 million to the City of Memphis. It is not clear if this includes the 2 million payment for the FedEx arena.

 

It seems clear to me that the MLGW needs a price increase to keep its financial situation secure. It is a well-run organization with well trained employees and with advanced technical knowledge.

 

Now I want to point out that MLGW employees have a much richer health care benefits then the City of Memphis and Shelby County employees. I am gathering current information of these benefits and will be publishing information as soon as I obtain the data.

 

People are becoming energy savers and the combination of advanced energy saving appliances like light bulbs and AC/heating units and smart meters are saving energy and this is a good thing for the ecology. Again this is a well run organization with competitive rates and I hope that whomever replaces Jerry Collins will be as able as he has been.

This and That About The Bicentennial Gateway Project

Monday, November 27th, 2017

This and That About The Bicentennial Gateway Project

 

I recently published the details about this huge proposed project but there were several unanswered questions that needed answers.

 

Here are the points that needed clarification and I pursued and got the answers.

 

On the list for original amounts spent for the presentation of this project was $518,270.97 paid to Stephen Schreiner & Renee Barrett. It turns out that that this amount was for the purchase of two pieces of property close to Bass Pro at 369 and 371 North Main.

Another question concerned the funding for this project which showed Annual Revenues from Land Leases of $297,000 the first year and a total of $3.7 million through 2031. The answer from the City of Memphis was the underlying assumption from the RKG report that the City might lease City-owned land to private entities, the specific land under consideration would be Mud Island. This is only an assumption, as no deal or structure has been developed for a project at this location.

Another question concerned the Brooks Museum of Art and the amount of support that the City of Memphis gives to the Brooks yearly. The City responded that in the FY 2016 net expenditures from the City to the Brooks was $571,448.00. I have attached the latest 990 form detailing the finances of the Brooks Museum. It basically depends on contributions from the City of Memphis and outside donors.

 

The other big factor is the type of bonds that are proposed to finance this and other similar projects like the Fairgrounds project. I am told they will be revenue bonds which generally mean that the City of Memphis, Shelby County and other governmental organizations with tax powers will not be on the hook if the project does not pay for itself on sales tax and property tax increasing revenues. Here is typical revenue bond language.

THE SERIES XXXX BONDS AND THE INTEREST THEREON DO NOT NOW AND SHALL NEVER CONSTITUTE A CHARGE AGAINST THE GENERAL CREDIT OR TAXING POWERS OF THE CITY, THE STATE OF TENNESSEE (THE “STATE”) OR ANY POLITICAL SUBDIVISION THEREOF WITHOUT LIMITATION, THE CITY, SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE (THE “COUNTY”) and so on and so on.

So what this means, if it is revenue bond financing, that the bond buyer is at risk and will take the haircut if the income projections do not meet the projections. Hopefully they will and if so fine. If not, the bond holders suffer. However the reputation of the City will also suffer as it now happening in Puerto Rico and the City of Chicago and the state of Illinois and the City of Detroit in the past.

 

This downtown project and the Fairgrounds proposal needs a lot more discussion and disclosure. What are the risks and what are the rewards?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Targeted Generation

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

We have all read about and many of us have experienced credit card and even bank irregularities. Hopefully we are aware of the scammers, hackers and fraudsters as we live in the electronic age of banking and credit devices.

I try to be vigilant but it is not easy to keep up with these electronic artists. I charge most items on a well respected credit card (capital one). They seem to be vigilant and their fraud detection software seems good. If some charge is large and outside of my normal shopping pattern they alert me immediately. I have had to change credit card numbers several times over the last few years and that gets to be a problem when you pay bills automatically against your credit card (e.g. donations, MLGW bill etc.).

Recently I have had problems with my credit card at Kroger. It is a chip card and they had to try it three or four times before it accepted the charge. I asked Capital One about the problem with Kroger and they said that some companies had not kept up with security software changes. Then all of a sudden while checking recent charges on my credit card account I found that my card had been put on hold. When I called, they told me that the address on my driver’s license did not match my current credit card address. (We recently sold our house and moved into a retirement community). They told me I had to send them a pdf file for the following items by secure email.

 

A) Both sides of my driver’s license. B) My social security card. C) Some bank document showing my new address. Then to top it off, the security person said:

“YOUR GENERATION IS BEING TARGETED BY SCAMMERS”.

It is no doubt true but it did make my blood boil.

I did send them the documents by secure email and then I had to wait 72 business hours to get the card reinstated. Is it worth the trouble?

Some of my friends have gone to all cash payments for shopping, meals, groceries etc. That has its’ own problems including physical security and now the government is looking hard at anyone who regularly gets large currency bills from the bank. Think drug dealers.

Am I the only one who is concerned about these scammers? My daughter and son in law work for the VA and, of course, the VA had a huge loss of personal information (social security numbers, birth dates etc) to hackers. They had their credit cards compromised and went thru a similar reset, luckily without financial loss.

I would love to hear your thoughts, scammer and hacker stories and solutions.

The Memphis Police Situation

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

I read Mayor Strickland’s weekly update (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#all/15a4e354e56b4a71) and it was a very thoughtful and informative article on the Memphis police staffing, recruitment and benefit situation. He blames the current shortage of uniformed officers on two things. One was the Memphis pension and OPEB (other post employment benefits, mainly retiree healthcare) unfunded liability. The unfunded liability was so massive that the State of Tennessee Comptroller threatened to take over the city unless it was addressed. This was in 2014. In order to meet this funding requirement retirement healthcare benefits had to be cut and more and more officers decided to retire or resign.

I have written in the past about this situation and it was the fault of past city of Memphis mayors and past city of Memphis City councils that ignored the 2007 GASB 45 regulation that required that pension and retiree health care expenses be recognized as they are earned rather than as they are paid. The Shelby County government did the right thing and the City of Memphis did not and hence the 2014 year of reckoning.

We all want and need good and effective policing as Memphis is earning a bad reputation for violent crime. I want Memphis to hire more qualified officers and apparently Mayor Strickland is moving in that direction. There is one more thing he can do which will help in the future and that is to stop the abuse evident in the City of Memphis pension board. This abuse is the number of LINE OF DUTY DISABILITY approved by this board. In the past I have compared the number of line of duty disability approvals from Memphis to the MLGW and Shelby County. The approval in Memphis is 10 times higher per active employees than Shelby County and the MLGW. Line of Duty disability approval gives the disabled employee a pension of 60% of his highest average salary tax free for life.

The City of Memphis in 2011 had 429 people on line of duty disability costing the City $11.8 million per year. In 2016 the figure is 510 people costing $14.7 million. Compare this with the MLGW employees. In 2008 they had 37 people in this status costing $523,000 per year. In 2015 they had 34 people in this status costing $485,000. Shelby County in 2015 had only 17 line of duty retirees. Compare that to 510 for the City of Memphis. Clearly there is a problem at the City of Memphis and it goes to the Memphis Pension Board and it’s makeup of members. The membership of this board and its rules need to be changed. The numbers of line of duty retirees at the City of Memphis when compared to the MLGW and the County clearly show a problem and the problem should be addressed. Qualified new officers should be paid whatever the market requires but obvious abuses of the system should be stopped.