Archive for the ‘City Council’ Category
May 18, 2015
Are Smart Meters A Smart Purchase?
Tomorrow there will be a City of Memphis committee meeting and in that meeting will be the subject of further purchase of smart meters as shown below.
MLGW COMMITTEE (Chairman Berlin Boyd)
- Resolution approving the purchase of a Mobile Energy Efficiency Educational Unit (vehicle) for an amount not to exceed $250,000
- Discussion of opting-out of Smart Meters
- Resolution awarding Contract No. 11776, Smart Meter Solution Full Deployment, to Elster Solutions, LLC, in the funded amount of $240,000,000 for work to be done over a period of approximately five years.
I have received the following email from a friend and a very active citizen in various local public policies.
- 240 million dollars over five years is an astronomical amount of money. The rate payers in Shelby County will be stuck with the bill.
- Firing meter readers and using their salaries to pay for smart meters does not add up. They are not paid that much!
- Please share this with Shelby county friends. I know several people there who spoke out and opted out of smart meters without paying a monthly fee to mlgw. If they had not spoken out, refusing a smart meter would have resulted in a monthly fee.
- The biggest reason for smart meters will be time-of-day-rates. While you will be sold on these rates because they are cheaper at certain hours, those rates will be much higher at other hours (example: summer rates in the afternoon hours 3-8 pm will double).
- Smart meters take usage readings every fifteen minutes and send that information directly to mlgw. Many people consider that an invasion of privacy because your usage patterns are kept by mlgw. Anyone with access can know your routine by those usage patterns. There is also concern that these meters can be hacked.
May 12, 2015
More Money Sources For Government
The question on my mind during these budget days for the City, County and the School System is where can we go to find more money other than just cutting expenses and raising property taxes on homeowners and businesses that are already paying their full mandated share. I am not against cutting unnecessary public expenses and there are plenty examples I could point out. (Excessive sick days and vacations, line of duty disability approval at the City, dumb capital projects, etc). But let me point out two major questions that I have concerning pilots (payment in lieu of taxes).
???? When a Pilot expires does the named property actually pay the full tax load that was abated (reduced) for the following years after the expiration date ????
???? Why are pilots given for abated personalty taxes for some companies but not others? What is the policy on personalty taxes ????
I have attached a pilot file from 2007 when Bob Patterson was trustee. Part of that file shows pilots with expiration dates (pages 71 to 109). I have been asking Reid Dulberger (EDGE-Economic Development Growth Engine) for some time to show a report on those pilots that have expired and to show the pre-expiration abated tax and the post expiration tax actually paid. He has done nothing. This is not easy to do and remember that this report by the Trustee is only for County taxes and if the property is in the City, there is a similar but somewhat lesser amount owed the City. As an example I checked just recently on Hershey at 975 Kansas St. I found that their abated real estate tax was $294,065.74 and was due to expire on 12/19/2009. I looked at what they paid in 2011 and it was about $72,000. But then I looked at their personalty tax and they paid a very large tax even during the period of their real estate tax abatement. Then I look at other abated taxes in the 2014 Lenoir report and there are companies listed with personalty tax abatements. What are personalty taxes? Personalty taxes are levied on business furnishings and equipment that you report to the Shelby County Assessor each year. My question is what is the policy concerning real estate tax abatements and personalty tax abatements? Why do some get an abatement and some do not? What is the policy difference concerning real estate taxes and personalty tax abatement?
The public needs to know if when a pilot expires does the property pay the full abatement tax or do they get some kind of reduction or get a further extension of the deadline or do they just leave town? There needs to be an audit of the before and after numbers of the Pilot expiration subject and let the public see the numbers.
April 28, 2015
Memphis Urban Development In Action
Memphis Bass Pro is set to open tomorrow and I for one hope that it is successful and pays off the millions that the City of Memphis has put into it. But I would like to point out a past example of big government and their programs for downtown. Take a look at the Peabody Place Project.
Peabody Place was a 300,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment mall intended to aid Downtown’s revival. The mall opened with a Muvico cinema complex, retail and restaurants in June 2001 but started to empty as the recession deepened in 2008. When the theater closed in July 2008, the Belzes announced plans to renovate part of the mall into a suites hotel, but lack of financing kept the project from going forward. Now look at the funding sources and amounts that financed the original project. UDAG, CDBG, Section 108 and City CIP to the tune of $41.8 million. What are UDAG, CDBG, Section108 and City CIP?
UDAG (Urban Development Action Grant)
The Secretary is authorized to make urban development action grants to cities and urban counties which are experiencing severe economic distress to help stimulate economic development activity needed to aid in economic recovery.
CDBG (Community Development Block Grants)
The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program was enacted in 1974 by president Gerald Ford through the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 and took effect in January 1975. It had the goal of extinguishing poverty and urban blight.
Section 108 is a loan guarantee program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which, since 1978, has committed more than $6 billion to almost 1,500 capital projects aimed at ameliorating housing conditions and creating economic opportunities, particularly for the benefit of low- and moderate-income persons.
City CIP (City of Memphis Capital Improvement Program)
This is City of Memphis capital money.
Now I ask the question, does any of this investment of our federal tax money or our City of Memphis tax money fit these definitions or objectives?
Then more recently there was this information in a Commercial Appeal article from 2014. The Belz family plans to refinance Peabody Place in a move that Downtown officials say is unrelated to talk of converting the vacant complex into a convention-related facility.
The Center City Revenue Finance Corp. on Tuesday approved a refinancing request from Hotel Peabody L.P., the Belz unit that owns The Peabody hotel and adjoining retail and entertainment site.
Refinancing required the board’s approval as a condition of a 25-year property tax abatement that was granted to the project in 1997.
This and other projects and questionable financing and use of federal tax money need a public discussion and open record information on how this money is to be repaid and who benefits.
April 14, 2015
Subsidized Housing, MHA, HCD, HUD, HEHF, Say What?
Recently I attended a MHA board meeting and at the end of the session I asked the board in the future to post all recent financial statements. Until recently they had not posted 2013 and 2014 statements. I also asked that in the future that they post the board agenda and all supporting documents at least two days in advance of the monthly board meetings. We will see in the future whether they do this.
They did in fact post the financial statements for 2013 and 2014 so that now we have posted 2009 through 2014 posted online.
At this point I do not pretend to understand this organization which is headed by Robert Lipscomb as well as the City of Memphis department of Housing and Community Development which is also headed by the same Robert Lipscomb. Then you add in HUD (Housing and Urban Development), HEHF (Health, Education and Housing Facilities Board) and then all the non profits like Global Ministries Foundation which was recently written about in the Commercial Appeal and you have a real witches brew brought on by big government spending in an attempt to solve social problems and garner votes. The real question is what is the most efficient way to help those truly in need? Is big government the answer or should rent money be given to those truly in need and let them make their own housing decisions? What do you think?
In order to get a better understanding of the financial structure and purpose of the MHA and HCD a friend asked for a meeting with MHA accounting (Ms. Vickie Aldridge) and here is the answer he got.
“I am not available to meet however if you submit your questions in writing, I will respond at my earliest convenience.” My friend will no doubt respond but here are my thoughts on these posted financial statements.”
I have attached one page out of each of the last six financial reports (2009 thru 2014). These pages list the notes, loans and mortgages receivable for various local housing projects. If you read on through the following pages of the reports you will see the following statement for each of the projects.
No payments were received on this note during 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.
My request to the MHA would be that I want to see these financial documents on the loans and mortgages to understand the terms and conditions and who is benefiting from these finances. You will note that the long term notes receivable has gone from $92 million in 2009 to $155 million in 2014. The public should be made aware of these finances, the cost to the taxpayers and the benefits to the tenants of this housing.
March 4, 2015
In a recent CA article, it was pointed out that the cash strapped City of Memphis will have to come up with another $13.5 million to cover the underestimated cost of City of Memphis retirees OPEB cost. This is because of the City’s liberal policy differences versus the County concerning what health care policies are available to retirees.
I have attached a resolution dated June 18, 2007 entitled “RESOLUTION TO PROVIDE FOR OPEB BENEFITS AND APPROVE CHANGES TO HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFITS PROVIDED TO EMPLOYEES AND RETIREES”
It is signed by none other than A C Wharton, then County Mayor.
The main difference is that County retirees over age 65 that are eligible for Medicare (either the retiree or spouse) will only be eligible for a Medicare supplemental plan, not the regular county plan. Also the retiree’s share of the premium will be based on years of service. This saved the county millions of dollars since 2007.
Meanwhile the City of Memphis did none of this even after County Mayor Wharton became City Mayor Wharton. It took a city pension and OPEB financial crisis to get the City to change and then they got the numbers wrong to the tune of $13.5 million. Then add to that the millions they could have saved between 2007 and 2015 had they followed the County example, but they did nothing.
Last Tuesday I braved the ice (black and otherwise) and went to the City Council committee meetings at City Hall. There were two particular subjects in which I had an interest and they were the Pension Funding Policy chaired by Jim Strickland and the Executive session on Debt Restructuring chaired by Myron Lowery.
These two subjects are related because due to the 2010 scoop and toss bond refinancing and the State of Tennessee demanding that the City of Memphis increases its pension ARC (annual required contribution). It turns out that the 2010 refinancing created a bubble starting in 2016 making it difficult to pay both the increased ARC and the bond payments at the same time. The answer, scoop and toss again. The City (Brian Collins) claims that this is reasonable due to low interest rates. Jim Strickland, Harold Collins, Wanda Halbert and Shea Flinn raised questions as did the Commercial Appeal. Here is the presentation given at the meeting.
I decided to investigate some past bond financing so I asked the City of Memphis for some bond information on recent bonds such as the stadium project and the Pyramid and Pinch District redevelopment. All I got from them was a computerized reply with answers to follow SOME DAY. So I went online and got the following Moodys financial analysis report.
Here are some of the things that the report says about Memphis.
- The current issue is ultimately secured by all non-tax revenue that is legally available other than ad valorem revenues in the city’s general fund.
- The Series 2011B and 2011 C subordinate are secured by a second lien on TDZ revenues with a pledge from the city to replenish the debt service reserve in the event of a draw on non-ad valorem tax revenues.
The negative outlook on the Series 2013A&B and 2011B&C reflects Moody’s expectation that the city’s financial position will remain challenged as fixed costs, including debt service, pension and other post-employment benefits represents 42% of operating expenditures in fiscal 2012.
In spite of all this the City continues to spend on questionable projects like the Raleigh Springs Mall renovation and to talk about the fairgrounds project as if these will all be paid for by tax incremental financing and fairy dust.
February 18, 2015
Cost of pensions/ City Versus County
I recently asked for and promptly got a copy of the Shelby County Pension Actuarial Report dated June 30, 2014. I also asked for the City of Memphis report and have yet to get it. However I have the June 30, 2013 report from the City of Memphis.
I first read the Shelby County report and it was like reading a financial report from, your favorite profitable well run private sector firm. Not exciting but very comforting. Not racy but secure.
Then to add spice to my day I took up the City of Memphis pension report. Talk about “A Tale of Two Cities”. Here are some comparisons.
Active Employees, City of Memphis- 6280; Shelby County 5302
Retirees, City of Memphis- 4782; Shelby County 3469
Unfunded Liability, City of Memphis- $709 million; Shelby County $243 million
Retirees on disability, City of Memphis- 635; Shelby County 80. Most of the County disability retirees are regular, not line of duty. Most of the disability retirees from the City are line of duty. They get 60% of their highest average salary tax free for life. The problem is the composition the approving pension board at the City made up of their fellow employees. Shelby County gives approval to a disability insurance company. This is costing the City $14 million per year.
Total annual pension payments, City of Memphis $155 million; Shelby County $66 million
Average pension per retiree, City of Memphis- $32,518; Shelby County $19,273
Do I need to say more?
February 3, 2015
Fancy Expensive Jobs And Titles
Recently Mayor Wharton gave a State of the City address. In that speech he cited the case of Willie Woods, owner of Woods Painting Co, who turned to the City of Memphis when the recession knocked down his revenue by 30 to 40 percent. Mr. Woods wanted help finding jobs and financial support. He, no doubt, had a lot of company during the recent severe downturn.
The Mayor’s answer was typical for most politicians, local and national. The Mayor proposed creating a new “cabinet level” department, the Division of Minority Business Services.
Well let us look at the current 2015 City of Memphis budget. In this budget we find the Office of Talent & Human Capital. The mission of this office is “to secure the City of Memphis competitive position in the knowledge economy by supporting innovative strategies, tactics and initiatives that focus on retaining, recruiting, and developing the nations’ most talented workforce.”
Now look at eight budget pages from the 2015 City of Memphis budget. You will see that we propose to spend $1,251,805 and give employment to 6 people. That is a cheap price if Dr. Scarboro, Executive Director, achieves this objective. Cities across the nation are spending billions to achieve this goal and the national government is spending trillions.
Let us be realistic about these made up positions and jobs. They are what politicians at all levels do to make the public think they are addressing the problems with real solutions. This is nothing against Dr. Scarboro. I am sure he is a great guy who has done significant good work. However creating another division with another Executive Director is not the solution to solving Mr. Wood’s problem or the human talent problem. It will take years of education reform and family social services to attack the poverty, family dissolution, crime and local low educational levels that are at the base of low human talent levels. Another fancy title and another cabinet level division and another million plus spending will not help Mr. Woods get more work. Being the best painting contractor offering fair prices and great work is the answer to his problem.
January 8, 2015
There was a recent editorial in the CA about the upcoming 2015 city elections and term limits. This is a subject that is close to my heart. Let me be clear. I am for reasonable term limits for all elected public offices from the President on down.
At the Federal level, thank goodness that the office of President is limited to two four year terms. Now it is time for the senate and the house to institute at least a twelve year limit (two six years terms and six two year terms). The argument that our politicians need long experience in government to make good decisions is greatly overrated by actual performance.
Now as to the new term limits for the City of Memphis. I would like you to remember how this came about.
Without going in to a long history lesson, it came about by the actions of Mr. John Lunt, a Germantown resident but a great Memphis businessman. He was incensed by the foolish January 2001 pension resolution allowing elected and appointed people to receive a pension after twelve years regardless of age. This has cost the City of Memphis millions. Mr. Lunt instituted a charter commission election with the help of thousands of voters which the politicians fought tooth and nail. The citizens got behind the proposal and it passed.
The one good result of that effort was term limits for the Mayor and City Council. Myron Lowery was the sometimes chairman of that Commission and thank you Myron for your support of the citizens. Shelby County already had term limits in their charter which certain members of the County Commission fought in court but lost.
Public spirited citizens should come forward and offer their services in elected positions but after four or eight years, they should go back to the private sector and earn their living.
As a retiree I ran for City Council in 2007 and I thank the over 16,000 voters who voted for me. My wife and children thank the voters who gave Shea Flinn and Kemp Conrad more votes. They both have done good work for the City of Memphis. I encourage young new people to come forward and put their ideas for good government before the voters. I encourage retirees to get involved in the issues and lend their experience in letters, calls, blogs and unpaid public service positions. Good government needs input from the citizens and tax payers. Do your part and get involved.
January 6, 2015
The Cargill Pilot
Recently a reader of my blog asked me the following question.
“When a company pulls out before the end of their PILOT agreement, do they pay a penalty for not having delivered as promised? I am thinking of Cargill.”
I responded “Good Question. I will check. I emailed EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine) and asked for a copy of the Cargill Pilot agreement. They promptly responded as follows.
firstname.lastname@example.org “The Cargill Lease, along with most documents, are online. See http://growth-engine.org/archive/?g=/Data%20By%20Company/Cargill
I went there online and found a number of documents about Cargill but the one that was most interesting was the following one entitled “Application Of Cargill Incorporated For Payment In Lieu Of Taxes” dated in 2010. Look at page 48 which is a letter signed by Mayor Wharton with promises of tax reductions close to $12 million and a $3 million dollar funding to assist in rail enhancements.
Then look at page 42 where Cargill would possibly provide a $500,000 funding for a school bus project in order to delay installation of equipment at Cargill to reduce their air pollution. I am not sure if they ever provided this $500,000. Does anyone out there know? Here is an article about the proposal.
Cargill is a big company and they do what is best for Cargill. They are a big employer and any city would be proud to have them as a local employer. It is best that all citizens know what is going on in the tax deals and EDGE is to be complimented for posting this information on line. However they still have not provided the critical information about properties that finish their Pilot contracts and the important information about whether they are paying the full tax amount that they were abated during the Pilot or whether they somehow left town, got an extension of the Pilot or are somehow paying less than their full share. Post that information on line PLEASE!