Archive for the ‘History’ Category

ROI (Return On Investment)

Monday, February 8th, 2016

February 8, 2016

 

ROI (Return On Investment)

 

Recently I asked for the following information from the Riverfront Development Corporation.

 

I would like to know the final cost for the Beale Street Landing

 

I would like to have the most recent financial statement concerning the income and expense of the Landing operation showing income and expenses.

 

I would like to have the most recent annual financial statement for the RDC.

 

I received a prompt answer to these questions (with some delay due to my fault). You can look at the attached results.

 

They say the cost was $43.5 million with the Feds and State kicking $11.8 million, Housing and Community $1 million and the City $30.6 million. All of this is taxpayer money. Now we all recognize that parks, playgrounds, running and biking trails and other civic amenities do not pay a return on investment in a true business sense. However this restaurant/souvenir shop and boat landing should pay a better return than is shown by the landing operation income and expense sheet shown above. Except for the Foundation Corporate Grant of $75,000, it is losing money each month. Maybe the additional income generated by river boat tourists landings make up for some of this but could the landings have been done without this $43 million dollar project? Virginia McLean certainly thinks so. Here is what she told me recently.

 

Our new $43M taxpayer funded boat dock probably might make it easier (at the right water-levels) for passengers to board and has probably led to more business for our local daily excursion boat company, but I’m not absolutely certain about either of those points, and I can’t imagine that Beale Street Landing has had a serious impact on multi-state-city riverboat cruises.  The boat companies appear to be promoting Southern history, food, and music as draws for cruises on the Mississippi River. They dock at Natchez, Vicksburg, Helena, Paducah, to name a few, and those cities/towns don’t have expensive new boat docks. The boats appear to just tie up at the shore (like they still do here at Greenbelt Park when water levels are low ) or dock at historic landings like in St. Louis on the old landing which is adjacent & beneath the plaza the Arch sits on or at basic, simple open-air ticket-sale type places like in New Orleans’s Woldenberg Park. Personally I think Mud Island River Park’s landing would probably beat out anything, including Beale Street Landing. When the boats docked over there and if it was being run properly visitors would have had access to restaurants, a music, pretty park, amphitheater, and via monorail or skywalk downtown city by foot. 

 

I’ll stick with the idea that we didn’t really need it, couldn’t afford it, and now what do we do about running and maintaining it?  

 

The Mississippi River is our greatest asset but it is huge and powerful and maintaining anything on the river always ends up costing more than expected. The Beale Street Landing will continue to cost us in the future to maintain it. We do not need the Riverfront Development Corporation to guide and lead changes to Mud Island River Park considering their past history. What do you think?

Tennessee State Shared Revenue Review

Monday, January 25th, 2016

January 25, 2016

Tennessee State Shared Revenue Review

 

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin

 

I have been investigating the state of Tennessee taxes collected in Memphis and Shelby County and then the portion returned to us by the state. Then I decided to compare the results with Metro Nashville. In the 2016 upcoming national election one of the big questions is a large versus small central government. Should we send our money to Washington and let them decide how much and for what purpose some of it should be returned to us (less their cut) or should the Federal government stick to the original intent of the constitution such as defend the Country, establish a system of currency, deliver the mail and protect individual rights.

 

Therefore I decided to look at our local taxes which are sent to Nashville and then a portion is returned to Memphis and Shelby County. Here is the latest state returned revenue comparison sheet showing Memphis, Shelby County and a comparison with Metro Nashville.

 

You will see the big ones below.

 

The local option sales tax (the 2-1/4% tax) over and above the 7% Tennessee sales tax. $299 million.

 

The next big one is the use tax (stuff you buy out of state and ship in). $48 million.

 

Then down the list: gasoline and motor fuel tax ($17 million), tva in lieu of tax ($14 million) and tourist development zone ($12 million).

 

The alcoholic and beer tax only amounts to $1.4 million so drink up.

 

Overall we got $456 million back from the state whereas Nashville got $505 million.

 

What does it all mean in the big picture? For all its’ problems I trust my local and state government a hell of a lot more than my federal government. What do you think? Let me know.

Who Is Responsible For The OPEB Debacle?

Monday, January 11th, 2016

January 11, 2016

Who Is Responsible For The OPEB Debacle?

The City of Memphis, The State of Tennessee and the active and retired employees of the OLD (no longer existing) Memphis City Schools woke up recently as there was a noise rattling around in the closet. When they opened the closet door out jumped the ghost of over $1 billion dollars of unfunded OPEB (other post employment benefits). (OPEB is the promise of furnishing retirees health care and life insurance at a highly subsidized rate without putting the money aside to pay for it).

Now everyone is saying the ghost doesn’t belong to me. Well here is the story which I have been pointing out for years.

Every politician has been ignoring the OPEB ghost for years. However some have been more responsible than others.

The most responsible people again have been Shelby County people, the old Shelby County School Board and the Shelby County Government. They recognized the problem after the 2007 GASB-45 (Government Accounting Standards Board) regulation. See the attached page showing the 2010 actions of the Board in reducing the unfunded OPEB liability from $548 million in 2007 to $242 million in 2009. They reduced the retiree benefit rules.

Now look at the old Memphis Board of Education report from 2010. They did nothing and the unfunded OPEB liability was $1.5 billion dollars. This is 6.3 times higher than the county but the active payroll of the city schools was only 2.5 times higher than the county school payroll.

Clearly the irresponsible parties are the Old Memphis City School Board, the Old Memphis School Administration and any politicians (City and County) who ignored the growing OPEB problem.

Now, how do we solve the unfunded promise? Unfortunately we have to do to the school system retirees what we had to do to the City of Memphis retirees and to a much lesser extent what the Old County School system had to do to their retirees in 2010. We have to cut their retiree health care benefits. Promises were made by elected people who should have known better or made regardless of knowing better and the chickens are coming home to roost.

A Year End Report Card From Joe Saino

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

December 29, 2015

A Year End Report Card From Joe Saino

Looking back over more than 10 years of reporting on local government I have hope for the future of Memphis and Shelby County. My score card for the major local governments is as follows.

Shelby County Government- A

MLGW- B+

City of Memphis- C

Shelby County Schools- D

This is not a scientific scoring, just years of experience and dealings with these large government entities. Hopefully the City of Memphis will improve with the inauguration of our new Mayor, Jim Strickland. I have high expectations for him. Past problems at the City can be laid at the feet of past mayors and especially the voting majority of past City Councils. They refused to make the hard choices until the State of Tennessee came in with the fiscal bullwhip.

MLGW under Jerry Collins is well run and efficient. I could wish that they publish more information on their website like annual pension and OPEB reports so that customers do not have to ask for this information through an open records request.

Shelby County has a proven record of good management and is open and above board. Their record on pension and OPEB management compared to the City of Memphis and the old and new school boards has been outstanding.

The old Memphis School System and the new replacement Shelby County School System is a puzzle. The new school system at first looked like they wanted to enter the modern open records world but then when they had the chance; they closed the door on common sense requests. Then they filed a huge lawsuit against the state which is going to cost millions in legal fees and are also trying through the Tennessee School Board Association to charge the public a fee just for asking for access to public data and records. It is a puzzle. They are saying in effect “We know best how to educate your children, so shut up with your requests for information.”

Enough of my scorecard so here is some real data from recent pension reports that I obtained from Memphis, Shelby County and the MLGW.

Active employees:

MLGW                       2526

Memphis                  5756

County                      5208

Payroll of active employees:

MLGW                       $152 million

Memphis                  $340 million

County                      $243 million

Retirees and beneficiaries

MLGW                       2597 receiving an average of $38,601 annually

Memphis                  4239 receiving an average of $34,014 annually

County                      $3598 receiving an average of $19,914 annually

Those disabled

MLGW                       33 receiving a total of $491,000 annually

Memphis                   653 receiving $17,370,000 annually

County                      72 receiving $1,506,240 annually

Need I say more? The problem at the City of Memphis is obvious. We need to change the pension board makeup and go to the County disability system.

Any questions?

Oh No, A Water Rate Increase

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

November 24, 2015

Oh No, A Water Rate Increase

As a former MLGW board member, I have a history of praising and criticizing the Division. I follow and read the Division’s annual financial reports. The latest report is for the calendar year 2014 which ended December 31, 2014. The 2015 year report will not be out until well into 2016. However I am sure the Division knows what will be in the report.

Division President Jerry Collins went before the City Council to ask for a 22% water rate increase. He said that the rate increase is necessary to keep the water division from recording its second straight year of negative net income at the end of 2016. A state board is required by state law to step in and set rates after two straight years of negative net income. He said the board has consistently favored higher rates, including a 42 percent increase in Bartlett’s rates.

I have looked at the past financial reports and the Water Division has had a very slim margin (changes to net assets) in 2013 and 2014. Apparently they know that 2015 they are going to show a decrease in net assets (a loss) and without an increase they will lose more in 2016 due to losing a large customer, Cargill Corn Mill. Two years of losses would bring in the state board to dictate an increase in water rates according to state law.

The usual suspects on the City Council refuse to study the facts as they demonize the Division as heartless and cruel. Facts do not make any difference to them as they play to their voting base. Another fact is that the Water Division has been paying $2.5 million dollars per year due to the City Council agreement to finance the FedEx arena. The agreement is effective through the year 2028. During 2014 the Water Division was authorized and directed by City Council, per City resolutions, to make an additional annual $1.9 million transfer payment each year through fiscal year 2017. Transfer payments to the City for 2013 as compared to 2012 increased due to a City resolution authorizing and directing an additional payment of $1.8 million in exchange for the release of any rights the City may have had to receive water from the Water Division free of charge during 2013 under the MLGW Charter.

The MLGW has a history of being fiscally responsible and being run mostly by professional management. Their employees are well trained and do a tough job. However the City Council would be well advised to look in to areas such as MLGW’s OPEB program. They should bring their rules concerning the cost and availability of retirees and their spouces health care to match the same rules as Shelby County Government retirees. Shelby County has these rules in effect since 2007. The MLGW pension and OPEB funds are in good shape due to funds paid for by MLGW’s customers’ utility rates. Compare their pension and OPEB funds to those at the City paid for by property, sales and other taxes.

As a final note I have been informed by President Collins concerning Sewer Rate Fees. “Sewer fees are governed by Public Works. To the best of my knowledge Public Works is not planning a sewer fee increase.” MLGW is just used as a collection agency for 1) Sewer Charge, 2)Solid Waste Fee, 3)Mosquito/Rodent Control Fee and 4) Storm Water Fee.

 

 

 

Bass Pro Pyramid Review

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

November 13, 2015

Bass Pro Pyramid Review

Local ABC 24 called and asked me to comment on Bass Pro after 6 months from opening. http://www.localmemphis.com/news/local-news/final-hurdle-remains-for-bass-pro-and-pinch-district

It so happened that I had just spent all day several days previously touring Rhodes College, St Jude and Bass Pro so naturally I am an expert. It was a Wednesday when my wife and I and several out of town visitors did this tour. I must say that Rhodes was outstanding and beautiful. My visitor was a retired orthopedic surgeon and his wife a retired nurse. (He is on the board of Westminster College in Missouri (the site of the famous Winston Churchill speech on the iron curtain). This was before the disastrous University of Missouri incident.)

After visiting Rhodes we went to St. Jude and it was wonderful. Very heartwarming to see the work that they do. Then we went to Bass Pro. As I said it was on a Wednesday at about 2 PM, not exactly prime time.

We toured the ground floor and I was very impressed with the multiple selections of Moon Pies. Also I shopped for camouflaged underwear and pajamas. My wife told me that there was a good selection of women’s clothing (groan). We paid $10 each to ride the elevator to the top and had a good view of the river. We had already had lunch earlier elsewhere but we looked over the menu and it was the typical selection of sandwiches and salads that you could get at dozens of places all over Memphis. The food selection definitely did not match the view.

Now to the financial details. The City of Memphis, through the Memphis Center City Revenue Finance Corporation  issued bonds to the tune of $192 million dollars for Warm Lit Shell ($20M) Seismic Retrofit ($25M), Landlord Contribution ($33M), Convention Center Acquisition ($67 M) Pyramid Acquisition ($3.2 M), Lonestar Acquisition ($15 M) and debt reserve and transaction cost of $$28.8 M).

This is to be paid back by increased sales tax revenue over and above a base which will be paid from the State of Tennessee’s sales tax collections for principal and interest. See a distribution report that I obtained from the state of Tennessee on past TDZ zones. Then look at the RKG Associates financial analysis and you will see that they are projectioning an increase in the first full year of $8.1 million more over and above the current level. Keep in mind that each year a new base is set. Also note that ½% of the sales tax goes to the School system.

I sincerely hope that the projections are correct or even underestimated but it will be several years before we know for sure. In the meantime Mayor elect Jim Strickland should publish information on existing City of Memphis financial obligations to the bonds issued by the Memphis Center City Revenue Finance Corporation showing the amount of the outstanding loans and the payment history of each of the obligations. The public has a right to transparency on this financial obligation. The taxpayers are on the hook for these debts even if ad valoren taxes are not. All other taxes collected by the City are obligated.

Pilot Promises! Are They True?

Monday, August 17th, 2015

August 17, 2015

Pilot Promises! Are They True?

There was an editorial in the CA August 16th about Pilots and attached tax breaks. This is a subject that is up for discussion and debate. On one side is EDGE (economic development growth engine) led by Reid Dulberger. On the other side is many of the local unions and other groups who wonder where is the promised benefits of EDGE’s website.

If you look at EDGE’s website you will see $711 million dollars in projected new tax revenue. WOW!! Boy do we need that. No future pension and retiree health care problems. We are on easy street.

But looking back on City and County revenues for many years I don’t see any such massive flow. Revenue just seems flat but with some inflation increases.

What we have here is a lack of facts. Here are some problems and suggestions that I would suggest could shine some light on the PILOT discussion.

If you look at Shelby County Trustee website (currently under David Lenoir) you will see a list of annual County Pilot reports. In those reports is a section entitled Contracts Aged by Expiration Date.  This section shows how much the property should pay in Shelby County property taxes and how much they are in fact paying under the Pilot reduction.

In order for the public to have some basis for confidence in the pilot program, some entity should look back at the expiration date of each pilot and determine if after the pilot expired, did the property pay the full amount in the future or did they get an extension, a reduction, or did they leave town or whatever.  This does not sound too hard but it is beyond my resources.

Another problem is that the City Treasurer (the City equivalent of the County Trustee) does not publish a similar report. We are talking millions and millions of dollars in abated taxes. Once the pilot expires, are we getting the full amount or not? I say Prove it.

Joe Saino 901-7540699

Let’s Take a Look At OPEB, Retiree Health Care Costs!

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Let’s Take a Look At OPEB, Retiree Health Care Costs!

July 28, 2015

Yesterday there was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Relief for Cities’ Budget-Busting Health-Care Costs”. It talked about new accounting rules for retiree health care plans. Nationwide the total unfunded liability is close to $1 trillion dollars.

For the first time the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) will require local government to report their obligations to retirees as liabilities on their balance sheet. (Side Note: The Federal Government wants cities to report this but the federal government continues to ignore their multiple front unfunded liability.)

So I decided to take a look at Memphis, Shelby County, Shelby County Schools and Nashville.

Unfunded Liability for OPEB, 7/1/2014

Memphis                                          $716 million

Shelby County                                 $243 million

Shelby County Schools                 $1.43 billion

Nashville Metro                              $2.03 billion (including metro schools)

The striking thing about this is that the only adult in the above group is the Shelby County government. There was a warning back in 2007 from the GASB about unfunded OPEB liability and Shelby County took action and forced retirees over 65 who were eligible (or their spouse was eligible) to use Medicare as the primary payer with a County supplementary plan as the backup. They required those retirees under the age of 65 without a Medicare eligible spouse to pay a higher health care premium based on years of service. The City and apparently Nashville did nothing. This led to the above huge numbers.

The City of Memphis finally took action which has led to the current turmoil among the retirees and the unions. The school system and Nashville are finally facing their fate and will be required to make hard choices. I call on the City of Memphis to not go back on their late hard choices on retiree health care costs and go forward with their adopted but late difficult decision.

FEW (family/education/work) IS THE SOLUTION

Monday, July 20th, 2015

July 20, 2015

FEW (family/education/work) IS THE SOLUTION

 

There have been lots of articles last week, both locally and nationally, about income inequality, middle class wages, poverty percentages and solutions. It must be the upcoming elections, locally this year and nationally next year, that has politicians spouting out their solutions.

One local article cited a study that pegged Memphis as a national leader in both income gap and economic distress. The four local leading candidates for mayor were asked the question “How do we fix that?”

Here is a recap of what the four said.

HAROLD COLLINS

Collins, a City Council member, said the city needs better-paying jobs before it can reverse poverty trends and close the income gap, and took incumbent A C Wharton to task for not doing more to get those jobs. Collins said he also plans to “force” the Greater Memphis Chamber to recruit businesses in technology, engineering, finance and other industries with higher average salaries. For instance, he said, the city should be targeting companies fleeing California because of the drought there.

JIM STRICKLAND

Strickland, also a council member, said wage gap and poverty issues “run hand-in-hand” with population loss. Keeping people and jobs in Memphis is the best way, he said, and the city needs a mayor who “has the strength to fix things.”

Getting into the specifics of his plan, Strickland said he would focus on the “basics of government,” which he said are “not being done.” That includes “drastically” reducing crime and cleaning up the city, he said. “We must have a city government that is run effectively to create a safe and clean community where businesses and people want to be,” he said.

A C WHARTON

Wharton, the incumbent, said his administration has worked on reducing unemployment and income inequality in a number of ways as part of his Blueprint for Prosperity plan and with the recently announced Jobs Plus grant.

“If we are successful in getting Choice Neighborhood Implementation grants, this will provide significant support for my strategic priority of prosperity and economic opportunity for all citizens,” he said.

Wharton said the city already has some of the best workforce-readiness programs in the country at the Workforce Investment Network and through the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, which equip people with the skills needed for current and future jobs so they can “become more marketable and command higher salaries as businesses compete for top talent.”

“The Choice Neighborhood grant funds would help us leverage and maximize all of these efforts to address poverty, unemployment, income inequality and depressed neighborhoods,” he said.

MIKE WILLIAMS

Williams, the president of the Memphis Police Association, said the key was to invest in quality of life and public services instead of giving property-tax breaks to businesses.

“The profits are not being shared,” he said. “That’s why you have the (Greater Memphis Chamber) raping the city coffers. And that has to stop. Until it stops, we’re going to continue to generate poverty in this city.”

Drawing a distinction between himself and Wharton, Williams said he is opposed to “putting a clamp on excessive spending” — which, under Wharton, has translated into health care and pension changes that resulted in city retirees protesting at City Hall.

Instead, Williams said, the government should increase spending on services to make Memphis more attractive to both employers and employees.

So here is what I get out of these answers.

Collins-Get high tech companies from California but we do not have a skilled high tech workforce.

Strickland- Reduce crime, clean the city and reduce taxes.

Wharton– Get federal grant money for short term training programs and neighborhood programs.

Williams– Stop Pilots, stop cutting expenses and employee benefits which translates into higher taxes and more people leaving Memphis.

The truth is that there is no immediate solution to the problems in Memphis. The only answer is FEW, (FAMILY, EDUCATION, WORK) and it is a long term solution. Since the end of the Second World War we have been digging this hole (family breakdown, poor education and welfare dependency). Look at Detroit, Baltimore and unfortunately Memphis. Raising the minimum wage, income redistribution, unsustainable pensions and health care benefits will not solve the problem. Politicians will tell you otherwise but there is no one year or even four year solution. Restore your family, educate your children and take any job to start up the hard economic ladder. Any other solution is a lie. What is your opinion of the candidates and their solutions?

Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

June 22, 2015

Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important

You may have read a front page article last Saturday in the Commercial Appeal by education reporter Jane Roberts. The article announced the creation of an open records reading room (Room 121) in the SCS Coe building at 160 S. Hollywood St. here in Memphis.

I have been working to open local public records since 2004 and have been greatly aided by many local citizens, particularly John Malmo, Eddie and Eve Settles (backinrivercity.com) and Ken Welch. I want to thank these people and many others who have contributed to this effort.

As Ken Welch has said many times, all public records are technically open to the public unless specifically named and restricted by state law. Then why can’t we get all this information easily? The answer is that public bodies and the leaders (Presidents, appointees, Governors, Mayors, Superintendents, etc) can make life difficult and expensive if they want to. The Tennessee open records law clearly states the following. However the particular public organization can drag their feet, threaten big charges paid in advance, refuse you entrances to offices without an appointment and then refuse to make an appointment. What has happened at the SCS system offices is different and significant.

Therefore this is why our agreement with Supt. Hopson and Chris Caldwell is so important. They have shown that they are open to making all legally open records actually open to the public. After all, we (the taxpayers) paid for all this bureaucracy and we are the employers. We recognize that we need good education, good fire and police services, good roads, efficient water, gas and electric services and many other public facilities. However we paid for them and we expect answers to all our reasonable and legally available questions.

Open Records is so important because without transparency there is often corruption, favoritism, waste and inefficiency. The sunshine of OPEN RECORDS and vigilant citizen can prevent this. There are many details to work out and our open records group is willing to work with the Shelby County System to make access easy and convenient. If we can make this work efficiently, we would look forward to using this as a template for other public bodies. Any suggestions from the you, the public, would be welcomed. We need to join together for full open records access.