Archive for the ‘OPEB’ Category

The MLGW Island

Monday, October 27th, 2014

November 27, 2014

The MLGW Island

There was a very good and interesting article in a recent issue of the Memphis Flyer. It was written by Les Smith, a reporter for WHBQ Fox-13 News. The point of the article was his belief that the MLGW is and always has been tone deaf to its customers. The most recent example of the deafness, according to Les, was MLGW announcing the need for a 2 percent hike in the residential water rate just after receiving a tongue lashing from City Council member Wanda Halbert.

As a former member of the MLGW Board of Directors and a long time observer of their services, I have the following observations.

  1. Over the past years MLGW has been a well run organization delivering electricity, natural gas and clean water in a professional manner. However there have been times when politics caused problems with the management, specifically when Mayor Herenton put Joseph Lee in charge.
  2. The employees generally are well trained and they respond to weather related outages in a prompt and professional manner.
  3. With the exception of Lee, the top job at the MLGW has been filled by professionals with the highest integrity.
  4. Utility rates are competitive compared to other cities of similar size.

I have studied the MLGW financial statements over the years and they are clear and complete. I have in the past contested the surplus in net worth as inconsistent with their constitutional nonprofit status. However they contend that they need a certain percentage of unrestricted assets to cover unpaid bills and expenses. You can argue about the size of the unrestricted cash but I do not think it is unreasonable.

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There Are Promises And Then There Are Promises

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

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.

Confusion At City Hall

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

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.

Property Developer With Other People’s Money

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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…)

A Smoking Gun

Monday, August 4th, 2014

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.

Work Time Versus Time Off

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

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.

MAYOR

$142,500

ASSESSOR

$108,617

REGISTER

$107,975

TRUSTEE

$107,975

COUNTY CLERK

$107,975

CHANCERY COURT CLK

$117,453

CIRCUIT COURT CLERK

$117,453

CRIMINAL COURT CLERK

$117,453

GENERAL SESSIONS COURT CLERK

$117,453

JUVENILE COURT CLERK

$117,453

PROBATE COURT CLERK

$117,453

JUDGES

$167,686

 

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…)

On The Back of Taxpayers

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

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
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Trust The Free Market

Monday, June 30th, 2014

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.

Congratulations Mr. Mayor and City Council Majority

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

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.

 

 

Holy Pot Hole Batman

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

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.