Archive for the ‘budget’ Category
July 24, 2014
On The Back of Taxpayers
We hear the constant slogan, “Don’t balance the budget on the backs of
current employees and retirees”. In past years there was a used car lot on
Lamar with the sign saying “We Tote The Note”. As taxpayers, we have
been toting the note for years. Look at the facts.
The annual cost per retiree at the City of Memphis is $32,518 versus
$19,218 at the County.
The unfunded pension liability at the City of Memphis is $709 million versus
$161 million at the County.
The ratio of retirees to active employees at the City of Memphis is 79
per 100 versus 57 per 100 at the County.
In 2012, I calculated the cost of retiree health care cost per retiree
paid by the taxpayers. For Memphis it was $8533, for MLGW it was $7440
and for Shelby County it was $5605.
The inescapable conclusion is that City of Memphis has had a loose
July 21, 2014
$568 Million New Tax Revenue
Pilots (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) are front and center in the current controversy about bringing our City finances under control. I went to the EDGE website (Economic Development Growth Engine). It is beautiful. On the lead page is the following information.
$568 Million in new tax revenue
Well the problem is solved. With $568 million in new tax revenue why are we cutting health care benefits for City retirees and raising health care costs for active employees? Why are we discussing changing the pension plan at the City of Memphis?
The reason is that it is all smoke and mirrors. If you go to the City of Memphis CAFRs (Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports) and the same for the County you will see that sales tax receipts have been level at best and decreasing over the last few years.
The Pilot program is a crutch used by local developers and real estate interests to give us something to attract new companies to Memphis and to keep local companies from leaving. Memphis has many assets to recommend it. Location, water, transportation and utilities. However it has two deficits. A high tax rate and poor education of the local work force.
The real report that EDGE should produce is a report that shows all companies that have come off the PILOT program at the end of their tax abatement. The report should show the amount of taxes abated over the length of the pilot program, the ending date and the amount of taxes paid after the end of the abatement period. This they have refused to do. Until they do that and show us where the $568 million is, I will continue asking the question WHERE IS THE BEEF?
June 30, 2014
Trust The Free Market
I followed Mayor Wharton’s proposals in his state of the City speech and in the PFM group’s 5 Year Strategic Fiscal And Management Plan for the City of Memphis. I congratulate the Mayor for hiring this group and for the well written and realistic facts in the plan. Now that part of the plan has been voted on and passed (OPEB reform of health care) I would like to propose an alternative plan for pension reform, another major part of getting the City’s fiscal house in order.
PFM recommends various pension plans for non vested (less than 10 years of service) and future new employees. The recommendations include a defined contribution plan or a combination of a defined contribution plan and a limited defined benefit plan similar to what the state of Tennessee has done for teachers and state employees.
Several years ago I participated in a pension reform study for Shelby County which ended up in Plan D for the county for new employees. The City adopted a similar plan for new employees only basically doing away with the disastrous 25 year retirement formula (regardless of age). At that time I recommended a Hybrid plan which would put public employees on an equal footing with private sector employees promising a minimum of social security return but possibly a much better return from the free market.
Social security promises a lousy return by sending your money to the Washington DC lockbox which is empty due to the politicians spending all the social security money. What this proposal would do is have the same 6.2% contribution from the City and the 6.2% from the employee and let it grow at the market rate until retirement. The market has returned over 9% at the City and the MLGW since inception even including 2008. The social security return is -.95%.
Of course the IRS would probably have to bless such a plan but that should be no problem since the City has good relations with the current administration. We should consider all options and the employees should get on board with the free market and take the same risks that all private sector taxpayers take, market return. You can hardly do worse than putting your faith in social security.
June 19, 2014
Congratulations Mr. Mayor and City Council Majority
My wife and I have been out of town visiting two of our daughters, our son in law and our 2 year old grandson in California. You can imagine my delight in reading Wednesday morning that the City Council has taken the recommendation of Mayor Wharton to start the process of reining in our City finances and getting control of our unfunded liabilities.
This is just the first step and it will be painful and seemingly unfair to the retirees but this is what the County did years ago and the financial statements show the difference. However this is just the first step. More needs to be done next year. Pension reform in July this year and then line of duty disability, sick day reform and other areas of benefits that are more than private sector comparisons.
On a lighter note but with some significant contrasts I list below some items from the Carmel California Pine Cone newspaper which I picked up on my trip. (Carmel is where Clint Eastwood used to be mayor).
Police & Sheriff’s Log Crime Report
1) Subject reported the loss of a wallet while wine tasting in Carmel. Exact location of loss unknown.
2) Man was walking northbound on Mission Street when he saw a subject who was staggering and almost falling to the ground. He made contact with the subject and called the police. Upon arrival the police contacted the subject who had been drinking. He was reunited with his spouse, who was sober, coherent and staying at a hotel approximately one block away.
3) Person came into the station to report the loss of a wallet and personal contents. Person later located the wallet at a restaurant patronized last night.
Then an article with the headline “Council adopts $24M budget at first pass”.
In the article
In the article there is the following information. The biggest chunk of spending goes to public safety (fire, police and ambulance) accounts for 32% of expenditures. In Memphis this figure is 70%.
Memphis is obviously not Carmel California but what a difference in the vital area of public safety.
June 5, 2014
More Talk, Delays And No Answers
The clock is ticking and all we get is more delays and can kicking down the road from the city Council. Positions seem to have hardened. Janice Fullilove and Joe Brown are in the “over my dead body” camp. Bill Boyd has ruled out any retiree OPEB reductions for health care. Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn want to pay up in 2 years instead of 5 but don’t come up with where the money is coming from.
The most clear eyed vision seems to come from the PFM January 2014 City of Memphis Fiscal and Management Plan. For instance on page 46 while employees were supposed to pay 30% of the cost of health insurance, the City only collected 24.2%, leaving the taxpayers to pick up nearly $4 million in cost left on the table. This under billing has been going on for a number of years. Then on page 43, we see that we pay employees (Fire and Police Services) college incentive pay amounting to $6 million per year.
NEWS FLASH FROM THE BAT CAVE. IT IS REPORTED IN THE MORNING PAPER THAT THE CITY HAS A NEW POT HOLE BAT TRUCK REPORTED TO FILL HOLES FASTER AND CHEAPER. THE MAYOR ASKS ALL CITIZENS TO REPORT ALL HOLES DEEPER THAN KNEE HIGH.
Then on page 130 we see that one of the biggest problems we have in Memphis (potholes) is reported. According to the Division, the number of lane miles pavedl has dropped from 236 in 2007 to 105 in 2011, a decline of 56%. “WATCH OUT, HOLY POT HOLE BATMAN”.
As to the proposed health care cost reductions, this is where the real money is. According to the Affordable Care Act, costs will be reduced by $2500 dollars per family, you can keep your doctor and you can keep your plan. PERIOD. Let us take them up on this promise.
June 2 2014
Paying For Pension Reform In 2 Years
A good friend sent me a copy of Councilman Jim Strickland’s thoughts in paying this unfunded liability off in 2 years rather than 5. Jim is a good guy and a responsible city council member. He is correct in that paying it off in two years rather than five will save in the long run. Last year we added $68 million to the unfunded liability due to the small payment to the pension fund rather than the recommended ARC payment.
What is missing from him is the specific details of how we are going to pay for this pension load without raising property taxes. He needs to detail the immediate dollar savings for 2015 such as health care reform for active employees and retirees, sick pay, vacation reform, college education benefit reduction or elimination, line of duty reform and salary reductions to bring salaries in line with private sector. Also while going to the proposed defined contribution will not give immediate relief, it will change the future projections of the pension auditors reducing the unfunded liability projections.
Also concerning the health care proposed changes, I believe that those retirees under age 65 who are not eligible for medicare (or their spouse is not on medicare) can pay for back medicare eligibility to make them eligible.
I would agree with paying in two years rather than 5 but only if it is accompanied with passed and agreed on reforms like the above detailing where the money is coming from. We do not need more property tax increases. Look at the county and their proposed (more…)
May 29, 2014
What Are The Others Doing About Pensions And OPEB?
Memphis is struggling with what to do about their unfunded liability in pensions, OPEB (retiree health care) and general fund finances. I have talked about what Memphis has done compared to the Shelby County government and pointed out that due to past actions and good management, the County is in relatively good shape compared to the City of Memphis. Memphis must make hard decisions or possibly the State will step in and do it for them.
Then I wondered about Germantown, Bartlett and Collierville. This is quite interesting. They are all over the ball park. Germantown has a defined benefit plan. Collierville had a defined contribution plan and went to a defined benefit plan in 2007 (a year before the crash). They also have two other plans, a defined contribution and a state plan.
Percentage of pension and OPEB funding.
Pension Funding Percentage: Memphis 72.6%, SC 87.4%, Germantown 76%, Collierville 80.4% and Bartlett 67.1%.
OPEB Funding Percentage: Memphis 1.7%, SC 25.7%, Germantown 32%, Collierville 58.8% and Bartlett 9.9%.
Here is more of what I found.
Germantown amended the retirement plan in 2001. All employee retirement benefits are provided through a single employer, defined benefit plan. Under the Plan, all full time permanent employees at least 18 years of age (age 21 for Emergency Services Employees) participate and are vested after 10 years of service, 5 years if the employee was hired before January 1, 2003. Benefits are calculated at 2.25 percent of Average Monthly Earnings multiplied by the number of years of service subject to a 30 year maximum. The maximum accrual is 67.5 percent of base salary.
In addition, to the pension benefits, Germantown provides certain post-retirement health care benefits to employees who retire from the City under the provisions of PERS (Public Employee Retirement System). The City, in conjunction with PERS, has established benefit provisions and contribution obligations. The premium charged retirees is a percentage of the group rate. Prior to January 1, 2008, the City’s insurance became secondary to Medicare Insurance. After January 1, 2008, the plan was changed whereby future retirees could only obtain the City’s dental and prescription drugs.
Collierville’s long-range financial plan is to provide retirement and post-employment benefits to employees. The Town provides (more…)
May 6, 2014
Pension Comparison, City vs County
I have put together the essential information on the pension provisions of the City of Memphis pension plan and the County pension plan. This is shown in the attached spreadsheet. These provisions are in the new county plan D (adopted in 2012) and the new City plan adopted in 2013. I will comment on various provisions in the City plan that still need to be changed. However here is the bottom line.
The annual cost per retiree at the City of Memphis is $32,518 versus $19,218 at the County.
The unfunded liability at the City of Memphis is $709 million versus $161 million at the County.
The ratio of retirees to active employees at the City of Memphis is .79 versus .57 at the County.
The inescapable conclusion is that City of Memphis has had a loose system with rules that allowed too many people to get pensions for too much money and the County ran a much tighter system. The January 2001 pension resolution allowing elected and (more…)
April 15, 2014
OPEB-City of Memphis vs. Shelby County and MCS vs. Old Shelby County Schools
This is a very interesting subject and shows how badly the City of Memphis has been run, both the school systems and the general administration.
A) Shelby County CAFR from 2013 showing an unfunded liability of $306 million. DOWN $13 million from 2008 to 2013.
B) Shelby County CAFR from 2008 showing an unfunded liability of $319 million.
C) City of Memphis CAFR 2008 showing an unfunded liability of $857 million.
D) City of Memphis CAFR 2013 showing an unfunded liability of $1.29 billion dollars. UP $433 million from 2008 to 2013.
E) Old Shelby County Board of Education 2011 showing an unfunded liability of $334 million (June 2010)
F) City of Memphis Board of Education 2011 showing an unfunded liability of $1.16 billion dollars.
So it is obvious that Shelby County has been much better run than the City of Memphis and congratulations to past Shelby County (more…)
April 10, 2014
PILOTS-Are They Paying Their Way?
I am not talking about Malasian flight 370 but they are just as mysterious. “PILOT” stands for Payment In Lieu of Taxes. A company opens a business here or expands a business here or moves from one place to another and asks for abatement of taxes for the next 5, 10, 15 or more years from the City or the County or both.
They go to EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine) run by Reid Dulberger and 5 will get your 10 that they will get the tax abatement for 15. According to the EDGE website “The impact of the program since 2008 includes: 14,500 new jobs with $581 million of new annual payroll, $3.88 billion new capital investment, $464 million new Minority/Women-owned business receipts and 17,900 talented individuals attracted/retained.”
WOW. Who could be against those numbers? But wait, why does it not show up as additional income for Memphis and Shelby County?
Here is what their database says. “To date, EDGE projects have generated $1.6 billion in projected capital investment, 6,676 new/retained jobs, $545 million in projected new tax revenue and $344 million in MWBE/LOSB spending commitments.” WHERE IS THE BEEF?
Here are my thoughts on what needs to be done.
Attached here is David Lenoir’s (Shelby County Trustee) 2013 In-Lieu Properties Annual Report. Total tax exemptions stand at $49.9 million at the end of 2013. Section VI shows contractS aged by expiration date and Section VII shows In-Lieu delinquent tax notices.
It is my understanding from Mr. Lenoir that this shows only in lieu information from the county, not the city. Therefore the $50 million annual tax abatement is probably more like $75 million total city and county.
Here, in my opinion, is what needs to be done to restore some confidence to the EDGE program.
1) The City of Memphis should publish a similar annual report showing their figures as the County does in the same format.
2) Both the County and the City should show a report showing all the past Pilots that have been completed (Section VI) and showing the abated tax amount and then the actual tax amounts for each year after the end of the Pilot for the property so that the (more…)