Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Review of the 2013-2014 Murfreesboro City Budget

This review is similar my review of last year’sbudget except that I go into greater detail and try to give a more comprehensive look at the budget. As with last year’s review, these numbers are solely for informative purposes. I have tried to distill a 294 page budget into a short and meaningful review to enable the general public to see the primary figures. Any perceived bias for or against any department is just that, perceived. Due to the fact that personnel costs are by far the largest single expenditure, I feel it’s important to focus more attention on those figures. The only sector of City government I personally take issue with is the “recreational” sector which spends tens of millions on public leisure while we continue to go deeper into debt and lack the ability to even build a school without substantial federal grants.

This review prints out at 12 pages in Microsoft Word. If you would like a PDF copy please contact me via Facebook (link is at the very bottom) and I will gladly send you one. 

Each fiscal year begins on July 1. This review is for FY 2014.
Rutherford County had been ranked third in the nation for employment growth in 2012, by 2013 the Bureau of Labor Statistics upgraded the ranking to second in the country for employment growth. Murfreesboro’s population has risen 58% since 2000, however population growth has slowed for the last two published years. [pgs. 23, 25] For recent years, an annual population growth figure of 5% per year should be used to determine if certain figures (like number of citations issued) fall within expected ranges.

The main concerns for the City are its debt, how to accurately predict growth, and how to plan for the future while national trends are still unstable. The City’s population growth exceeds the national average by 200% and has been among the fastest growing cities in the nation for many years. The problem I see is that the City government expects our growth to continue at this pace indefinitely which has the potential for putting our economic foundation in grave danger. Detroit underwent a similar period of growth for decades and then collapsed, we must avoid this.

For the purposes of taxation, the property valuation within the City (real property, personal property, etc.) is assessed at $2,780,591,800. This is a decrease of 1.15% since last year. [pg. 269]

Select list of future plans in budget
Initiate planning for a park in west Murfreesboro
Beginning construction of the Stones River Greenway extension to Barfield Crescent Park
Contributing to MTSU’s Science Building
Building an indoor tennis complex in conjunction with MTSU
Fund pay increases and longevity pay for full-time personnel
Opening a golf teaching facility for youth

Retrofitting traffic signals from incandescent bulbs to LEDs
Installing GPS units on Rover buses and solid waste vehicles
Updating downtown parking fine schedule
Funding for new police vehicles
Replace elevator at Linebaugh Library

Renovating Sports*Com, Patterson Park, McFadden Community Center, McKnight Park, and Oakland Park
Drafting a Parks and Recreation Master Plan

General Fund revenues total $113.37 million, reflecting a 1% increase over last year. It should be noted that revenues have still not returned to the level seen in FY 2009. The 2012-13 budget posted a 2.63% revenue increase. [pg. 14]

Property tax
For the 15th year in a row, the City has decided not to increase the property tax rate. Despite population growth, revenues from property taxes will decrease $414,000 from FY 2013 and the amount projected to be collected in FY 2014 will be the smallest since FY 2010. From FY 2011 to FY 2014 property tax revenues will have increased a mere 1.1%. [pg. 14]

Sales tax
Sales taxes have been increased each year since FY 2010. For FY 2014 revenue from sales taxes are expected to rise 3.6%, or $1.5 million. From FY 2011 to FY 2014 sale tax revenues has increased 13.8%. [pg. 15]

The total General Fund expenditures are $118.22 million, an increase of 0.76% over FY 2013. This means another year of deficit spending. $4.85 million in deficit spending to be exact. This is slightly less than the $4.95 million in deficit spending last year. [pgs. 15-16]

New debt
The City plans to issue $25 million in new debt this year.

Healthcare [pg. 17]
The City experienced a 100% increase in large claims over FY 2012, raising claims paid by $690,000. Medical inflation on other claims is expected to increase by 7% for FY 2013 and for FY 2014, insurance premiums will increase approx. 16% over last year.

Pay increases [pgs. 21-22]
The City conducted a study based on “market rate” compensation plans for similar positions around the country. A review of the study yielded 3 possibilities for pay increases.
Option 1: Adjust each pay grade by 1.7%. This cost (including FICA and retirement) would equal $685,135
Option 2: Do not change pay steps, but employees move one pay step. Topped out employees would not receive an increase. This option would result in a 3.5% increase and cost $1.18 million
Option 3: Drops one step and add a new top step. Employees would move one step (3.5% increase in pay) and would cost $1.4 million
The City opted to go with option 3, an annual pay increase of $1.4 million.

General Fund Overview [pg. 40]

Revenues have risen 11.5% since 2010-2011. Revenues for FY 2014 are $113,365,751. Revenues from 2010 to FY 2014 equaled $432,497,327.
The City’s revenue stream includes around $410,000 from the County (mostly from hotel tax and for senior citizens), $11.5 million from the State (mostly from sales taxes and TVA tax), and $4.6 million from the Federal government, of that $3,074,000 is from Greenway grants. In total, for 2014 the City expects intergovernmental revenues of $16,459,569, an increase of $2,370,682 over last year.

Charges for Services (fees paid to use facilities etc.) equal $4.7 million for General Fund revenues. Approx. 31% ($1,457,000) comes from the Recreation Dept. and 42% ($1,974,000) comes from the Public Golf Courses. [pg. 56]

Expenditures have increased 15.2% over the same time period.
Expenditures from 2010 to FY 2014 equaled $435,096,790. FY 2012 was the only year in which actual expenditures were less than revenue. For FY 2013 and FY 2014, expenditures created a combined deficit of $6.12 million.

Personnel costs account for 48% of the budget, by far the largest single type of expenditure while total operating costs equal 19% of overall expenditures. [pg. 62]

Here are the net increases/decreases for each department’s budget from FY 2010 to FY 2014. [FY 2013 budget pg. 41, FY 2014 budget pg. 40]

                           FY 2010            FY 2014               Change
Revenue        $108,762,133       $113,365,751        + 4.23%
Expenditures $106,512,355       $118,220,559        +11%

General Administration    – 4.47%              Information Technology (begins 2011/12)   +82.63%
Communications    +72%                           Legal   +18.9%
Human Resources    +41.3%                     Judicial    +30.2%
Police    +24.47%                                     Fire    +17.8%
Building & Codes   +6.38%                      *Planning & Engineering    - 47%
Transportation    -6.7%                             Street   +42.5%
Urban Environmental    +22.32%              Civic Plaza    +24%
Parking Garage    +67.64%                      Recreation    +57.53%
Senior Citizens   +5.47%                          Golf Courses   +19.2%
Solid waste    - 10%                                 Public Health & Welfare   +5.5%
Departmental Transfers    - 11.37%          Misc.   + 64.6%
* In FY 2014 the Engineering segment of was splIt off to become its own department.

Departmental Reviews
Some minor funds will not be described below, however, any departments and funds with employees will be.
The average total personnel cost (real salary plus benefits) per employee figure is derived by taking the total amount of employee payments and dividing it by the total number of employees (including part-time employees). Thus, the figure is only meant to give a general idea of the amount each employee is getting, obviously some will make more and others much less than this average figure. Averages for departments with a majority part-time workforce will only include salaries/wages, all others will include benefits in the overall average pay per employee.

Benefits include, Social Security, medical & dental insurance, pension plan, retirement, life insurance, and workers’ compensation.

Comparisons of personnel cost increases or decreases are only done for departments which have only had minimal changes in their total employee number. The average cost increase equals less than a $0.75 raise per hour per employee each year, although variations do exist.

     General Administration [pgs. 67-71] – $4,339,331 total budget with 33 total employees (5 part-time). Salaries & wages are $1,412,574 with an additional $553,776 in benefits for a total of $1,966,350. This equals $59,586/employee. Personnel costs equals 45% of the Department’s budget.

     Information Technology Dept. [pgs. 76-77] – $1,520,665 total budget with 12 employees (1 part-time). Total salaries & wages equal $595,122 with an additional $220,293 in benefits for a total of $815,415 in personnel costs. This equals $67,951/employee. Personnel costs grew 29% since FY 2011 while only adding one employee, a “help desk support specialist.” Personnel costs equal 53.5% of the Department’s budget.

     Communications Dept. [pgs. 80-83] – $728,851 total budget with 8 employees (2 part-time). Salaries & wages are $387,568 plus $144,880 in benefits for a total of $532,488 in personnel costs. This comes to $66,556/employee. Personnel costs equal 73% of the Department’s budget.

     Legal Dept. [pgs. 86-88] – $810,292 total budget with 7 employees. Salaries & wages are $548,825 plus $188,567 in benefits for a total of $737,392 in personnel costs. This comes to $105,341/employee. Personnel costs equal 91% of the Department’s budget.

     Human Resources Dept. [pgs. 91-93] – $914,210 total budget with 9 employees. Salaries & wages are $471,022 plus $199,648 in benefits for a total of $670,670 in personnel costs. This comes to $74,518/employee. Personnel costs have actually decreased 7.6% since FY 2011 without any changes in total personnel numbers.  Personnel costs equal 73.3% of the Department’s budget.

Drug screening costs (this would be the total cost for all potential City employees) came to $47,500 and advertising costs were $5,000. Miscellaneous expenses (which includes drug screenings, surveys, testing etc.) have nearly doubled since FY 2011, growing from $89,899 to $175,500.

     Judicial Dept. [pgs. 95-97] – $458,006 total budget with 6 employees. Salaries & wages are $254,869 plus $124,962 in benefits for a total of $379,831 in personnel costs. This comes to $63,305/employee. Without any gain/loss of employees, the personnel budget has increased 12.8% since FY 2011. Personnel costs equal nearly 82% of the Department’s budget.

Court fines receivable are expected to be below FY 2013 levels at $3,500,000 and the department is expected to process 80,000 citations (which is up from 57,000 in FY 2011).

     Police Dept. [pgs. 102-106] – $25,111,237 total budget with 316 employees (34 part-time). Salaries & wages equal $14,082,012 plus $6,262,418 in benefits for a total of $20,344,430 in personnel costs. This comes to $63,775/employee. Total personnel costs have risen 11.9% since FY 2011 despite there being 1 less employee compared to then. Salaries & wages by themselves grew 12.6%. Personnel costs equal 79.3% of the Department’s budget.

Selected numbers on Police operations/performance expected for FY 2014 and compared to FY 2011:

Total calls received 265,000 (40,000 are 911 calls) - this is an increase of 42.7% (a 2% increase in 911 calls).

Total number of crashes 4,903 (an increase of 10.1%), fatal crashes have fluctuated but the overall trend is a decline with between 3-4 fatalities likely in FY 2014, compared to 6 in FY 2011.

Number of arrests are expected to reach 9,000, an increase of 13.3%.

Traffic citations grew between 2011 and 2013, however they are expected to fall this year and from FY 2011 to FY 2014 the rate is a net increase of 18.4%.

Automated Red Light Citations are expected to have grown 93%.

K-9 deployments are expected to have risen 142%.

Overall, with the exception of automated citations and K-9 deployments, the rate of increases fit within the expected ranges given population growth.   

     Fire & Rescue Dept. [pgs. 111-115] – $15,686,801 total budget with 189 employees (2 part-time). Salaries & wages are $9,711,006 with $4,490,504 in benefits for a total of $14,201,510 in personnel costs. This equals $75,140/employee. Total personnel costs have risen 13.6% with 2 fewer employees than in FY 2011. However, when considering only wages, those have increased just 8.7%. Personnel costs equal 89.5% of the Department’s budget.

Selected numbers on Fire & Rescue operations/performance expected for FY 2014 and compared to FY 2011:

Expected number of emergency calls for FY 2014 are 7,900, a sharp decrease of 27.6%. I’m not sure how they arrived at this figure since the FY 2013 estimates for that year were 10,419.

Number of fire per 1,000 population are unchanged from FY 2011.

Estimated property saved from fire is down 23.8% (again, based on a decrease in expected fire calls).

Response times and the percentage of property saved from a fire has remained relatively stable over the years.

     Building & Codes [pgs. 116-121] – $1,808,556 total budget with 23 employees (1 part-time).
Salaries & wages are $1,198,583 plus $453,379 in benefits which comes to $1,651,962 in personnel costs. This equals $71,824/employee. Personnel costs are 91.1% of the Department’s total budget.

An interesting figure, for 2012 new residential construction was valued at $378 million, an increase of nearly $176 million over 2011.

     Planning Dept. [pgs. 125-127] – $904,000 total budget with 7 employees. Salaries & wages are $444,928 with $164,272 in benefits which comes to $609,200 in personnel costs. This comes to $87,028/employee and makes up 67.3% of the Department’s budget.

The department’s productivity (number of items within their workload such as public hearings, studies, plan reviews etc.) for FY 2014 is expected to reach 988 items, an increase of 21% since FY 2011. The number of annexation studies grew from 1 in 2011 to 10 for 2014.

Advertising costs for the department are expected to be $18,000 and surveys & studies comes to $210,000.

     Engineering Division [pg. 136] – Full budget is not currently available since the division is new. About $300,000 of the Division’s personnel cost is funded by the storm water user fee.

     Transportation Dept. [pgs. 128-134] – $2,925,361 total budget with 27 employees (9 part-time). Salaries & wages are $938,369 with an additional $335,937 in benefits for a total of $1,274,306 in personnel costs. This comes to $47,196/employee. Personnel costs equal 27% of the Department’s budget. 

The City operates 137 signalized intersections. Public transportation operations funding for local and regional transportation services is between the Federal Trans. Administration, TDOT, and the City. Operations funding is generally split on a 50% federal, 25% state, and 25% local cost basis. Capital finding is split 80% federal, 10% state, and 10% local.

The Rover Bus system has seen continual growth with ridership numbers reaching around 265,000 in 2013, an increase of about 130% since 2008. In January 2011, I estimated that the Rover system had an additional $2 million economic beneficial impact on our local economy. Based solely on ridership, that number would be $2.6 million today.

     Street Division [pgs. 141-145] – $5,492,934 total budget with 39 employees (1 part-time). Salaries & wages are $1,848,033 with an added $823,460 in benefits which comes to $2,671,493 in personnel costs. This equals $68,499/employee. Personnel costs equals 48.6% of the Division’s budget.

The City Council instructed the Street Division to implement a 20-year plan for repaving City streets. Currently, the Division oversees 593 linear miles of City streets and State routes and installed 501 regulatory street signs for 2013. For FY 2014, the Division expects to resurface 56 miles of road, install or repair 700 signs, and collect roughly 1.7 million pounds of leaves & yard waste which would otherwise have been sent to the landfill.

     Urban Environmental Dept. [pgs. 147-151] – $1,112,211 total budget with 15 employees. Salaries & wages are $546,168 with an added $311,093 in benefits for a total of $857,261 in personnel costs. This comes to $57,150/employee. Personnel costs equal 77% of the Department’s budget. Personnel costs increased 16.7% since FY 2011 with no changes in the total number of employees.

This department is responsible for the overall “beauty” of the City which includes landscaping and other primarily arboricultural projects. Within the department is 50 City owned properties and 2.2 million square feet of turf and landscaped areas.

For FY 2014 an estimated 6 trees will be replaced downtown, 2 City TV episodes will be created, and 2 tree appreciation program events held.

     Civic Plaza [pgs. 152-154] – $104,600 total budget with 1 employee. Salaries & wages are $27,625 with an added $9,326 in benefits which comes to $36,951 in total personnel costs. Personnel costs have actually fallen 17.5% since FY 2011, this is mainly due to a decrease in medical & dental insurance costs. Personnel costs equal 35.3% of the Department’s total budget.

Since Rutherford County owns a portion of the plaza the maintenance costs are shared, 58.5% City and 41.5% County. The plaza fountain will cost $1,200 this year and $7,500 is budgeted to be spent on landscaping/hardscaping. 

     Parking Garage [pgs. 155-157] – $184,487 total budget, no employees.
The parking garage (under Civic Plaza, City Hall and the library) is also jointly funded with 68.5% coming from the City and 31.5% County. Some elevators are planned to be replaced at an expense of $67,000. Electricity costs comprise the bulk of expenditures and will be $106,000 this year. Sweeping costs are $5,400.

     Parks & Rec Dept. [pgs. 158-169] – $11,712,749 total budget with 326 employees (256 part-time). Salaries & wages are $4,341,750 with an added $1,466,872 in benefits for a total of $5,805,622 in personnel costs. Salaries and wages comes to $37,666 per full-time employee and $6,660 per part-time employee. Total personnel costs equal 49.3% of the Department’s budget.

Total revenues from all sources (fees, rentals, grants etc.) are $4,791,650.

Parks & Rec maintains approx. 1,115 acres worth of parks and greenways and $150 million in assets which includes 28 sites and 74 buildings. According to the budget, the tournaments held in Murfreesboro which use public facilities have an estimated economic impact of $27 million/year. The budget also lists “financial assistance” as $415,000, but I’m unsure as to what that entails.

The 11.6 miles of Greenways detailed in the budget amounts to a cost of $1.88 million per mile to build ($21.8 million total). Of that cost, 76% came from grants, 20.9% from the City, and 0.47% from donations.
Utility costs are $1,026,325. For FY 2014 the administrative office purchased 24 new computers at a cost of $20,400. Additional exercise equipment, chairs, computers, TVs etc. came to $559,566.

     Senior Citizens Dept. [pgs. 174-175] – $928,892 total budget with 18 employees (9 part-time). Salaries & wages are $432,897 with an added $162,374 in benefits which comes to $595,271 in personnel costs. This equals $33,070/employee and personnel costs make up 64% of the Department’s budget.

The Department brings in $140,100 in revenues from grants, programs, and fees.

     Public Golf Course Dept. [pgs. 180-187] – $2,061,436 total budget with 55 employees (41 part-time). Salaries & wages are $924,060 ($265,477 is for part-time employees), with an added $339,785 in benefits which comes to $1,263,845 in personnel costs. This equals $47,041 in salaries per full-time employee and $6,475 in wages per part-time employee. Total personnel costs equals 61.3% of the Department’s budget.

An estimated 64,000 paid rounds of golf will be played at the Old Fort and VA golf courses (combined). Revenues from concessions and merchandise are expected to bring in $408,000

     Solid Waste Dept. [pgs. 189-192] – $4,579,852 total budget with 42 employees (1 part-time). Salaries & wages are $1,543,793 plus an added $910,102 in benefits for a total of $2,453,895 in personnel costs. This equals $58,426/employee and personnel costs comprise 53.5% of the Department’s budget.

The Department services 42,000 households and 6,000 businesses and for FY 2013 disposed of or mulched 61,339 tons of garbage and brush.

     Health, Education and Welfare Dept. [pgs. 194-196] – $2,135,939 total budget with zero employees.
Funding for the Public Library system is divided on a 44% City and 56% County basis. $751,974 comes from this department to fund Linebaugh Library and $333,333 is going to help fund MTSU’s new science building. Tourist oriented expenses come to $470,500.

     Fund Transfers [pg.197] – These transfers are movements of funds between City departments. The total for FY 2014 is $31,957,366 with $27,067,263 going to Debt Service, $4,810,103 to City Schools, and $80,000 to the Drug Fund. There are no department employees.

     Debt Service Fund [pgs. 203-211] – $31,271,821 in expenditures with $5,038,313 in interest payments.

The City’s credit rating is unchanged from last year. S&P gave the City a rating of AA- in 2012 and Aa2 by Moody’s in 2009. The City continues to expect a 91% principle debt pay-off in 10 years. The City has a debt limit of $417,088,770 and our debt equals 57.91% of that limit.

The City anticipates issuing $24 million in new debt (fixed rate), part of which will help pay for the new west-side school.

     Street Aid Fund [pgs. 213-215] – $2,800,350 total budget with no employees. $2,800,000 comes from the State Fuel Tax allocation and this fund is used to maintain streets within the City limits.

     Airport Fund [pgs.216-221] – $6,120,284 total budget with 7 employees (6 part-time). Salaries & wages are $157,731 with an added $42,201 in benefits for a total of $199,932 in personnel costs. This comes to $28,561/employee and personnel costs equals 3.2% of the Fund’s total budget.

The City estimates the economic benefit of the airport at $70 million annually. Revenues equal $6,120,284 which makes the airport self-sufficient from the point of view of the City. However, $4,687,250 comes from federal grants (76.4% of total revenue).

     Drug Fund [pgs. 224-225] – $293,650 total budget with $150,000 in personnel costs. The Drug Fund reimburses the General Fund for overtime expenses incurred by Vice officers.
Of the total budget, $80,000 comes from property seizures and a further $160,000 comes from court fines.

     Community Development Fund [pgs. 226-230] – $1,064,028 total budget with 3 employees (1 part-time). Salaries & wages are $73,049 plus an added $57,130 in benefits which comes to $130,179 in total personnel costs. This equals $43,393/employee and personnel costs are 12.2% of the Fund’s total budget.

The Fund is used for affordable housing, social services, and improvements and economic development. Funding is appropriated by Congress via HUD. This fund is fully paid for by grants and income generated by the programs.

     Risk Management Fund [pgs. 246-247] – $3,905,049 total budget with 3 employees. Salaries & wages are $221,831 with an added $65,865 in benefits for a total of $287,696 in personnel costs. This comes to $95,898/employee and personnel costs equals 7.3% of the Fund’s budget.

The largest expenditures are insurance claim related which will be $2,914,781.

     Fleet Services [pgs. 249-251] – $2,364,105 total budget with 13 employees. Salaries & wages are $628,846 with an added $304,066 in benefits which totals $932,912 in personnel costs. This equals $71,762/employee and personnel costs are 39.4% of the Department’s total budget.
The Department manages 731 vehicles and rolling stock.

Job Classification & Compensation Plan
From budget pages 286-292.

The City has 790 employees, an increase of 3 from last year. Total personnel costs equal $56,867,852 which is an increase of 2.3% over last year. Simply using the number of employees and total personnel costs, the average pay per employee would be $71,984 (benefits included).

The City’s compensation plan is divided into nine steps, with Step 1 being the lowest. The top pay grade is the City Manager at $169,591/yr (at maximum level), and the lowest is $21,000/yr for the night watchman in the Solid Waste Dept. (entry level). 


-- Jacob Bogle

Friday, August 23, 2013

City Council Meeting and Common Core for 8/22/13

On Thursday night we had a City Council meeting. Both Shane McFarland and Madelyn Scales-Harris were absent.

The agenda was rather full with 12 items for new business and of those 6 were public hearings for re-zoning and annexations. There were also presentations and requests from the IT Dept, City Schools and an award for our City Police.

First, I'll start with the award. It was given to the Murfreesboro City Police Dept. in recognition of their newly earned accreditation from the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police. To qualify, the Department had to achieve 160 individual standards and our police department was only the 22nd department to receive this award since it was created. And there are some 600 law enforcement agencies in Tennessee which report directly to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation so this was a very special award.

After the award, the first 3 agenda items were uneventful and all passed unanimously. The next three dealt with properties off of Veterans Parkway and the applicants sought to have the properties re-zoned and annexed to the City upon re-zoning. The main concerns were that these properties were barely adjacent to current city limits and that Tennessee law forbids "islands" of county within a city. Application 2013-506 (27 acres) was able to circumvent this via a 30-foot wide strip of land and some speakers thought that while this did not violate the letter of the law, it did violate the spirit of it.

Further concerns were school overcrowding since these properties will most likely be developed as apartment complexes or other high-density regions and that there may be no real need for additional high-density areas given the vast number of similar applications the City has approved. I ended up saying a few words to the Council about the final re-zoning application (2013-418).

I first asked about the question I know many of you have been wondering about: the annexation "ban."  It was explained that if the property owners request the annexation then a city is allowed to annex the properties. So now we can finally move past that point and I appreciate City Attorney McGannon for taking the time to clear up the misunderstandings. Councilman Gilley thanked me for my question while we were in the elevator after the meeting and said he realized there had been a lot of confusion over the subject.

I next brought up the fact that these properties actually fall within the 25-year Greenway Master Plan and I asked if any of the applicants realized that a portion of their properties were actually at risk of being taken by the City via eminent domain. I didn't expect any replies to that and I received none. All of the re-zonings and annexations were approved unanimously.

Next came agenda item #13, recommendations from the Chief of Police and Chief of Fire & Rescue requesting the reallocation of unspent funds. The amount in question was $490,000 which came from cost savings on various expected purchases (and so no new money was being spent). They requested the money be reallocated to help build a training facility. It was approved by the Council.

Councilman Smotherman asked Chief Chrisman about the newly acquired MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. Chief Chrisman explained the vehicle's capability and why he felt the Department needed one. To be honest, I fully accept his explanation in light of the fact that while a MRAP looks scary it isn't a tank nor does it have the capabilities so many have ascribed it. From his explanation, prior to this acquisition our police department did not have the capacity to safely respond to events with high-powered long-range weapons and the MRAP is rated to withstand 50 caliber fire. Further, it was free and several police officers and members of the City's Fleet Service Dept. are veterans and have actually worked on MRAPs and are familiar with the maintenance of them.

Item #14 dealt with the City's phone system and a proposal from the IT Dept. director. Apparently, the phone system currently used is over 20 years old. The Director recommended a total replacement and upgrade of the phone system which would cost $313,000. The costs were already in the budget and the new system is expected to actually save the City $57,000 a year - paying itself off after 5 1/2 years. The new system is estimated to last 10 years. This was also approved.

Finally, Item #15. This dealt with mandatory technology upgrades imposed by Common Core. Dr. Linda Gilbert, Director of Schools gave the presentation and answered most of the questions although there were other members of the School Board and IT  Dept. there to help as well. Research into these changes began 2 1/2 years ago and will need to be fully implemented by Feb. 2014 if the schools are to meet Common Core testing deadlines.

To meet the requirements, city schools will need to enhance their IT infrastructure to handle the new technological loads and will require $5.2 million in upfront costs for the infrastructure, computers and other equipment. The goal for pre-K is to have 5 iPads per class, grades 1 and 2 will have 1 iPad per two students, and grades 3-6 will have 1 laptop per two students. In all, some 5,000 devices will need to be purchased for the students and staff. The devices are expected to last 5 years so they will need to be replaced regularly as well as continual updates, training, repairs etc which breaks down to an average cost of $800,000 each year - every year. In the words of one of the speakers (I didn't catch his name) "extraordinary new dollars may be required" for the program.

The Board was not prepared to recommend a specific way to fund these mandates and sought an extra two weeks to finalize their plans. However, based on the discussions it is very clear that at least part of the money will come from borrowed funds next year. Other monies may comes from the general fund, reserve fund, savings on debt payments, etc.

While no one disagrees that today's students need to learn computer skills and need to be fully prepared to be able to operate with ease in a highly technological world, the problem is we're having to spend millions at once on something (Common Core) that has a very short operational history and we don't know if it's going to be successful. As Councilman Smotherman pointed out, every few years our schools are forced into some new and improved education program - No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top etc and yet we receive no assistance in actually implementing the changes. Tennessee agreed to Common Core and received monies, but local school districts and cities are not allowed any access to those funds.

As was explained, Murfreesboro schools are in one of the best positions (of all the school districts in the state) to absorb these costs, but many smaller counties and towns are not. Some municipalities were forced to completely deplete their reserves just to buy the required equipment. The City approved the agenda item expressing their intent to fund the mandate. Actual approval on how to fund it and the finalized costs will be done in Sept.

The struggle to pay the $5.2 million plus the added yearly $800,000 brings me to my main "hot button" topic - city recreation. The City's Recreation Dept budget has grown at faster pace than pretty much any other department and at a faster pace than the general revenues the City receives. Since the City has no choice but to implement Common Core, and since most people tend to agree that the technology itself is needed, why not lay off the golf courses and tennis courts and pay for our children? Just a thought.

-- Jacob Bogle
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Evening with Congressman Scott DesJarlais

On Aug 13, 2013 the Rutherford County Tea Party and 9/12 chapter hosted their monthly "Conservative Conversation and Cocktails" (aka 3C's) meeting. Their featured speaker was US Congressman Scott DesJarlais from Tennessee's 4th Congressional District.

Around 200 people showed up to hear the Congressman speak and to participate in a Q & A session with him. Of the 200 attendees, roughly half came out to press the Congressman on his views on immigration. Although the room was deeply divided on this issue, people were very courteous to each other and the Congressman was able to answer a number of questions on a wide range of topics.

Below is the list of questions and his answers. For full disclosure, these are not direct quotes, but are based on the notes I took during the Q&A session. I've done my best to accurately relay the spirit of the questions and his answers, but there may be differences between this and any full transcript/recording of the night.

Q 1. Why can't we de-fund Obamacare?
     A 1. I would like to de-fund Obamacare, however there are a series of obstacles and due to the language and complexity of the law it isn't as simple as just "de-funding" it. On top of that, there is the Senate. Unless it can pass the Senate, constant votes in the House to de-fund it aren't going to work.

Q 2. If Obamacare was such a great thing, why are the unions and congress trying to opt out of it? 
    A 2. Simple, Obamacare isn't a great thing. I'm actually in favor of ending all "special" congressional benefits and lifetime pensions.

Q 3. Where do you stand on the internet sales tax, aka the Marketplace Fairness Act?
    A 4. I would vote against it, I think it's a bad idea.

Q 5. Where does Obama get the authority to delay any law which was passed by Congress?
    A 5. The short answer is, he has no authority to do so. The President has run roughshod over the Constitution with endless executive orders but frankly, many in Congress support that kind of action which is how he gets away with it.

Q 6. Why is that non-citizens, who want to contribute and join the military, aren't allowed to simply because they don't have documentation? What about all of the families that want to stay together?
   A 6. America was founded by immigrants and we have a rich history of positive immigration. I applaud anyone who wants to come here and serve in our military and contribute to our country. However, they need to follow the rule of law. Millions of people came here, stood in line and earned their citizenship; that kind of behavior should be rewarded. In the end, we need to enforce the laws already on the books.

Q 7. Why aren't veterans allowed to use medical marijuana for disabilities the government admits that we have? 
   A 7. First, let's all thank this man for his service. Marijuana has been available for cancer patients for years. Recently we've looked at the effects the war in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on our troops. The suicide rate is horrible. As a doctor, all I can go on are the studies and I don't have all of the information required to say it should be legal for other things. You can always move to another state, like Colorado, where it's legal.

Q 8. There is a lot of talk about ending Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, this could put an end to the 30-year mortgage and hurt a lot of people. What are your thoughts on this?
    A 8. The housing crisis was caused by too much government interference in the marketplace. Fannie and Freddie were too big and their responsibilities should be left up to the private sector. Anytime we can get government out of the way and turn things over to the private sector, I think that's a good thing.

Q 9. What would you do to help "Dreamer's", like myself, to stay in America and continue earning our education? (the lady was referring to the DREAM Act)
   A 9. Again, I think it's wonderful that people want to come here and get an education. However, you should not be allowed to jump in front of the line and people need to follow the laws we have.

Q 10. Why do you deny climate change? 97% of scientists agree that it is real and that carbon emissions are harming the planet. 
    A 10. There are just as many studies showing different results. What specifically would you like to see us do?
    Q - I would like to see us cut carbon emissions and produce more wind and solar power.
        A - I think renewable sources of energy are great, however we do not need to have tax payer subsides for them. And if you're suggesting Cap & Trade, I'm completely opposed to that.

Q 11. Where do you stand on auditing the Federal Reserve?
    A 11. I think the system we have now punishes success. We need to get the government out of the way and allow businesses and individuals to thrive.

Q 12. Are you open to immigration reform?
    A 12. We need to avoid falling into the same trap as with Obamacare. We don't need 2,000 page bills that no one can understand or knows what's in it. First, we need to secure the border and enforce the laws we already have. Then, if we need to make small, specific reforms to make the process simpler, then we can deal with that. But first, we need to follow the laws we already have.

Q 13. Most Americans support universal background checks. The gun-show loophole is a dangerous thing and needs to be addressed. Where do you stand on this?
    A 13. I am a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment. It is easy to have a knee-jerk reaction after a tragedy like Sandy Hook. Places like Chicago and DC have some of the strictest gun laws in the country and they also have the highest number of crimes. More laws aren't going to prevent someone intent on doing harm from going out and hurting people. We need to allow individuals and families to be armed so that they can defend themselves from those who would do them harm.

Q 14. What can kids do to help keep their daddies (who aren't documented) with them? (this was asked by a young girl)
    A 14. First, I want to thank everyone who's come up here to ask questions. It's a big crowed and I know it can be intimidating. But really, my answer is the same. Everyone needs to follow the laws already on the books.

Q 15. Where do you stand on Common Core and what can Congress do about it?
    A 15. This is largely a state issue and no state is being forced to approve Common Core. The government always follows the "one size fits all" policy and if you look at the $1 trillion the Dept. of Education has spent and you look at the test scores over the years, the Dept. of Education has failed. We don't need to be mandating anything to the states on a federal level when it comes to education.

Q 16. Could you give us an update on Benghazi?
    A 16. We are continuing all of the investigations. The administration has been trying to mislead the public and hide the truth so we have had difficulties getting all of the answers we've sought. This, the IRS scandal, and the other "phony scandals" are important and we're going to keep investigating.

The Q&A session lasted about an hour and I feel that Congressman DesJarlais did a fine job answering most of the questions. He didn't directly answer the Audit the Fed question and I really wish he had.

Afterward, the "protesters" left and everyone else broke off into private conversation. If you haven't attended a 3C's I strongly urge you to. They're a great place to meet new people, to find out how to become involved in local and state issues, and in the case of town halls, make your voice heard.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

West-side Park

Yesterday, July 24, 2013, the Daily News Journal published this article on a future west-side park. The park would encompass approx. 410 acres and cost $20.6 million over the course of several years. The main call for the park comes because of the population growth on the western side of Murfreesboro.

This $20.6 million park would be on top of the $104 million Greenway/Blueway "Master Plan" and in fact several miles of new greenways and multiple trail heads are already planned for areas west of I-24 (within the "Master Plan"). They will connect Barfield Crescent Park with Old Fort Park and the rest of the city. There is no doubt that the city's population is growing, however according to the 2013-14 budget the population growth has slowed tremendously in recent years compared to the rest of the 2000s. [pg 24]

City government seems to be under the delusion that population growth will continue at an exponential rate for years to come and based on that growth they can continue to spend more and more money. This is a fallacious defense for the spending. While Detroit is a severe example, the city experienced rapid population growth between 1900-1960, and then the good times ended and the city's population has dropped every year since. This collapse has left many a once beautiful park to become overgrown and the home of vagrants. Murfreesboro's population growth outpaces the growth of the State's population by over 40% which means in order for Murfreesboro to grow other areas must lose population. In fact, Murfreesboro is the main driver of population growth for the entire county. However, 25,000 of the people in Murfreesboro attend MTSU, a great many do not stay in the city once they graduate. This means that the City must provide services for these students (police, fire, parks, roads etc), but doesn't get the benefit of decades worth of tax revenue that a long-term resident brings in. I mention this only to further the point that while the City Council appears to plan for things based on a permanent population and continual growth, we must realize that those numbers are inflated when you consider the student population.

For the 2013-14 budget, the City expects a revenue increase of 1%. They City also makes a point of letting us know that revenues for the City are still less than those in 2009. [pg 13] The City has also conceded the issue of property taxes; 2014 will be the 15th year without a property tax increase. Yet, despite population growth, revenues from property taxes continues to fall. [pg 14] They have exchanged raising property taxes for the ever rising revenues generated from sales taxes. [pg 15]The City has hitched themselves to sales tax revenue, revenue which must depend on a growing economy (which is still anemic nationally) and a growing population (which is beginning to slow).

The following graphs shows you the trends in revenue and expenditures. Logically, they should be correlated, but spending outpaces revenue.

Revenues have grown slightly over the past few years, but not at the pace spending has increased. The City expects revenue of $113 million for 2013-14, of this slightly more than 10% is earmarked for the "recreation" budget (golf courses and parks). And while 10% may not sound like much, it amounts to the 3rd largest single expenditure (after police and fire). The most disturbing thing however, is the growth year-over-year of the recreation budget compared to other departments and the overall budget.

For 2010-11, revenues were $101.8 million, for 2013-14 they're $113.3 million - an increase of 11.2%. 
Expenditures for the same periods were $102.6 million and $118.2 million, an increase of 15.2% (and a running deficit each year). [pg 39]
Now for the fun, the recreation budget for 2010-11 was $9.44 million, and for 2013-14 it is $13.77 million - an increase of 44.5%. The Police Dept. budget only grew 13% and the Fire Dept. budget grew a mere 11%, while the Transportation Dept. budget actually decreased 10.7%. [pg 39]

The problem isn't that parks are evil or that we don't want to live in a beautiful and enjoyable city. The problem is that, when federal and county taxes continue to rise, when the incomes of citizens are barely increasing, the City deems fit to spend ever more millions on parks. The City spends more on recreation than the combined budgets of the Senior Citizens Dept., Transportation Dept., Solid Waste Dept., and Public Health & Welfare Dept. [pg 39]

It simply does not make sense. 

Source - 2014 City Budget (PDF)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

City Council Meeting for 7/11/2013

Tonight's council meeting was fairly uneventful. At the start of it there were perhaps 50 people in the audience and by the end there were less than 10.

Re-zoning (13-OZ-R-29, 13-OZ-29, application # 2013-410)

The key feature tonight was a public hearing on the re-zoning of nearly 90 acres along Memorial Blvd and Haynes Drive. It was the same property from several months ago which resulted in over a dozen people speaking against the re-zoning and letting the Council know their concerns (none-too-subtly either).
The primary concerns were: what type of business(s) would be allowed, water drainage, and who would be paying for the improvements to the property - the City or whatever business ended up moving in?

After being sent back the the Planing Commission, and further discussions and local meetings, the new plan proposed was considerably more appropriate and took into consideration many of the concerns held by those who lived in the area. This particular area consists of 11 individual properties owned by 9 families. Along most of Memorial Blvd are businesses with the exception of this area which is a long-standing residential neighborhood, especially west down Haynes Dr.

In the end, the representatives of the property owners and the Planning Commission recommended a number of changes to the original proposal. Among them, a 40 foot-wide buffer (twice the size required by regulation) between the re-zoned property and the neighborhood, re-zoning 63 acres as commercial highway but re-zoning a 250-ft wide strip of land (approx 15 acres) at the back of the property (adjacent to the private homes) as commercial fringe, which will further restrict the way that portion can be used. The commercial highway portion (the 63 acres) will be bound by a number of restrictive covenants as well, including: forbidding the construction of adult business, tattoo parlors, communication towers, mobile home parks, and much more.

Additionally, to help tackle the drainage problem that has plagued the area for decades, a small bit of land, about an acre, referred to as the "notch" will be set aside for the construction of retention ponds and other water control systems.

There are still some questions regarding who is paying for the improvements. Various improvements to the property must be constructed before any business would want to purchase the property (and to-date there are no interested parties at all), and before the land could become officially available for development. The general feeling is that, the City will spend perhaps $1 million or more in improvements on what is private property in order to attract business. In other words, the 11 property owners will be getting $1 million in free land improvements and then the land owners will sell the land to a developer for a tidy profit. Will the new owner be required to repay the City or is the City in the business of well, being in business?

Today was only the first reading (three are need for passage) and despite the remaining concerns over who pays for what the proposal was approved unanimously. My opinion is that the City really did listen to the concerns of the public and the new plan is a very good compromise. What actually ends up happening with the improvements and costs will remain to be seen.

IT Dept. Plan

Another interesting item tonight was the passage of a 5 year "master plan" for the City's IT Dept. The plan was very well thought out and the items, programs, applications etc requested made perfect sense. It also was approved unanimously. My main concern is that the plan costs $9.5 million. Granted that's over 5 years so $1.9 million/yr or about 1.6% of the budget; however, the 15 minute proposal did not include any cost-benefit analysis and I gathered that they hadn't even begun the process of figuring out how much (if anything) the IT plan would save the City. I am fairly sure that the plan will, in the end, save the City real money and energy but at the same time I am a little disappointed that they approved something without having full knowledge of the tangible benefits it would bring.

Final thoughts

At one point in the meeting Mayor Tommy Bragg said "We consider our town to be a city within a park." Murfreesboro is a beautiful city and everyone wants to live in a lovely area. Yet, when you look back at all of the problems arising from the Mayor's insistence at funding any and every matter of leisure and aesthetics I found the statement in very bad taste. The City is $230 million in debt, they approved a $105 million plan (without secured funding) that will inevitably lead to more debt for enormous Greenway expansion, the City spends $2 million a year on golf courses - golf courses which by my figures have actually ran a deficit to the tune of $721,000 since 2010, we spend over $15 million alone on recreation every single year. This includes $11,000 for freaking trophies, $6,000 for trashcans, iPads, TVs etc, and the "recreation budget" is one of the largest expenditures the City makes. We spend nearly as much on leisure as we do on our Fire Dept!

I would like to live in a beautiful city. On the other hand, I would rather go without golf if that meant we had the money to build sufficient sidewalks and enough schools without having to go deeper into debt or without needing handouts from the federal government. As it stands, without debt and federal aid we can't build schools. Perhaps the Mayor needs to get his priorities straight.

Jacob Bogle
July 11, 2013

Additional reading:

7/11/13 agenda,  pg. 157 (re-zoning)