A Night of Losses

Last night I attended the City Council Meeting, well…some of it. I sat in the hall most of the night as there was three other P&Z Members at the meeting watching the KISD Bus Barn presentation. As I was the one that got the evil eye from the City Attorney, I waited patiently outside so I could give my presentation on the TIF. I knew it was a very uphill battle to convince the Council to see things my way as they had their minds made up. Councilman Holmes did invite me up afterwards to clarify a few things and it turned into a mini debate and I think I handled it well. The Council did end up voting to refinance the bonds and, in my opinion throw $2.7 million down the crapper.

Councilman Thompson took issue with my use of the word immoral on a reply here on the blog to Randy Leake. If you didn’t follow the blog, you wouldn’t know who he was directing it at, but it was pretty evident to me.

    im·moral (i môrəl)

adjective

  1. not in conformity with accepted principles of right and wrong behavior

 

I disagree with Councilman Thompson. I do and will continue to have an opinion that throwing $2.7 million of taxpayer money down the toilet so you don’t have to make serious cuts to a governmental budget is immoral. Councilman Cawthra also lectured the citizens on how it was OK to refinance your house to pay for such things as your car payment or other bill as an analogy to justify his vote in favor of the refinance. Doesn’t he read the paper or watch the news? This is the same behavior that put our country in the financial situation we are in and I thought he was in finance. Councilmen Brown and Baker I believe have a firm grasp that hard decisions on staffing levels will need to be addressed going forward. I don’t know how much support they will gain from the other council members when it comes to layoffs, but I think they went a long way towards convincing Councilman Holmes. I think Thompson will never agree to it, as he made a statement that layoffs equal service reduction.

The City Manager made a statement that was a little over the top. He stated that this council in the last two years has held the line on spending by passing budgets that had the smallest increase in spending in the history of Keller. I just so happened to be sitting next to a former City Councilman from the early 90’s that informed me that there was a two year period in Keller during the time he served that they actually cut spending. Compare that to an increase of 3.6% in 2008-09 and a 0% increase in 2009-10. That’s why it is dangerous to use such phrases as “in the history.” I realize that the City Manager was trying to deflect some of my remarks about the out of control spending in Keller over the last decade and a half, but I know I could easily pull budgets from previous recessions in Keller and show multiple years of budget cuts. The late eighties in Texas massacred City Budgets, large and small. What is happening today in California and Florida are the same things that happened in Texas during that time period. We saw actual large drops in residential and commercial real estate values and it killed city budgets.

It became very apparent to me and anybody that watched the meeting of the fact that the Council put the cart before the horse by approving this refinance before they even started to work on this year’s budget.

On another note, the citizens from the neighborhoods affected by the gentleman that cut the top off his hill to build a playground showed up during persons to be heard. Let me tell you, they were heard loud and clear. They called the City Council out for not responding to multiple emails to them and to the nearly packed house you could sense the discomfort of our elected leaders. I think in the future that they will not be ignored as they have been the last four months. If they are, I was told by one resident that they would continue to come back and address the issues in public for all to see. Good for them.

When it comes to Baseball, I got word from Terry Barker through a text message that the Indians got whipped last night by Grapevine. Seems they allowed 8 runs in the first inning and fought from behind all night ending up losing 11-8. I was hoping that the meeting would be short enough to catch the end of the game, but it was midnight when I finally left for home last night.

On a positive note, I did get to meet the new reporter for the Keller Citizen. She informed me that they are still reading the blog over there and using the site for story ideas and to feel the pulse of the City.

I’m operating on about 2 ½ hours sleep this morning, so if this is rambling, I apologize. My second cup of coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.

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14 responses to “A Night of Losses

  • Thomas

    Doug, your comments and points were right on target last night. It was an excellent presentation on why the TIRZ should not be refinanced. You did a good job during the Q&A with Councilman Holmes as he sometimes tried to challenge your views. Unfortunately, it seems no government entity, at any level, is capable of operating financially the same way an ordinary citizen does, paying off old debt before incurring new debt.

    I don’t share your view that there is enough fat in the budget to cover the $500,000, to $600,000 per year that the TIRZ would have taken from the general fund. I’m sure some of that could be made up with belt tightening; I just doubt there is that much to be found over several years going forward. I would have accepted a small property tax increase to pay off the debt. I don’t know if the other 39,995 Keller citizens that weren’t present last night would have agreed with me. I am sure that this bond money will come out of the homeowner’s pockets during the years from 2019-2028.

  • Doug Miller

    Thomas,

    If you watched the audit presentation, you saw the fact that Keller has over $9 million in reserves. Reserves are meant to be spent during down times, and subidizing the TIF for a couple of years out of reserves (until the blip that councilman Baker talked about passes), would still leave much more than the required reserves.

    And do I think that 1% could be cut straight from the budget? Yes I do. Is it all fat? No, there would be some meat also.

  • Jim Carson

    Thomas, you doubt that there is enough fat in the budget to cover the shortfall. But how could you know that?

    A year ago the city council made a heartfelt, but ultimately reckless, decision that no one will be laid off. To this day they still refuse to simply ask the city manager, “how much can be cut if we relax the constraints we put on you last year?”

  • Big Bob

    Jim- Are you absolutely sure there have not been any staff reduction?

  • Doug Miller

    Bob, this may be semantics, but let’s see how this comes out.

    There have been no reductions as a result of the approval of last year’s budget.

    There might have been some reductions in staff in this fiscal year, but it’s not because of the budget that was approved by City Council.

    The only person I know that has not been replaced was the Economic Development Director; but they did hire a consultant with that money set aside for his salary. Whether it takes up all of the line item, I don’t recall.

  • Randy Leake

    Doug great recap of the council meeting. Next time I will not attend but wait for your post. I can read yours in 10 minutes vs. spending 5 1/2 hours there because you didn’t miss a beat and it was accurately reported.

    I think John Baker and Ray Brown both have truly risen to be great leaders when it comes to the budget process. I expected this from Ray because of his career background and the years of public service he has given to this community. John Baker has really surprised me. You can tell he has made a sincere effort to get up to speed on budgets, governmental accounting and can intelligently speak on this subject with confidence and ease. He listens to the people and asks alot of probing significant questions of the staff etc.

    We are truly lucky to have both of these 2 setting on the council during these difficult funding years. It is easy for anyone to spend money when times are good but it takes leaders to make the hard decisions to cut back or hold the line when times are bad. I am truly glad and I think the City of Keller is blessed to have these 2 serving and volunteering their time. It would be wise if the other council members listen to these 2 as they start the budget process. We will not always agree with them but no doubt these 2 can help all of us with spending our tax dollars more wisely.

  • Thomas

    Jim, you are right, I can’t know for sure, hence my use of the word doubt. It may be possible to cut enough in any given year. My doubt extends over the period of years it would take to pay off the debt.

    I don’t agree with the decision made by the council, but it seems to be a done deal now, unless you have a means to challenge it. I was encouraged by Councilmen Baker and Brown’s comments, but ultimately the decision was unanimous.

    This was a chance for the council to bite the bullet and stop the cash hemorrhaging. On a night when three members were declared reelected by virtue of being unopposed, they could have blamed the problem on bad information previous councils had received and declared they were going to fix the problem once and forever. Sigh.

  • Jim Carson

    Thomas, there is most definitely something we can do to challenge it. Section 7.03 allows the voters of Keller to repeal ANY ordinance or resolution by referendum petition, and this will happen.

  • Big Bob

    Doug- At Tuesday’s city council meeting one of the items was a brief audit review of 2009 presented by the outside audit firm. If you recall or you can look at the tape the individual from the audit firm noted that the city’s fund balance went up from 2008 to 2009. He had a bar graph and it looked like it went from around $7,800,000 reserve balance to around $8,100,000 or around +$300,000.00 of which he noted expenditures came in below budget. The audit would lead me in connecting the dots that salaries are a big portion of that budget that maybe positions that had come open during 2009 that were budgeted may not have been filled. Thus the reason the fund/balance reserve increased. Again, this is just my observation from a distance since the fund balance increased.

  • Doug Miller

    There are lots of reasons why that fund balance could have risen. Better than expected revenue, failure to make a capital purchase that was budgeted, not hiring one or more replacements to a city staff member(s) for a period of time, lower overtime for hourly employees, fuel costs being lower or less used etc., etc.

  • Randy Leake

    Jim you are certainly entitled to do whatever about petitioning the council on the TIF funding. It is my belief the entire city would be better served by channeling all of our energies to informing and working with staff and the council on what changes and savings we would recomend to improve our cost savings without interferring in basic services.

    Petitions are healthy and a right I applaud that our charter is set up for this for most issues within our city.
    One question though. If financing the TIF is so bad why didn’t the council move just to pay it off when you were there?

  • Jim Carson

    It is my belief that channeling all of our energies on what changes and savings we would recommend to improve our cost savings would be a colossal waste of time.

    There is one man in Keller who already knows these answers. He is well-versed in the city’s budget, scope of services, staffing levels and the productivity thereof.

    He knows ways of cutting the budget with no reduction in service. He also knows ways of cutting the budget even further, with reductions in service, should we so choose.

    He is our hero; our saviour.

    His name is Dan O’Leary. But he cannot help us. You see, he’s still wearing the shackles placed upon him by the city council over a year ago.

  • Jim Carson

    Oops…to answer your question, then and now I advocate paying off the TIF as scheduled, not earlier and not later. And then as now, I advocate budget cuts.

  • Randy Leake

    Doug I hope you post a link so the citizens can see today’s council budget workshop. My opinion is the city staff and the majority of the council are moving forward to scrutinize staffing, expenditures, consolidation and every other aspect of the budget process at a very acceptable level. Although not all council members are on board with certain cuts at this time, I do believe this is healthy to get this out now and let the process take shape. The efficiency study will bear this out.

    There is no doubt all the members are coming up to speed on understanding the budget process and governmental financing, but Councilmen Baker and Brown are still leading the charge in their expertise in this field. I know the process isn’t perfect, but after watching this I think you have to agree not everything from the past council meeting was a loss.

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