Archive for the ‘City Council’ 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 19, 2014
An Open Records Update
During the last 10 years I have been an advocate of open records. I have had my ups and downs with the City of Memphis, Shelby County, the old Memphis School System, he MLGW and any number of other affiliated organizations. Here is my open record scorecard.
- Shelby County and MLGW A
- The Old Shelby County School System B+
- City of Memphis C
- Old Memphis School System and the new SC School System F
I have never had to file a lawsuit against Shelby County, the MLGW or the Old Shelby County School System. I have filed 5 lawsuits successfully against Memphis and the Old Memphis School System. The City of Memphis has become less responsive and difficult about providing access to information. The new Shelby County School System (SCS) seems to be little different from the old Memphis School System.
I am asking Memphis and SCS for information and will take whatever action is necessary to enforce my Tennessee citizens’ legal rights and access to information.
Now I see the Common Core as the greatest threat to our freedoms and the future of our local education. I am asking the public to join with me in a debate on common core and how it is being implemented locally. I will publish a series of questions and provide answers to be debated and facts provided.
The basic purpose of common core is to impose thru a national program a uniform curriculum on K12 public schools. As a result of this uniform common core, they want to collect an immense amount of student data and use it to plan each student’s future education (university, community college or trade school) and eventually their slot in society. This plan would disregard the parents’ and the students’ rights and desires. This amounts to Federal control of education, freedoms and parental rights.
I agree that public education needs upgrading as we have had over 60 years of failure of public education. I agree that there should be a rigorous broad based national testing standard to which students, schools and teachers should be measured. However I believe in competition. Each state and even each City and County should develop their own curriculum and teaching methods with the full involvement of parents and taxpayers. Those states and cities that measure up and surpass the national measure should share their programs with others that do not measure up. Let the best ideas and results win. More federal money and one size fits all is not the answer. Let there be no less than 50 state experimental education laboratories competing with each other for top student achievers. Let education flourish in public, private, home schools, church schools with parents making a choice financed by taxes and vouchers. Let the competition begin with parental choice of what is best for their children, not what is best for Bill Gates, Pearson Publishing or DC politicians.
In future posts I will point out hard facts about common core, who is financing it, and who benefits. I welcome your comments.
May 13, 2014
The Handling of Appointed Positions
As the Memphis City Council discusses the problem of unfunded liability and possible solutions I hope they do not forget the handling of appointed positions and their action in January 2001 and their action in 2004. But more on that later.
What are appointed positions? I recently asked Shelby County Government for their list of appointed positions. As you will see this goes from the Assessor’s office all the way to the Trustee’s office for a total annual salary of $36.6 million. The latest list that I have from the City of Memphis shows a total annual salary of $21.7 million for appointed positions.
The difference here is that in January 2001 the City Council proposed and passed a resolution that allowed elected and appointed people to retire after 12 years regardless of age. This disastrous decision by the City Council and the mayor has added millions of dollars to our unfunded pension liability. After a city council member stated that this resolution would help keep and retain good (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…)