The Hidden Cost of Health Education and Housing Board Bonds

Posted by jsaino on Mar 15, 2016

March 15, 2016

 

The Hidden Cost of Health Education and Housing Board Bonds

The Commercial Appeal recently published a story about a downgrade of a local bond issue as follows. “On Feb. 12, the Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, which oversees the$11.8 million bond, sent a notice of default to bondholders notifying them the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had ended its contract with the borrower, Global Ministries Foundation.”

I have been researching the whole issue of City and County boards and commissions and particularly the Memphis Health Education and Housing Facility Board. I asked that board for a list of bonds issued by the Board for the last five years with cost data and information of the parties receiving payment upon the issuance of the bonds. The board has failed to respond to that request for open records. Therefore I went to the State of Tennessee and received five reports on local bond issues from Steve Osborne, Senior Analyst, Comptroller of the Treasury, State and Local Finance. Here are the five issues I received.

Uptown Senior Housing Project ($4,000,000)

Arbors of Hickory Ridge ($11,450,000)

Housing/Social Services ($4,061,000)

John Madison Exum Towers ($19,000,000)

Uptown Manor Senior Project ($2,825,000)

The five reports are very revealing but first I have to tell you about my request to the Shelby County Health, Education and Housing Facility Board (same name as the similar City HEHFB) but a completely different board. I asked for their documents on ethics and conflict of interest policy and I received it as shown. I particularly call your interest to page 6 wherein is shown a maximum fee calculation for the legal fee of Bond Counsel.

I have shown below the fee paid to the bond counsel of the Memphis HEHFB board on the five recent bond issues versus what would be the fee from the Shelby County Board HEHFB.

 

 

 

 

 

Name of Project Bond Amount Actual Bond Counsel Fee City of Memphis HEHFB Maximum Bond Counsel Fee of County HEHFB
Arbors of Hickory Ridge Project $11,450.000 $26,000 $21,450
Housing and Social Services $4,061,000 $25,255.08 $11,122
John Madison Exum Towers and Apartment I and II $19,000.000 $85,000 $29,000
Uptown Housing Senior Project 2006 $4,000,000 $40,000 $11,000
Uptown Manor Senior Project $2,825,000 $21,000 $13,062.50
Total Bond Counsel Fee $197,255.08 $85,634.50

 

On these five bond issues, this is $111,621 more than the County maximum amount in their ordinance. But this is just the beginning of the cost of the bond issuance. The total for these five bond issues just for the Memphis HEHFB is $967,304.03.

Then there is the question of a possible conflict of interest although apparently there is no provision that I have been able to obtain concerning a City of Memphis conflict of interest policy although I have been told that the Strickland Administration is working on such a policy.

I think that it is high time that we get a discussion going on this high cost of bond issuance and is this approach to adequate housing for low income citizens the best and most efficient method. Also there needs to be a clear and open policy on bond issuance fees, conflict of interest and ethics.

 

 

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I will raise my $106,000 bet by $234,000

Posted by jsaino on Mar 08, 2016

March 8, 2016

I will raise my $106,000 bet by $234,000

 

Last October I posted a blog article describing the lawsuit filed by the Shelby County School system board for the purpose described below in my posting. A few days ago I asked for an update of the current billed cost of the lawsuit. They upped the ante by $234,000 for a total to date of $340,000.  Obviously they think spending your money is worth it. Who knows what it may cost in the end. I ask you the taxpayers of Memphis and Shelby County this. Do you want to turn over your taxing authority to the Shelby County School Board and let them determine what taxes you must pay for the education of your children? This is what they are asking in the suit.  As a template, consider what results we have achieved nationally from the Federal Department of Education as shown below. Let me know what you think of this lawsuit.

Big Time Bet By The Shelby County School Board

Posted by jsaino on Oct 29, 2015

October 29, 2015

Big Time Bet By The Shelby County School Board

As you have read, the SCS System has filed a massive lawsuit to take the funding out of the hand of the taxpaying public and their elected representatives and put it in the hands of the various school boards across the state of Tennessee. They want to determine how much is required to do the education job and then the taxpayers must come up with the money. The proposition is “MORE MONEY EQUALS BETTER EDUCATION” and they know best how to do it. They just need the resources.

I filed an open records request with the SCS System and asked what the estimated total future cost of the lawsuit would be and asked how much had been billed to date. They responded promptly and said that there was no estimate of total future cost but that they had been billed for $106,775.35 in four monthly billings. This is just the beginning.

Next year there will be an election at the national level for President, for the House of  Representatives and for 1/3 of the Senate. If some fiscally responsible people are elected in a majority I hope they will consider the elimination over time of the Department of Education at the Federal level. This department was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and has grown like most of the Washington establishment. Look at what President Obama has requested for this failure.

In his budget proposal, the president has requested $69.8 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education, a $1.7 billion increase over last year’s funding level. This is in addition to $13.3 billion in additional mandatory spending for Pell Grants, bringing the total budget request to $83 billion—a 40 percent increase from Fiscal Year 2008.

No one can claim any success from this monumental failure in educational spending. Let us not repeat this kind of failure at the local level.

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Boards and Commissions in Memphis and Shelby County

Posted by jsaino on Mar 03, 2016

March 3, 2016

Boards and Commissions in Memphis and Shelby County

 

Recently I became interested in Memphis and Shelby County Boards and Commissions. My interest was piqued by all the news concerning Serenity Towers and Global Ministries. Here is a news article on the bond issue for this property.

The Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board of Memphis, Tennessee facilitated the GMF acquisition through the issuance of tax exempt 501(c)3 housing revenue bonds on behalf of the purchaser. Merchant Capital served as the bond underwriter in the placement of the bonds with investors, as the bonds were rated investment grade by Standard and Poor’s rating agency. Jones Walker served as Bond Counsel. Kristin Neun, Esquire, served as FHA counsel. Charles Carpenter, Esquire, served as counsel to the Issuer. The Bank of New York Mellon serves as Trustee. Glanker Brown serves as GMF’s corporate and owner counsel within its expanding national affordable multifamily housing portfolio.

A recent article in the Commercial Appeal stated the following.

About a third of all the units inside Serenity Towers have bedbugs, according to a Memphis Code Enforcement report released Friday.

The report says 134 units have bedbugs inside the senior high rise apartment complex. Other code enforcement violations included cockroaches, broken or damaged windows, leaks in the ceiling, broken thermostats, damaged toilet and faucets among other things.

City code enforcement officers inspected the 396 units in the property on Feb. 11, 2015. The inspection came after several tenants complained of bedbugs and other problems.

Rev. Richard Hamlet, founder of Global Ministries Foundation, said in a statement he was aware of the bedbug problem since his nonprofit bought the property. His staff is working to eradicate the infestation. GMF bought the senior property in 2014 using a $14.5 million bond issued by the Health, Educational and Housing Facilities board of Memphis.

With that background, I started investigating the various boards and commissions. What I found was 46 City Boards and Commissions and 36 County ones. Some are joint boards but many are stand alone ones. It was interesting that the City Health, Education and Housing Facility Board and the County Health, Education and Housing Facility Board have the same names but are completely different and separate

The City HEHF Board states its purpose as follows.

Function & Authority: 
The Health, Education and Housing Facility Board a public nonprofit corporation issues tax exempt revenue bonds for the development or rehabilitation of multi-family housing facilities to be occupied, according to the state statute ?by persons of low and/or moderated income, and/or elderly and/or handicapped persons.

The County HEHF Board states its purpose as follows.

Functions & Authority
The function of the Health, Education, and Housing Facility Board is to assist in the financing of health facilities, educational facilities, and housing facilities for low and moderate income families, disabled individuals and the elderly.  The financings are accomplished through the issuance of revenue bonds payable solely from the revenues of the project.  The taxpayers and the County of Shelby are never liable for the repayment of the bonds.

I asked both boards for their ethics documents and conflict of interest policies. From the County Board I received a prompt answer with the statement of policies and procedures revised 11/4/15 and By-Laws revised 2007.

From the City Board I got the 2008 By Laws and a financial statement.

I attended a meeting of the Memphis HEHF on February 29th for a required hearing concerning a request that the board issue its Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds (Patterson Flats Project), Series 2016 in an aggregate amount not to exceed $12 million dollars. After the required reading I asked some questions concerning fees related to recent bond issues. Mr. Carpenter did not know but referred me to the State of Tennessee for this information. I asked him who was paid the $110,000 in legal and professional fees shown in the 2014 financial statement and he said that he was paid those fees. I asked about the details of the recent resignation of John L. Baker, 17 years as director of the Memphis HEHF board, and was told that that could be discussed only at a regular monthly meeting of the board and that the March meeting on the first Wednesday was cancelled as there was no business to discuss.

This whole matter of this housing for low and moderate income individuals and families, the cost and effectiveness of this approach needs a public discussion and possible alternatives to this expensive program. What do you think?

 

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TDZ (Tourist Development Zone) Revenue Review

Posted by jsaino on Feb 16, 2016

February 16, 2016

TDZ (Tourist Development Zone) Revenue Review

I have been investigating the revenue flowing to the City of Memphis for the downtown TDZ zone which includes Bass Pro. This has been quite interesting and informative.

First I went to the State of Tennessee and got on their website that shows sales tax revenue sent to the City of Memphis for various items like state sales tax (the 7% sales tax), mixed drink tax and particularly the TDZ tax for the downtown tourist development zone. Here is the result of my investigation for the fiscal years ending June 30 of the years shown.

TDZ Zone, 7% state sales tax receipts TDZ Zone, 2-1/4% sales tax receipts Total sales tax receipts for year
2012 $12.1 million $1.1 million $13.2 million
2013 $12.7 million $1.6 million $14.3 million
2014 $12 million $1 million $13.1 million
2015 $16.8 million $3.6 million $20.5 million

 

Therefore 2015 shows an increase of over $7 million from 2014. This is indeed good news but where does it come from in the downtown TDZ? Bass Pro did not open its doors until May 2015 so it is not likely to account for the increase in sales taxes in 2 months of operation.

I asked the state of Tennessee about what businesses the sales taxes come from in the TDZ. They replied that state law does not allow them to give out that information as that would allow competitors to know the amount of sales from the various tax collecting businesses This restriction is reasonable.  Does the City of Memphis know or have a right to audit the sales figures? I do not know but I am sure the State of Tennessee has that right.  I called the Downtown Memphis Commission office and asked them where they thought the extra sales tax revenue was coming from. I have yet to receive their answer.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. There is a question about the Bass Pro contract concerning the rent which is based on 2% of sales. However there are questions about the 2% rent formula that will possibly not apply to leased facilities in Bass Pro. Also questions about the income from the elevator ride to the top being reduced by costs of employees and other restaurant and elevator expenses. This would reduce the 2% rent payment amount.

In any event, the news of the increase in TDZ revenue in the year ending June 30, 2015 is good news if correct. What are your thoughts?

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ROI (Return On Investment)

Posted by jsaino on Feb 08, 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?

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Tennessee State Shared Revenue Review

Posted by jsaino on Jan 25, 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.

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Who Is Responsible For The OPEB Debacle?

Posted by jsaino on Jan 11, 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.

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A Year End Report Card From Joe Saino

Posted by jsaino on Dec 30, 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?

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Bass Pro Fudge Sales

Posted by jsaino on Dec 26, 2015

December 21, 2015

There was an interesting article in the CA on December 18, reporting on a large number of visitors to the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. According to the article there were 2 million customers in the first 7-1/2 months. I am hopeful that this report will translate into enough sales taxes that will pay off the millions of dollars that we borrowed to pay for this development. Bass Pro officials didn’t say how the store is performing financially, but an official said the general store has sold 27 tons of fudge. “That’s a lot of fudge,” he said. Let us hope all that fudge will translate into revenue and not a bellyache.

$197 million in taxable and tax exempt bonds were issued for this project. These TDZ revenues to pay off these bonds are received in one lump sum payments from the state in September of each year based on incremental state and local sales tax collections in the TDZ zone by the state as of June 30 of that same year. The TDZ revenues in 2011 shows $12 million none of which came from Bass Pro.

The initial projected TDZ revenue for June 2015 was $20.2 million, an increase of about $8 million due to the Bass Pro Pyramid project. Obviously the delay in the construction of the project will probably cut that figure but I would like to know what the actual figure is for the year ending June 2015. I have asked for this information from the City of Memphis but to date I have not received an answer. Let us hope that that the fudge and moon pie sales and hopefully more expensive items will indicate that we have a bright future for this huge project. Believe me, I want it to succeed.

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Oh No, A Water Rate Increase

Posted by jsaino on Nov 24, 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.

 

 

 

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