Archive for the ‘City Council’ Category
September 18, 2014
There Are Promises And Then There Are Promises
Promises are only as good as the character of the promiser and laws to back up the promise. The City of Memphis made promises in the past about pension benefits and also about retiree health care benefits. The pension benefits were backed up by law and generally could only be changed by bankruptcy (look at Detroit). However retiree health care benefits are not protected by law and are subject to change by the governing body.
Recently certain publications have pointed to Nashville as the model that Memphis should emulate. Therefore I decided to look at Nashville (Metro Davidson) and see what their numbers look like.
The first thing that struck me was that the Nashville Metropolitan Council consisted of 41 members. Our 13 is bad enough. Imagine a meeting where all 41 want to get their opinion on the record.
Then I looked at the pension and OPEB numbers. Their pension liability was funded to 84.6% as compared to 72.6% for Memphis. However their OPEB unfunded liability is $1.88 billion compared to $1.29 billion for Memphis. Therefore the state of Tennessee looked at Memphis and said that you are low on gas for the pension fund and also the OPEB fund and therefore you have to do something. However Nashville gets a pass because they can always cancel the OPEB promise in the future if they get in a pension contribution bind. Would you want 41 metro council members rather than the 26 we now have (13 City and 13 County) representing the City and County especially when the County has been doing a good job compared to the City.
Nashville is certainly vibrant and has grown whereas Memphis has been basically stagnant. However, you should be careful about claiming that the difference between Memphis and Nashville is the result of a metro government versus two separate governments in Shelby County.
September 8, 2014
Confusion At City Hall
It was interesting to watch the confusion at the committee discussions Tuesday (a week ago) about the budget. The following was in the budget document.
The proposed FY 2015 Operating Budget includes an increase of approximately $15 million to help fund our pension system. Combined with a FY14 contribution of $20 million, pension payments will be approximately $35 million. Since 2008, financial constraints have prevented us from paying the full Actuarially Required Contribution (ARC) needed to maintain solvency long-term. The current ARC is approximately $95 million.
Under newly enacted Tennessee law, the City will be required to ramp up our annual contributions until we reach 100%, no later than 2020.
The FY 2015 Operating Budget includes fundamental changes to medical benefits provided to current and former employees. First, the FY 2015 Budget assumes that the city will no longer pay 70% of the health care premium of retired, Medicare-eligible employees, their spouses and dependents. These retirees will have options: remain on the City’s plan; join plans offered by either their current employers or their spouses’ employers; purchase Medicare supplement plans; or join the new Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges or private exchanges. This change will save approximately $27 million in FY 2015. Also, it will be the first step toward eliminating the $1.3 billion unfunded OPEB (Other Post Employee Benefits Programs) liability. Second, the Budget assumes that we implement long overdue changes to the base health plan that will result in an additional $4 million savings in FY 2015.
The City Council and the Administration are looking for ways to save money to increase the pension fund contribution. The easy target was the health insurance costs for active employees and retirees. However the real problem is the pension structure itself. We have too many retirees from the City when compared to 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. This of course means more retirees on the City health care plan. Then consider that the average City pension is $31,000 versus $19,000 at the County. Also the average health care cost for retirees at the City is $10,900 versus $7,100 at the county. The whole pension fund at the City needs an independent study to determine why more people proportionally are retired at the City than the County. This and the past refusal to take needed reforms is the root cause of the current problem.
September 2, 2014
Return On Investment
The City of Memphis pension board voted to change their investment strategy to raise their return on investment. I hope they are successful but they are taking a chance like the gambler at Tunica on the crap table. Seven come Eleven.
Look at this Asset Class Return Chart. These sectors rotate from very good to average to bad to very bad. Anyone that says they know what the future will be, will be very rich or very poor if they are risking their money. If they are risking someone else’s money, they will be very sorry but well paid for their advice.
Now here is what I would like to see. What is the return on the investment for the $43 million dollar development known as the Beale Street Landing? I went there a few days ago and below are some pictures. I would like to see a financial report on the return on investment for this structure. This is not like spending money for roads, sewer lines, parks, street lights, public safety and criminal justice. We must have that for a civilized society. But the Beale Street Landing must produce a return on the investment. Give us a report on RETURN ON INVESTMENT and a reason to continue to hire the high priced staff that brought us this investment. Here are some shots from our $43 million dollar investment. Parking $5.00 minimum, $15.00 maximum. Nice restaurant and bar with average lunch prices but they cannot get a professional restaurateur to operate it so they are running it themselves. Hours, 9 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Thursday, 9 to 7:30 on Friday, 11 to 7:30 on Saturday and 11 to 5 on Sunday. Where is the romantic nighttime supper watching the boats on the mighty Mississippi?
August 25, 2014
Recently I was scrolling around the City of Memphis website and I clicked on the office of talent and human capital and this is what I found.
I congratulate the Mayor for printing this information and pointing out that we have a long way to go. In looking at the chart, we are 47th out of 51 for people 25 and older who have completed a four year college degree. If you restrict that to 25 to 34 years old, we move from 47th to 46th. We are 51st out of 51 for mathematicians and scientists etc. We are 45th out of 51 as a percentage of metropolitan workers that have a college degree and are employed in private sector businesses but excluding health care and education. Lastly we are 43rd out of 51 as a percentage of metropolitan population 25 and older that have completed a four year college degree and were born outside the United States.
This last number is interesting as Memphis is at 7.7% and the leading city is at 49.6%. I would take a guess that the leading cities are places like San Francisco, San Jose, Dallas or Boston.
The person in charge of the office of talent and human capital is Douglas Scarboro and in a recent news article it was stated the following.
“In March 2010, Wharton hired Douglas Scarboro to serve as the head of the city’s new Office of Talent and Human Capital, designed to attract talented workers. After a staffer said Scarboro’s initial salary of $125,000 a year would be funded by a local nonprofit group, Wharton issued a public apology and said the city was funding the position.”
If Mr. Scarboro can bring these numbers up he is certainly earning his salary. What do you think?
August 18, 2014
Property Developer With Other People’s Money
A recent CA article stated the following “After a delay of several months, Robert Lipscomb said recently that his team is ready to move forward with a long-standing plan to redevelop the Mid-South Fairgrounds into a sports complex and retail center.”
What a remarkable statement. Most professional property developers risk their own money or gather together other investors based on their good track record. However Mr. Lipscomb uses government programs such as TDZs (Tourist Development Zones), TIFs (Tax Incremental Financing) and various State and Federal programs paid for by the general taxpayers. Bonds are issued with the promise of payment from a fund of incremental taxes over and above a predevelopment base tax rate. If the incremental taxes are there to pay off the bonds then everything works out fine. If they are not there, then the local taxpayers pick up the load.
My question is who appointed Robert Lipscomb as chief Memphis property developer? If the City of Memphis is his property development company, then we need to study the financial records of his company. The State of Tennessee through the office of (more…)
August 4, 2014
A Smoking Gun
I have a reluctance to throw out old files that I have from 2001. So I decided to start cleaning out and throwing away old files. The first one I came across was an open records reply from 2007. It was a Mercer Health and Benefits report dated July 24, 2006. The title was “City of Memphis Retiree Medical Landscape 2006 and Beyond”.
Take a look at this report. It was a warning of what was coming from GASB (Government Accounting Standards Board 43 and 45) concerning OPEB reporting, Medicare Coordination, Service Based Contributions and Future Hires.
Why was this report Important?
- It will be a required part of the annual audit statement
- This will impact bond rating
- Unfunded liability is potentially 50 times current retiree health-claim cash flow
The report recommended plan changes such as
- Coordination of benefits on medical and surgical coverage with Medicare (Parts A & B) for all post 65 retirees.
- Adopting an age and service based contribution rate structure.
- Plan design changes to the retiree medical plan that will reduce costs to some reasonable level and help manage the liability.
- Medicare coordination will mean the City of Memphis will provide coverage for post-65 retirees only on a secondary basis and all post 65 retirees will be required to buy Medicare coverage.
- The City of Memphis will adopt separate rates for pre-65 and post-65 retirees.
- Retirees will contribute different amounts depending upon their length of service in active employment.
Is it any surprise that the City of Memphis ignored these recommendations and the County took the warnings to heart and adopted a similar recommended plan? This lack of action by the City in 2006 explains the current crisis we have at the City of Memphis.
July 30, 2014
Work Time Versus Time Off
The CA has been on the case of certain judges concerning the amount of time they are working versus their time off. While this criticism seems to be justified it also applies to the City of Memphis, Shelby County and most other public employees.
First look at the salaries of the various officials we are currently voting on.
CHANCERY COURT CLK
CIRCUIT COURT CLERK
CRIMINAL COURT CLERK
GENERAL SESSIONS COURT CLERK
JUVENILE COURT CLERK
PROBATE COURT CLERK
I am conflicted in my opinion about judges. I am very much in favor of term limits. I think the people should elect the judges but it (more…)
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.