Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Simple and True

Finding the center

I was reminded when I read Saul Bellow's Nobel Lecture Thursday night, the center doesn't move, men move away from the center, and there is a need for the simple and true.

People look for the bottom line, people always have. They look to the press and media to research the details for them and tell them what they need to know, what is important and what has the potential to effect their daily lives. They look for the summary of an issue and the simple bottom line.

We must be careful not to live our lives as if they were the summary of a book we didn't care enough about to read, ourselves. If we do not care enough to find our own moral center, we become unbalanced. We become unbalanced as individuals and, as a nation made up of individuals, the collective effect is a morally, unbalanced nation.

One of my favorite poems has long been Mark Strand's "Keeping Things Whole." In a review of Strand and Robert Hass, "The New Yorker" offered its critique that Strand, who was moved from city to city and sometimes country to country as a child, wrote about powerlessness. Strand may have been offering a simpler reason for movement, claimed "The New Yorker," than the practical and serious reasons of his parents, he moved, simply, "to keep things whole." A powerless child looking for a simple and true summary of his being? I wonder if Strand felt he had a moral center?

I moved, Thursday night from Saul Bellow to Vincent David Jericho (a natural transition?) on Friday morning. From Jericho's pod casts (segment 1 and the segment with Glen Beck as a guest) to an article, "Can Free Markets Survive In a Secularized World?" written by Steven Malanga. Jericho read from that article Friday morning to make a point about the effect the moral decline in America is having on our economy today, a point which I believe Saul Bellow might have easily made in his Nobel Lecture 30 plus, years ago. Malanga wrote:

"The 18th Century English cleric and theologian John Wesley was troubled by a paradox that emerged as his teaching spread. He, like other Protestant thinkers stretching back to Calvin, taught that one could honor God through hard work and thrift. The subsequent burst of industry and frugality generated by Wesley’s message improved the lot of many of his working-class followers and helped advance capitalism in England. But, “wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion,” Wesley observed, and subsequently pride and greed are growing more common, he complained.

The emergence of what Max Weber described as the Protestant ethic represented an important point in the evolution of capitalism because it combined a reverence for hard work with an emphasis on thrift and forthrightness in one’s dealings with others. Where those virtues were most ardently practiced markets advanced and societies prospered. And, as Wesley foresaw, what slowly followed was a rise in materialism and a reverence of wealth for its own sake.

Today, we seem to be living out Wesley’s most feared version of the pursuit of affluence unencumbered by virtue. Scam artists perpetrate giant Ponzi schemes against their friends and associates. Executives arrange compensation packages that pay themselves handily for failure. Ordinary people by the hundreds of thousands seek a shortcut to riches by lying on mortgage applications. Heartless phony bailout schemes take the last dollar of people already in distress."

Jericho, in part, said:

"Can free markets survive in a secularized world without some moral ethic, some base line principles?

The free market is just as bad corrupt and useless as socialism and fascism and any other 'ism' you want to throw on the table. Without morals and morality, capitalism collapses and so, my friends, does republican democracy. You're seeing it, you're living it, you may even be, directly or indirectly, responsible for it."

Americans must find a simple, true, moral center. Integrity, morality and virtue must win over greed, lust and envy. For me, I find that moral center inhabited by God and his instruction book, the Bible. One thing, for sure, as Malanga ended his article:

"People instinctively know something is missing, just not what. A religious revival in America seems unlikely. Is it equally as unlikely that our institutions, most especially our schools, would once again promote the virtues that made capitalism thrive and Western societies prosper--not just hard work, but thrift and integrity, or what we once called the Protestant ethic?"

We are individuals. We must find our individual moral centers then, we must stand again for the position of integrity and virtue, for the simple and the true, and against the position of moral decline, greed and materialism.

It occurred to me a few moments ago, I have blogged about America's moral decline and the ramifications of that decline in the past. In my opinion, no one says it better than Watchman Nee in "Love Not the World:"

Nee: Chapter 2:

"Most of the historic university colleges of the West were founded by Christian men with a desire to provide their fellows with a good education under Christian influence. During their founders' lifetimes the tone of those foundations was high, because these men put real spiritual content into them. When, however, the men themselves passed away, the spiritual control passed away too, and education followed its inevitable course toward the world of materialism and away from God. In some cases it may have taken a long time, for religious tradition dies hard; but the tendency has always been obvious, and in most cases the destination has by now been reached. When material things are under spiritual control they fulfill their proper subordinate role. Released from that restraint they manifest very quickly the power that lies behind them. The law of their nature asserts itself, and their worldly character is proved by the course they take."


A City Council Primary Candidate Responds to Councilman Burlison's Statement Regarding the Pension Sales Tax

Fred Ellison, a City Council primary candidate for General Seat B, forwarded an email to me, in which he has responded to Councilman Burlison's statement on the Spfd Police/Fire Sales Tax:

Mr. Ellison's response:

I believe that approval of the 1% Pension Sales Tax would be a huge mistake. As a matter of fact, Tom (General Seat A, City Council primary candidate, Tom Martz) and I discussed yesterday that this would be a 38% increase in the city/county portion of the sales tax (2.625%) that we already pay.

There are several specific reasons that I cannot support this proposal:

1) The proposed rate is too high for the economic situation that currently exists. To date we have a better economy than many other areas and will risk aggravating the downturn in our local economy.

2) If the sales tax is approved, all incentive for City government to improve efficiency, reduce wasteful spending, and get control of personnel and benefit costs will be eliminated. It will be back to 'business as usual'. Automatic wage and benefit increases will resume and the deferrred compensation of City management will be 'reviewed' (as approved in the Council Bill 2008-368, ( ) see item #6 at line 128. (Is it any wonder that city staff supports the sales tax proposal? They are also being told that if it doesn't pass, they will risk termination.)

3) City management and the City Council are betting that the 1% Pension Sales Tax will get the funding level of the Police and Fire Retirement Plan (the legally correct name of the pension plan which was not used in the ballot language) back to reasonable levels before the settlement of the Telecommunications Sales Tax Lawsuit. If the settlement is received after the majority of the pension sales tax funding is received, the settlement funds will not go into the Retirement plan and thus can be spent on other 'priorities'.

4) The fundamental cause of the Retirement Plan under funding is that benefit increases granted in the late 1990's, as a result of poor personnel management (which continues today), has caused the liabilities of the Retirement Plan to spiral upward long before the investment losses that have occurred in the last six months. These benefit increases include: 1) The 100% return of employee contribution. 2) The inclusion of payments of accumulated leave, holiday, sick and vacation pay at the end of employment and overtime compensation in the calculation of pension benefits. The Police Officer and Firefighter Associations (Unions) need to accept their share of the responsibility for the unrealistic increases in these benefit costs. In 1996, the City's Annual Required Contribution was $2,578,429. In 2006, ten years later, the ARC was $9,834,917 an increase of almost 400%.

Based on these facts and that the 1% Pension Sales Tax will not be a permanent solution to the problem until the basic causes have been addressed, I cannot support the proposal.

Fred B. Ellison
Council General B Candidate


Note: Any other City Council member or City Council or Mayor primary (or otherwise) candidate who wishes to respond to Mr. Burlison's statement, or simply make a statement on the police/fire pension sales tax issue, may do so by contacting me at - Jackie


Friday, January 30, 2009

From the Horse's Mouth - Councilman Burlison's Statement on the Spfd Police/Fire Pension Fund Sales Tax

I was on a short list of local bloggers to receive the following statement from Councilman Doug Burlison this evening. It was sent to me with pretty much the same subject line used in the title of this post and is what it is. I have neither endorsed nor opposed the pension sales tax, myself, and continue to be very conflicted on the matter. All of us have our own opinions about it. I can certainly respect and understand Mr. Burlison's position, as well as many of the positions I have heard and read in opposition to the tax. - Jackie

Councilman Burlison's statement:

As January comes to a close, we are at the doorstep of decision time. Many voices have expressed support or opposition to the proposed 1 cent sales tax to repair the Tier 1 Police and Fire pension fund. If the numerous statements indicate the level of legitimate concern for our community, then Springfield is, indeed, a fortunate city in that a lot of us do actually care what happens here.
I've had the priviledge of serving this community on City Council for almost two years now. Prior to that, I was instrumental in having the State of Missouri audit our city. Early on in my term on the council, I resigned my position as the Chief Petitioner of the Springfield audit in order to reduce any conflict of interest, and to move into a place where I could help fix the problem, rather than just work to identify it. One of my first votes on the council was to oppose seeking authorization from Jeff City for this sales tax. My reasoning was that if we receive the go ahead for this proposal, then we would not explore any other options to fund the shortfall. In spite of my concerns, many options have been discussed over the last couple of years, especially during the 2009 budget deliberations. In a departure from the past, direct public participation was included the budget process, and a wide range of ideas was brought to the table for consideration. In light of all of this, I believe that it has become increasingly clear that there is only one mechanism that will be sufficient to take care of our shortfall in the time frame reqiured, and that is the 1 cent sales tax.
I have great respect for those that oppose this measure, and to denigrate those views would be disrespectful. It is that voice of opposition, in fact, that we need to continually keep our feet to the fire as we move forward, regardless of the outcome of this election. Those that support this measure, however, are earnestly looking at the real mathematical challenges, not just the minimum contributions required by state law. In another first (at least in my recollection), commitments have been made by the current City Council, in writing, to insure that these funds are spent as the voters intend. The resolution that we recently passed has added other protections that secures the interests of the taxpayer, and the pension fund recipient. The current management, and a majority of the upcoming City Council will not have had a hand in getting us to this point, yet will need the tools to fix this problem. The question is, "Do we take care of this now?" I think at the rate of at least $39,000 per day of interest income lost, the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" I have no personal love of taxes, and have worked to avoid increasing them. Higher taxes are not good for any public economy, but then again, neither is banckruptcy. If we do pass this measure, we need to work to shorten it's duration as much as possible; but before anything else, we need to insure that the shortfall in the pension fund gets taken care of, completely.
My main motivation behind my support of the 1 cent proposal is to avoid passing this problem on to others so they will have to take care of it in the future. Instead of handing down a list of bad choices to subsequent councils, and instead of sticking my head in the sand and letting my children's generation deal with this, I will take a stand that is politically unpopular with several in our community, and vote in support of the sales tax. The honest truth is that this proposal is the cheapest way to shore up this pension plan, and any delays will greatly increase the mountain of liability that we will have to overcome. At the risk of offending some, this additional sales tax is the most fiscally responsible thing to do out of the options we have available to us. I am asking you to join with me on February 3rd, and vote "yes" on the pension fund sales tax.


A "Carlsonism" on the City's Legislative Priority Policy

After Councilwoman Mary Collette compared the City's legislative priority list to a "play book," Mayor Carlson made the following comment:

"You (Collette) talk about a play book but, think of the comment attributed to Mike Tyson, which was, 'Everybody has a plan till he gets hit.'" - January 26, City Council meeting

The resolution passed: Carlson, Whayne, Rushefsky, Deaver, Collette, Chiles, Wylie and Manley supported; Burlison opposed due to his reservations concerning red light camera provisions.

A "Carlsonism" on the Police/Fire Pension Plan

"I can think of few things in my tenure that is as complicated as the pension plan is. I mean, it's like there's three faucets going into the bathtub and five drains and you're trying to figure out if you're gaining or you're losing because of all the different components to it, and there's so many calculations and assumptions that go into it that it really is a moving target, and it's been a real bear to stay on top of all the different aspects of it." - Mayor Tom Carlson, January 26, City Council meeting.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Unexplored City "What-If-Scenario"

The complicated police fire pension issue, with its attached 1-cent sales tax solution, is almost entirely based upon projected scenarios which are based almost entirely on projected assumptions, for instance:

What if the pension sales tax passes?

a. The City of Springfield projects they'll get a return in sales tax revenue for the pension fund of $40 million annually, minus the state's 1 percent handling fee, again, projected at $400,000 if based on the projected $40 million annual revenue they assume the state will collect on behalf of the City under the sales tax. (Just try to keep up ;)

b. The City of Springfield projects they will be able to restore all past cuts to City services and not be "forced" to make drastic cuts to City services in the next fiscal budget. In other words, the City projects everything will be right with the world if the voters approve the sales tax initiative and they won't have to cut services to the public or do the hard work of trying to find cuts in the City government to make a full recommended actuarial contribution in the next fiscal year, a full recommended actuarial contribution which, in fact, they are not required by law to make in the first place (but, we've discussed that in the past, here, no sense rehashing it again).

What if the pension sales tax doesn't pass?

a. The City Manager is, more or less, promising Joe and Josephine Q. Public that they'll cut your services, even though not legislatively required to do so. If you think the public swimming pools being closed a couple of extra days last summer was bad, wait till they start removing the PAR and COP officers from your neighborhood. Chances are, you wouldn't allow your children to walk to the public swimming pool even if they were open 24 hours a day after your neighborhood's police presence further plummets.

b. The City projects the police and fire pension system will languish and the City will never, ever be able to catch up because, according to the City and it's Council, the only way to really address it is by taxing the public.

Now, let's look at the case of a City Councilwoman's quote which was recently published in the daily paper:

"Politically, it wouldn't make sense for those employees to continue to contribute when the city doesn't have to (contribute)."

Rushefsky's comment was made when and if, as I suspect, during the course of an October 21 luncheon meeting, discussions of a number of "what-if" scenarios arose as a result of a presentation offered by two different Milliman actuaries. (See CFP, November 19 issue, page 2).

What I wanted to point out was, during the course of that October 21 Council luncheon meeting, there were several discussions which took place. I failed to write about one projected scenario in the November 19 issue of the Community Free Press (because, it wasn't my focus at the time) and to my knowledge, Wes Johnson of the News-Leader never wrote about it either.

As earlier established, just about everything the City is discussing is in terms of "ifs" or "if nots" in regards to the pension sales tax's passage or failure. Since, at last night's Council meeting, the City Council was discussing the potential of moving new hires and possibly Tier 2 police and fire employees into the LAGERS system, should the pension sales tax be approved February 3, the October 21 luncheon meeting becomes more relevant. The Rushefsky quote was a part of a broader discussion. I think we shouldn't leave the Rushefsky quote flopping like a fish on the table of condemnation without the water of context.

Milliman actuaries were projecting and predicting a surplus in the pension system at certain points in the projected future, if the sales tax initiative passed.

Rushefsky's comment came about during a discussion of whether the City could cease contributing to the pension system after it reached surplus funding. Rushefsky, I felt, made a good point. If the surplus in the fund was so large and was growing larger and larger as the Tier 1 retirees decreased in number, leaving only some Tier 2 employees, it would seem as moot for the police and fire employees to continue to throw their pennies into the fund as it would for the City to continue to contribute. "Politically," as Rushefsky phrased it, it would seem unwise to release the City from their responsibility while continuing to demand the pension beneficiaries be bound to a similarly, unnecessary responsibility.

The discussions didn't end there however, and bearing in mind this is another one of those projected, assumed, what-if/what-if-not-scenarios everyone has been hanging their hats upon in the early days of a new City Manager's reign, here is that other scenario that never found voice outside that room that day and which I don't believe any reporter has exposed:

Someone asked, what would become of the money left in the old pension system fund after the last Tier 1 retiree has died and if new hires were put in LAGERS and the Tier 2 employees had elected to move into LAGERS?

City attorney Dan Wichmer said it could be written up somehow that the City would become the inheriter of the system's left over funds when it had served it's purpose and the last beneficiary of the plan was gone.

In this what-if-scenario, based on similar projections and assumptions the City cites when they ask the public to weigh their pension sales tax decision (or actuarial assumptions and projections delivered to the City Council October 21, 2008 ):

If the citizens of Springfield pass this 1-cent sales tax on February 3 and if it reaches a level of funding between 90 and 100 percent (causing the projected future surplus in the fund), and if new hires and Tier 2 police and fire employees agree to move to the LAGERS retirement system, when the last Tier 1 police or fire retiree dies, the City could stand to inherit the remains of a pension system fund with projected future assets worth an assumed value of between $8.8 and about $500 million.*

Cha-ching!!! < Click me

*And while we're what-iffin, the projected assumed value would be effected by whether the City and employees continued to contribute into the fund after it reached a surplus level.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Jericho's Interviews with City Council Primary Candidates are Worth a Listen

Vince Jericho of KSGF has been conducting some great interviews with City Council primary candidates.

Here's the link to go listen to those interviews.

This morning he plan(s)(ned) to interview General Seat A primary candidates.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

More on Springfield's 2009 Legislative Priorities

The Council will be asked to approve Resolution 2009-015 on Monday night, January 26, after hearing from the public.

What the legislative priority list does is establish what the City's lobbyists will be lobbying for at the state and federal level in the upcoming year. Normally, the City likes to have this list approved by the City Council earlier in the fiscal year but this year's legislative priority list hit a road block when the City Council was faced with a very large number of speakers, drawn out by the Park board's submission the City take a position favoring a ban on guns in open park spaces. Another member or two of the City Council didn't like the idea of opposing collective bargaining on the part of the City's employees either. The resolution was tabled and sent back to the Council's Finance and Administration Committee earlier this year, where it was decided to remove the words "collective bargaining" and the gun ban issue. The rest of Council, later, agreed with the omissions and now, it is again on the agenda for approval at the next meeting.

JackeHammer is looking at the 24 page document in an effort to outline a few of the issues held within it.

Yesterday, we looked at Section C.4, today we will look at Section C.5, pertaining to E-Commerce and Other Interstate Sales Activities.

This legislative priority is not a new addition, except for the inclusion of "parks" as a "needed service" of the citizens of Springfield.

Subsection a, paragraph 2 of Section C.5 states:

"The City of Springfield urges Congress to recommend that all sales and use tax on sales of tangible property be treated fairly and equitably whether the sales take place over the counter, by phone, mail order or by Internet. The City urges Congress to enact legislation that redefines nexus to include economic nexus as well as physical nexus so that out-of-state mail order sales and Internet sales are treated the same as sales within the same state. The City supports efforts by the State of Missouri to work with other states in studying the issue."

Continuing to C.5, subsection b, the City gives its argument as to why it feels E-Commerce, phone, mail order and Internet sales should be treated the same as local over the counter sales:

"b. Other Interstate Sales Activities. The loss of local tax revenues to out-of-state companies that do not pay local taxes threatens to undercut the ability of local government to provide needed services to its citizens. When a customer visits a store, services are provided to him/her during the sale and before and after as they travel through the City. The same is true for Internet sales. The customer still uses services of the City while purchasing and before and after at his/her location. These revenues are needed to pay for the infrastructure (roads, streets and easements) upon which these services are delivered. Local merchants are at a competitive disadvantage when out-of-state merchants can avoid collecting and paying taxes. The federal government should exercise its power under the Commerce Clause to protect the local tax base, which is used to provide needed services and protect local merchants from out-of-state merchants who do not pay state and local taxes, so that there is a level playing field."

For more information on the fairness of Internet sales tax and debatable points of consideration, I'd refer readers to this link.

I think support or non-support for the City's lobbying to collect local sales tax on sales generated by phone, mail order or by Internet, might depend on each individual's ideology regarding taxes.

One argument might be that finding new ways to tax consumers works against all consumers because it raises the price on goods. It does strike me, in some ways, that it is a penalty on the consumer. One might ask, "is, as the City has claimed in its argument, the citizen still using services of the City while purchasing something over the Internet and before and after?" Probably not related to any particular purchase, is my thought. Perhaps those citizens continue to use City services prior to and after they have made a phone or Internet purchase but no more than the citizen would be using those services anyway. How does the everyday use of City services change when a purchase is made by phone or over the Internet? It strikes me, the only changes would be: less gasoline usage; less road usage; less red light camera surveillance; and less required, traffic related service. Remember, the purchase is made while the customer is sitting in their home, breathing free air and minding their own business. They aren't driving over city pavement to get to the store and they aren't stopping off at the park for a picnic lunch on their way to or back from the store. Further, citizens are already being taxed by the City on phone calls and are already taxed on cable use.

It isn't my place, or at least I don't intend to make it my place, to tell citizens what should be an issue to them or not. It's each person's decision as to whether their elected City Council representatives should represent them by asking for taxation on mail order, phone or Internet, interstate sales to provide services such as highway infrastructure or City parks (etc.). It's each person's decision as to whether their elected City Council representatives should represent them by striking the City government's legislative priority to find new and creative ways to bring in more money through taxation, particularly for services which the public is already paying taxes. And, I should note, another City argument is the "level playing field" argument on behalf of merchants within the City. It's up to those merchants whether they believe mail order, phone and internet sales signify a loss in sales at a local level. The City's argument does not state whether any of the local Springfield merchants are up in arms about the issue or not.

Everyone has to make decisions every day as to what is more important to them. We do it at home, we do it at the grocery store when weighing whether peanut butter would be a more economical and nutritious purchase than a can of tuna, we do it when weighing whether our time would be better spent in one activity or another activity. Life's all about choices and choices are based, most usually, on our own opinions or ideology about what is important in life and our circumstances from day to day, week to week, month to month, effect our opinions and ideology as we face choices we might not have faced before in our lives.

To me, a factor in all of this discussion about taxing Internet sales (I hope you do refer to that link above for more information about the issue) by making the argument that the taxes are needed for infrastructure and road improvements doesn't take into account gasoline taxes which already exist for road maintenance and taxes already collected on phone and cable services. The City, recently, accepted a settlement from Sprint-Nextel for payment of back taxes and is involved in other litigation to force other telecommunication companies to pay taxes on cell phone usage. The City Manager has promised and the City Council has pledged to put any further telecommunication settlement money into the police and fire pension plan to help bring it to a full funding level as quickly as possible.

The Obama administration is looking at the possibility of raising the federal gas tax and in this article there are claims that a "Federal Gas Tax Would Lead To Myriad Benefits."

I don't know, it just seems like the government is raking in, or trying to rake in, more and more of our money from every direction and, while I don't doubt there might be a myriad of benefits there are other considerations in the debate.

Traffic World On Line recently published an article in which they cited the latest Manufacturing Report on Business from the Institute for Supply Management. The report indicated most manufacturers are decreasing their capacity due to declining activity. The Traffic World article also reported the lowest order activity since mid-2002 for Class 8 trucks, in December 2008. Sales declined 45 percent compared to December 2007. For some interesting highway history, this is a good link.

Another, entirely different issue, unrelated to the sales tax is the City's new inclusion of the "parks" as a "needed service." Are the City's parks "needed services" or are they welcomed luxuries? Will this inclusion set a precedent? Will "parks" now be considered a "core" City service and should they be considered a "core" City service?

I think most people understand the difference between a "necessity" and a "luxury" but maybe the City doesn't, and since they read this blog regularly, maybe I should add those definitions for their benefit:

Necessity: 1: the quality or state of being necessary

Luxury: 3 a: something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary b: an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease.

And again, I think it would depend on an individual's personal ideology whether nice parks are a need or necessity to the residents of a city. I don't think of them as a necessity, myself, at least not like oxygen, clean water, food, and the assurance of having a safe environment to raise families and make a living.

Have fun determining your own opinion about the City's legislative priority to collect taxes on mail order, phone and Internet sales and whether you agree with the definition of parks as a needed service.

There will be an opportunity for the public to address the City Council on this and every other item listed in the City of Springfield's 2009 Legislative Priorities on Monday night at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting. It starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be held in the City Council chambers on the third floor of City Hall.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Good for the Goose?

I was just looking over the "resolution adopting the City of Springfield's Legislative Policy for 2009," and noticed something I thought readers might find interesting.

Some time ago, City Council candidate Tom Martz opposed the restaurant fees imposed on food establishments in Springfield with a statement I found particularly succinct.

Martz said:

"To require businesses and consumers to pay for a government mandated inspection, by government, runs counter-productive for the services we are already paying for via taxation.” (CFP, 07-02-08 Issue)

The meeting minutes of the June 16, 2008 Council meeting tell us:

"Mr. Burlison moved to table the restaurant inspection portion of the proposed ordinance. Ms. Rushefsky seconded the motion. Mayor Carlson asked Council to vote on the proposed motion. The motion failed as follows:

Ayes: Collette, Chiles, Wylie, Manley, Whayne, Deaver, and Carlson. Nays: Rushefsky and Burlison. Abstain: None. Absent: None.

Mayor Carlson expressed his belief that the fee is fair and should be assessed. He also noted the proposed fees had been discussed during budget discussions and previous meetings.

Ms. Rushefsky noted she is not opposed to the fee but expressed concerns that local restaurants may not understand the proposed fee. She expressed her belief that more education is needed for local restaurants.

Mr. Whayne expressed concern regarding the timing of the fees due to the deficit in regards to the budget.

Mr. Deaver expressed his support of the proposed council bill.

Ms. Collette expressed her support of the proposed. She noted she would like to see the proposed in use and then amend if necessary.

Council Bill 2008-153. General Ordinance 5762 was approved by the following vote: Ayes: Collette, Chiles, Wylie, Manley, Whayne, Rushefsky, Burlison, Deaver, and Carlson. Nays: None. Abstain: None. Absent: None"

The reason the action on the restaurant fees has bearing on what Council will decide on Monday night regarding the legislative priorities they will be asked to approve should become clear to you when you read this section of the legislative priorities of the City for 2009:

Section C.4 Mandates

a. STATE. In recent years the state government has by law established mandates for certain local government which have been unfunded. This creates an unreasonable economic burden and is in violation of the principles established in the Constitution of the State of Missouri. The City government strongly opposes any state mandates which are unfunded.

b. FEDERAL. The federal government should refrain from establishing new programs which shift the burden of federal programs to local government without being accompanied by funding to pay for the costs of such programs. The application of the FLSA to city personnel also acts as a mandate by imposing unwarranted costs on local government, particularly in the area of police and fire service. The City government strongly opposes any federal mandates that are unfunded.

Just in case it isn't as clear to you as it is to me, let's have a little fun and pretend we are a restaurant owner using the city's own arguments:

In 2008, the city government has by law established mandates for local food service establishments which have been unfunded.This creates an unreasonable economic burden and is in violation of the principles established in the Constitution of the State of Missouri. The food establishments strongly oppose any city mandates which are unfunded.

Further, the city government should refrain from establishing new fees which shift the burden of city programs (or services) to food establishments without being accompanied by funding to pay for the costs of such programs (or services). Such a mandate imposes unwarranted costs on food establishments. The food establishments of the city of Springfield strongly oppose any city mandates that are unfunded.

Just as a little extra aside, notice how the city appears to be admitting in their own argument that such government mandates unaccompanied by funding "is in violation of the principles established in the Constitution of the State of Missouri?" Oh my.

A follow up and some recommended reading

Since I had written, "Things that Make you go, "Duh,"" about "ball dropping" at the Christian County and state level, I thought I'd note Christian County is making plans to straighten out the issue of their non-compliance in collecting property taxes. Their non-compliant status has been ongoing for 7 years as a result of a ballot error. It's nice to see they are finally taking action.

There are some interesting articles in the News-Leader today.

In regards to Christian County's action, sometimes it seems to take a little publicity to get people (or government) to do the right thing. You can read about the Christian County issue here.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pension Apples and Pension Oranges

Let's sort 'em out together

Back in the December 17 issue of CFP I was inspired to write a pension update (page 6) because of this News-Leader article's statement:

"Assistant Fire Chief David Hall, a pension board member, said the city now is facing "a really tough lesson" because of mistakes that were made in the past.

He said the pension fund investments were making double-digit returns in the 1990s, but city leaders chose not to reinvest all of that "surplus" in the fund.

"That should have been done," Hall said. "The city took the extra and used it elsewhere, rather than put it into the fund for future years when the market took a downturn.""

The story was very misleading and I felt it needed much stronger clarification than the News-Leader made the following day.

What Hall was saying was the pension fund's investments were bringing in more in returns than had been projected and the city opted later, due to the "surplus" returns, it lowered the amount of the actuarially recommended contribution the city was required to make.

Here's the update from CFP's page 6 of the Dec. 17 issue:

"Recent news might have caused a misunderstanding among the public regarding investment returns of the police and fire pension system. Pension trustee David Hall set the record straight for CFP.

"All investment returns are at the sole discretion of the pension board and can only be used for benefit payments," Hall said. "The city is unable to take any funds out of the pension system."The city's actuarial recommended contribution is separate from the investment returns. According to Hall, the city has never withheld any investment returns from the pension fund. Every year, the pension board actuary determines and recommends a contribution amount to the city.

"Except for the fiscal years 2005-2008, the city has been making the actuarial determined contribution amount," Hall said. "The issue with the police and fire pension system is a very complex issue, which can easily lead to misunderstanding."

If you would like to read pension trustee David Hall's full statement, go to and click on the online supplements to the print edition link."

Hall is right, as is City Manager Greg Burris, when they say the police and fire pension system is a very complex issue. Hall was right when he said, because of the complexity of the issue, it can easily lead to misunderstanding. In the case of the above article, the pension fund's investments were confused with the actuary's recommended contribution. While the city can decide not to make the actuary recommended contribution any given year, the city cannot withhold "surplus" investment returns.

Today, when I read, "State can take some of city's pension tax funds," though I feel I have a very good grasp of the pension issue, I got that familiar feeling of apples and oranges being all mixed up until you didn't know which was the apple and which was the orange any more. I'm not slamming the News-Leader but I don't feel it is at all helpful to the public to mix two separate issues up, discussing one, then the other, returning to the first, without proper clarification. It was more confusing than enlightening and so, here I am again, trying to straighten out the facts so that perhaps, at least the readers of JackeHammer, won't come away confused and befuddled.

In the News-Leader's article today, the writer started off discussing the State's practice of withholding 1 percent of the city's sales tax revenue in order to compensate itself for the administrative costs of collecting it and dispersing it back to the city in the form of a monthly check.

The State of Missouri collects all of the city's sales tax revenue. That is why you hear the City Manager refer, at times, to his inability to tell the City Council or the public what the sales tax receipts for, let's say, October, are until the first week or two in November, or until they receive the check for their portion of the sales tax revenue the state has collected on behalf of the city.

The writer of the article did a fine job defining that in the first part of today's article however, I wondered about Burris' statement:

"Would we rather keep that? Absolutely," Burris said. "Is it a reasonable? I don't know what the state's overhead is. ($400,000) seems like a lot to me."

I think it is important to note here, that the $400,000 would be the state's 1 percent handling fee on the $40 million the city estimates it will take in for the pension fund annually, if the pension sales tax initiative passes.

The next part of the article is where it gets a little applesy-orangey to me:

"The fee is detailed in a 2007 pension reform law that also allowed Springfield to seek a one-percent sales tax to help solve its pension fund shortfall.

The law, which the city of Springfield fought unsuccessfully, carries a big stick.

It was crafted after Springfield police and fire representatives complained to state lawmakers that the city wasn't adequately funding the pension plan. Lawmakers agreed and created a costly penalty if the city failed to make full recommended payments determined by the pension fund's actuary.

The law allows the state to withhold city revenue equal to 25 percent of what the city fails to pay into the pension fund, as recommended by the actuary.

Burris said it remains unclear how the state intends to calculate that "deficiency.""

You see, the State has always withheld a portion of all of the city's sales tax revenue to, like I wrote above, compensate itself for administrating the revenue. As the News-Leader article pointed out:

""That one percent is a standard fee DOR collects for handling sales taxes from every city," Farnen said."

So, I'm not sure why the city or the public should have a problem with the State including the standard fee DOR has always collected for handling sales tax revenue. Why did it only become questionable when it was included in the law the state passed to force the city fund the pension system? I also think it might have confused the reader as to whether the city opposed the law or the city opposed the state's standard fee, identified within the law, to withhold 1 percent of the gross sales tax revenue as a handling fee.

Regarding the "deficiency," according to the News-Leader article:

"Burris said it remains unclear how the state intends to calculate that "deficiency."

I think the "deficiency" Burris may be referring to is the below 60 percent funded ratio of the pension plan. That is the deficiency which causes the state law to kick in. I don't know what other "deficiency" he, or the state, could have been discussing in regards to the pension plan.

The article goes on:

""The goal here is to make it moot," Burris said. "That's why the city made a full payment this year, and why I'm recommending we continue to make the full payment that the actuary recommends."

You see, the reason the law was made moot by the city's full payment in the current fiscal year is because, by making the payment, the city bought four years before they are required, by law, to make a full actuary recommended contribution again. The only thing making the full actuarial recommended contribution in the next year will accomplish is to keep the four years they bought this year by making the full contribution remain at four years, instead of decreasing to three years.

The next statement in the article...:

"In public presentations, Burris says the state could withhold up to $18 million from the city if the council doesn't make full pension payments." one of the most confusing and troubling statements in the article. The statement, by not telling the reader when or why the state could withhold up to $18 million from the city if the council doesn't make full pension payments, might lead the reader to believe that if the council doesn't make the full actuarial recommended contribution in the next fiscal year the state could withhold up to $18 million from the city in the next fiscal year. This simply cannot happen because, the city, in this fiscal year (2008-09), stopped that action for four years by making the full contribution in this fiscal year.

Then the article defines a very convoluted foundation for the figure of $18 million the City Manager claims the state could withhold. I can't begin to decipher what it may be getting at. You see, because the city made the full contribution in the 2008-09 fiscal year, the state cannot withhold 25 percent of the city's sales tax revenue unless they fail to make a full actuarial contribution again in the next four years.

The fact is, the city could wait until fiscal 2013-14 before making another full actuarial recommended contribution to the pension plan and only if they failed to make another full actuarial recommended contribution in one of the years between the next fiscal year through fiscal 2013-14 could the state begin to withhold 25 percent of the city's sales tax revenue. The reason the state would withhold 25 percent would be so that they could put that 25 percent into the pension fund because, they would feel the city has not displayed a good faith intent to fund the pension plan. The state simply wants to make sure the city does the right thing. Remember, the city did not pay the full actuarial recommended contribution on its own from 2005-2008.

Later in the article, under the section outlining how the tax can be repealed, the reader is advised:

"If voters reject the proposed sales tax, the city gets a one-year extension to make a full payment into the pension fund, without penalty from the state."

I'm not sure what that has to do with how the tax can be repealed but, I think it does change that 4 year deadline. I believe what is being said here, is that if the city brings a sales tax initiative to the ballot in an effort to fix the pension plan they are allowed an extra year because they have shown they are making an effort to remedy the problem and fund the pension plan.

That would be the reason for a statement made in a previous News-Leader article, "Burris: Shortfall costing city more every day," I believe it was published yesterday:

A: It (the sales tax initiative, even if voted down?) bought us an extra year. The way it's been describe to me is that it's like a five-year moving window, and so it (making the full contribution in 2008-09?) bought us four more years.

If City Council would elect not to make the full recommended contribution, legally they could do so for the next four years."

Sometimes you just gotta wonder if an already complex issue isn't being made even more complex to discourage understanding. After all, if it gets complicated enough, maybe you'll just decide not to care and trust the solution offered instead of really understanding it.

I liked the comments made by Council candidate Nick Ibarra on KSGF's Vincent David Jericho Program this morning. He articulated the issue very well and showed a deep understanding. (If you read this after Wednesday night, the 21st, try this link to listen to Nick Ibarra instead).

Anyway, if you hung with me this long, I hope this helped your understanding and resolved a bit of the confusion. :)


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wichmer: "These brochures contain factual statements on the status of the plan,"

however, potential cuts to city services if the sales tax measure fails are details of a worst case budget scenario, they are not "facts."

"The Springfield News-Leader's" Wes Johnson covered a story titled: "City swaying tax vote, citizen claims." The citizen cited is one of the members of the group formed to oppose the police/fire pension sales tax which will be on the ballot in February.

Steven Reed's claims might just be sour grapes but he does raise one interesting point when, as the article quotes him, he says:

"The current literature supporting the one-cent sales tax has a 'what if it fails, what services will be cut.' That is clearly implying vote yes."

I don't know whether literature outlining the services which will be cut, if citizens vote no on the pension sales tax measure next month, implies voters should vote yes but, I do believe it is misleading and doesn't qualify as a "fact."

Burris outlined a worst case budget scenario on January 6 at a City Council luncheon. Burris recommended severe cuts to the budget if the sales tax measure failed and sales tax revenues decreased at a rate of 1.5 percent for fiscal year 2008-09 and another 1.5 percent in fiscal 2009-10.

Burris' recommendations are just that. The city manager makes recommendations in the budget and the City Council enters into budget discussions. We need to keep in mind, however, the tentative and/or final budgets for fiscal 2009-10 have not even been presented to the Council, as yet. The City Council has some sway and input over what budget recommendations are accepted and may modify particular areas of the budget, if they choose.

Under the City Charter, next year's fiscal budget begins on the first day of July. Section 5.8 of the City Charter indicates the city manager has to submit a final budget with an explanatory message sixty days before the beginning of the new fiscal budget year. That would mean Burris must present his final budget no later than June 1. The budget is to, "provide a complete financial plan for the budget year." It is to include reasons for any major changes from the preceding year.

Section 5.11:

"After the conclusion of such public hearing or hearings, (see City Charter Section 5.10, find it in my "links") the council may insert new items or may increase or decrease the various items of the budget, except for specified fixed expenditures. If it shall increase the total proposed expenditures, the council shall also increase the total anticipated revenue to at least equal such total proposed expenditures. The budget shall be adopted by the favorable vote of not less than a majority of the entire council, not later than the last Monday of the month preceding the first month of the budget year for which the budget is intended. Should the council take no final action on or prior to that date, the budget as submitted shall be effective without council action."

In the current fiscal year, the Council began budget discussions in March.

It needs to be kept in mind that Burris' worst case budget scenario is just that, and the Council has leeway in increasing or decreasing various budget items.

It needs to be kept in mind the City of Springfield satisfied the state's legislative mandate to make a full actuary recommended contribution at least once every five years in the last fiscal year. This year Burris is recommending the City make it again (and that may be the wise decision) but, it is not required or mandated the full actuary recommended contribution be made in the next fiscal year and the contribution is not a fixed expenditure.

There will be 9 members of City Council weighing in on the issue before the 2009-10 fiscal budget is adopted. Four of those Council members will be newly elected (in April). We can't know the outcome of those budget discussions and we don't, yet, have a tentative budget (as outlined in City Charter Section 5.7) and there has been no final budget presented to the Council at this point.

I haven't seen this "brochure," however, if, as Reed stated:

"The current literature supporting the one-cent sales tax has a 'what if it fails, what services will be cut.'"

I don't see how such details can qualify as "facts," the way City attorney Dan Wichmer is quoted as describing the brochure in the News-Leader article. Wichmer said, "These brochures contain factual statements on the status of the plan."

Burris can recommend any budget cut he'd like to recommend to the City Council in his budget "scenarios," they are still scenarios and to include them in the brochure as though the cuts will be made and it is an established fact, in my opinion, is very misleading.

It ain't gonna be over till 9 Council members sing.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

City would need State Authorization Before Seeking a 2-cent Pension Sales Tax in Two Years

A couple of days ago, "KSPR News" aired a live interview with City Manager Greg Burris about the police/fire pension sales tax issue. In that interview, Burris told "KSPR's" Michelle Sherwood:

"This is a really bad time to try and pass a sales tax. The problem is, the longer we wait on this, the more difficult it becomes to really solve this issue because, it gets worse with time and so, if we wait, and the longer we wait, this becomes so big that a 1-cent sales tax won't resolve the issue and so, at that point, then what do you do? What are the odds of passing a 2-cent sales tax a couple of years from now? Probably not very good."

It troubled me to hear this response. In part, because according to the 2008 Citizen Survey, 88 percent of the respondents to that survey replied they use local T.V. news to get information about the Springfield City government. This places a great responsibility on the shoulders of our local T.V. news channels, which do not really broadcast in-depth coverage of important issues.

In the Citizen Survey, the daily newspaper followed in second place with 68 percent of respondents claiming to use the daily newspaper to get their information about the Springfield City government, a 20 percent lower number than those who use local T.V. news. Internet sites, other than the City's own sites, were not surveyed. Meaning, blogs were not considered. Also not considered in the survey, was Springfield's community newspaper, the Community Free Press, since it is not a "daily" newspaper. Radio, however, was included in the survey. Radio was in the number three spot at 63 percent, rating only 5 percent less use than the daily newspaper.

Here's the impression people, 88 percent (if we believe the Citizen Survey was an accurate sample of the whole of Springfield's citizenry) might have been left with after listening to Mr. Burris' interview with Michelle Sherwood of "KSPR." If you don't pass a 1-cent pension sales tax in February, the City may be asking you for a 2-cent pension sales tax in a couple of years.

Does the City have the authority to seek approval from the City Council to place a 2-cent pension sales tax initiative on the ballot in two years? No. Not under current State guidelines detailing what actions a municipality may take to address a pension plan with a funded ratio less than 60 percent.

Some time ago, I sought and received a link* to an amendment to Senate Bill No. 406, Page 2, Section 87.006, which inserted specifications regarding what actions municipalities may take in order to address pension funding problems. This information was received from a State Representative who was active in the passage of the amendment so, I am trusting it is the most current State legislation on the topic. I am confident in my source but, if readers have questions about its accuracy, feel free to contact the City's law department for verification. The City of Springfield and any other municipality in Missouri has clear guidelines from the State of Missouri about what they are and are not authorized to do in order to find solutions to underfunding problems within pensions and health care plans of employees in the public safety sector.

Key information from that amendment a voter might want to consider before worrying too much about Mr. Burris' statement implying if you do not pass a 1-cent sales tax in February you might be asked for double that in a couple of years:

"94.579.1. The governing body of any home rule city with more than one hundred fifty-one thousand five hundred but fewer than one hundred fifty-one thousand six hundred inhabitants is hereby authorized to impose, by order or ordinance, a sales tax on all retail sales made within the city which are subject to sales tax under chapter 144, RSMo. The tax authorized in this section shall not exceed one percent,** and shall be imposed solely for the purpose of providing revenues for the operation of public safety departments, including police and fire departments, and for pension programs, and health care for employees and pensioners of the public safety departments....The order or ordinance shall not become effective unless the governing body of the city submits to the voters residing within the city at a state general, primary, or special election a proposal to authorize the governing body of the city to impose a tax under this section."

So, under current law, the City may not ask for more than one percent (1-cent) in their request for a sales tax to fund the police/fire pension plan.

It is conceivable the City could lobby the State of Missouri to ask the sales tax percentage limit be expanded and it is possible that the City's lobbyist(s) might be successful but, under Missouri State law, at the moment, the City may not ask for a 2-cent sales tax to fund the police/fire pension plan. I wonder if I am the only one who finds it troublesome that the City Manager would imply an option the City is not currently authorized to take action upon? I wonder if Mr. Burris is aware of what the State has authorized the City to do and if he intentionally or unintentionally implied the City is authorized to ask for a higher sales tax percentage than what the State authorized for a ballot initiative?

Today, and every day this week, the Springfield News-Leader has been allowing an open platform for the City of Springfield to answer reader questions about the pension sales tax. This, too, troubles me.

I'm not the average citizen because I have a blog and have been blessed to write a column for the Community Free Press for over a year but, I'm thinking if I was an average citizen who didn't have any method to disseminate information to the public or, the same level of authorization to approach City management with questions, and I had issued a question to the daily newspaper of note, I would be looking for an unbiased answer to my question from that daily newspaper of note. If I wanted the answer from the City, no further questions asked, I could contact the public information office myself, why ask the newspaper? If readers simply want the City's response, they can contact the Public Information Office of the City themselves. I think readers want more than that, but, that's just my opinion.

Further, if citizens want a broad understanding of this issue or any other issue within the city government, I think it behooves them to avail themselves of local T.V. news, the daily newspaper of note, the radio, Springfield's community newspaper (CFP), blogs, the city's Web-sites and City officials. Local television is not and has never been known for providing in-depth coverage in 2 minute live interviews. They serve a fine purpose but, depending on them to give you understanding of an issue as complex as the police/fire pension plan or the actions the City is trying to take to remedy the underfunding within it, might not be your best bet. By citizens taking the initiative to inform themselves through a wide array of venues, they will be better prepared to make a truly informed decision on issues which will effect their every day lives.

*To read the entire amendment, click the link and scroll to page 15 of the 44 page pdf file.

** Emphasis mine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Recommended Reading 1

Et's impotent tew ride thuh buss cuz if'n yew do'nt yew mite miss sumthin lak this:

busplunge: The Impotence Of Proofreading


Community Free Press Available

After a Holiday Break

You can read the new issue of the Community Free Press online. At this time, I have been unable to access the supplements to the print edition but, I'm sure they'll be online soon.

Featured in this issue is information about the Mayor and City Council candidates. I asked them about their thoughts on the pension sales tax and pension plan and Brian Brown took a look at General Seat A and General Seat B candidates, with the promise to focus on the Zone 1 and Mayor candidates in the January 28 issue. Hopefully, our efforts will give people useful information as they decide who they will support in the primary election on February 3.

Brian Brown also took another look at Park Central Square, its history of change and what is happening today with the renovation of the perimeter of the square. That article can be found on page 1, under the heading, "Change is Part of Square’s Rich History."

In a guest column, City Council General Seat A candidate Robert Stephens, explored his "Concerns About CFP’s Fairness and Policies." I have only one comment regarding Mr. Stephen's concerns: The fact that Mr. Stephen's guest column was published speaks volumes to me but, you can read about his concerns for yourself on page 5 and make your own determination as to whether he has legitimate cause for concern.

Mr. Mace must have found it to be a slow news cycle and that's all I'll say about that. ;)

On page 7, you'll find the first quarter calendars for City Council meetings and City Council luncheon meetings along with Council notes on the recent release of the 2008 Springfield Citizen Survey. There is also information about the worst case budget scenario City Manager Greg Burris shared at a recent Council lunch meeting. Councilman Denny Whayne shared some of his concerns with CFP regarding the hold on police and fire academies and Burris' idea to remove PAR and COP officers from neighborhoods and install them "on the street," instead.

Other headlines include: "Rock Star to Rabbi," page 9; "A Healthier Approach to Pizza," page 11; "Don’t Give Your Money to the Gold Bugs," page 12; "Students Are Taking Over the Air Waves," page 13 and; MERT SEATON has a, "A ‘Pukin’ Good Time" on page 17.

There's a lot more, check it out at the Web site and pick up a copy at one of the many carriers of the paper!


Group Opposing the Passage of the Pension Sales Tax

I have requested additional information regarding a group which was formed to oppose passage of the police/fire pension sales tax.

The News-Leader reported on the group in the January 6 issue and again on January 7, but, information about the group was not quite as in depth as the reporting on the group formed to campaign for passage of the sales tax (not a slam on the News-Leader, it's likely they reported all of the information that was made available to them).

In the January 7 issue, the News-Leader reported Mr. Kenkel is the owner of Imo's Pizza, that information was later corrected. Mr. Kenkel is not the owner of Imo's Pizza.

The group, “New Jobs Not New Taxes,” appears to have only two members, Steven Reed and Jeff Kenkel, which begs the question: Do two people constitute a "group?"

At any rate, I am trying to get a bit more information regarding the group and its action plan to oppose the pension sales tax. If I receive a reply to my second request for information, I'll include that information right here, on this same entry with an annotated update.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Pension Sales Tax Proponent Spoke at City Council

Troy Compton, took the podium at tonight's City Council meeting, stated his name and the address at which he abides. He had signed up to address the Council under petitions, remonstrances and communications, as is the right of any citizen of Springfield.

Compton, a firefighter and a member of the group which organized to campaign for passage of the 1-cent sales tax for the pension plan, "Citizens Keeping Our Commitment," did not identify himself as a member of the group, nor did he mention he was a City employee.

During the course of his glowing remarks and praise for the City Council and City officials on coming up with a plan to solve the underfunded pension system, Mr. Compton read a paragraph from an "Our Voice" column written by fellow group member Doug Pitt, which was published in the News-Leader today.

Compton also praised Mr. Pitt's letter, never indicating he is associated with Mr. Pitt through the group.

The Springfield News-Leader failed to identify Pitt as a member of "Citizens Keeping Our Commitment" when they published his column, choosing, instead, to identify him as, "a former member of the Community Editorial Advisory Board," who lives in Springfield.

In other news, The Butter Lady

Update: It has been called to my attention there is more than one Troy Compton living in Springfield. It is possible that the Troy Compton which addressed the City Council last night is not the same Troy Compton who is a member of the group, "Citizens Keeping Our Commitment." I do not know if the two are related.


Police/Fire Pension Sales Tax Initiative Promotion:

curiouser and curiouser

This police/firefighter pension sales tax issue and the way it is being presented to the public continues to get curiouser and curiouser.

One of the little tid bits of information that came out regarding a recent blow up on the part of Greene County Commissioner Dave Coonrod, as he berated Circuit Clerk Steve Helms before a County Court "en banc" meeting for sharing his personal opinion in a letter to the editor of the News-Leader, was that the News-Leader saw fit to identify Helms as the Circuit Clerk in signing his name to the letter. I posted about it here:

"Helms pointed out that he had not signed the letter as the Circuit Clerk but the News-Leader had added his position, internally."

As far as I know, the News-Leader never denied Helm's claim.

So, I find it interesting that today, The News-Leader published an "Our Voice" column written by Doug Pitt and identified him only as: "a former member of the Community Editorial Advisory Board," who lives in Springfield when, it was the News-Leader itself which, on December 30, 2008, identified Pitt as a member of a group organizing to campaign for passage of the 1-cent sales tax for the pension plan.

"Calling itself Citizens Keeping Our Commitment, the group filed organization papers with the Greene County clerk on Monday

Its 16 founding members include chairman Robert Spence, president of Evangel University; Norm Ridder, superintendent of Springfield Public Schools; Springfield businessman Doug Pitt; and former library director Annie Busch."

Other members, according to the News-Leader article are:

> Morey Mechlin, deputy treasurer
> Nancy Brown Dornan, Springfield developer
> Troy Compton, firefighter
> Herbert Dankert, Jarden Plastics
> James Dougherty, police officer
> Mike Evans, Springfield Police Officers Association president
> Tony Kelly, Springfield Fire Fighters Local 152 president
> Eric Latimer, firefighter
> Shawn Martin, firefighter
> Charlie O'Reilly, O'Reilly Auto Parts
> Tom Rankin, Sperry VanNess/Rankin Realtors
> Clif(f?) Smart, legal counsel, Missouri State University

I don't have any problem with any of these committee members electing to form a committee to "stump" for something they support but, I do find it rather odd that the newspaper would not identify the letter writer as a member of the committee they headlined previously as, "stumping for sales tax." Did they not feel it was important to note the writer was a member of an organization set up to "campaign to help pass a 1-cent sales tax in February?"

I haven't come to any firm conclusion on how I will, personally, vote on the police/fire pension sales tax so, I don't really have a dog in this hunt and, I recognize, Pitt has as much a right to an opinion as Helms does...though I do pass a bit of judgement in noting the News-Leader failed to properly identify him as a member of that committee.

If the campaign manager of a candidate running opposite candidate "X" for a seat in Congress had written a letter in support of his own candidate, "Y," and dismissed candidate "X's" concerns, would it be important to readers to know that the letter was written by the campaign manager of "Y?" I think so. I see no difference here.

Regarding Pitt's opinions, I have my own opinions. Pitt wrote:

"As emotions run deep, the beauty of any issue is the facts. Not rumor, not innuendo or supposition; but facts. There has been so much banter about the pension crisis that it has now bred misinformation from many angles, so I would like to take this opportunity for everyone to catch their breath and settle in on some facts."

Pitts then gave some facts. One of the facts was something I've always sort of wondered about but never asked. Pitts noted the city failed to make the full actuarial recommended contributions for the fiscal years 2005-2008. He wrote, and city officials have indicated, not making those contributions for those years underfunded the plan by $10 million. I have been wondering if that takes into account any investment returns which might have accumulated as a result of that $10 million the city failed to contribute. Like I said, I don't know, I'm just wondering and haven't asked.

It's a good thing to want to inform the public of the facts. In the end, the issue, in this case, is whether to support the police/fire pension sales tax initiative on February 3. The more information the public receives and the more they understand the better.

I don't fall in line with some of the thought that seems to be being promoted that it does no good or doesn't matter if the public understands how we got where we are today in the underfunded plan and I never have. Certainly, understanding the background won't solve the current problem but, the solution has to take into account the background or it can't be solved. So, it seems we go in circles. If the public doesn't fully understand the background, how can they be expected to fully understand an offered solution intended to fix the problems that got the pension fund in the underfunded state it is in today? The answer is: They can't, and if the public can't understand the problem or the solution then how can they understand the role of ongoing actions, including a sales tax, in solving the problem with the pension and ensuring it doesn't get into this same state at some future date?

Pitts tells you, the voter, in his column today:

"On Feb. 3, voters will consider a one-cent tax to fund the city's police/fire pension retirement system. The vote is not about benefits. Not about actuaries or returns. Not about blame. It is important that we not get bogged down in the periphery which has needed to be discussed, but now settle in on what we as citizens are being asked to vote on - which is, should this tax be approved to fund the deficit of the police/fire pension fund."

I would tell you, it IS important we see the entire issue and understand it fully, we don't have to "get bogged down in the periphery," which Pitts admits needed to be discussed, but wants you to move beyond.

No one can make voters take an interest in important issues in their communities and this is a very important issue effecting your community but, I wish citizens would take that interest to inform themselves about the issue and I wish they would so they can make a truly educated choice on February 3.

I am, personally, very disappointed in the direction the city has chosen to take to try to get voters on board to support the tax. Do city officials and our City Council owe it to the citizens to explain what the result could be if voters fail to pass the police/fire pension sales tax next month? Absolutely but, they also owe it to the citizens to explain they have more than one option in addressing the issue should the sales tax fail to pass. I don't feel city officials are adequately educating the voters about that.

Refer to this previous entry to understand the city is not forced to pay the full actuarial amount in the next fiscal year.

It isn't my intention to suggest the wisest choice is not to fund the pension plan by the full actuarial recommended amount next year. That might be the wisest decision. My point is that the city may choose, or choose not, to make the full actuarial recommended contribution next year while they examine other options, and there are so many different options I wouldn't even try to list them all. I just find it a bit disingenuous to pretend, or insinuate by omission, there are no other options if the sales tax initiative fails in February but to pay the full actuarial recommended amount and, in the words of City Manager Burris, "set the city back one or two decades." There needs to be more serious thought about making that full contribution if it can have such dire consequences as Burris outlined.

City Manager Burris listed as a principle used in developing budget recommendations in a memo that accompanied his presentation on January 6, 2009:

"Focus on Retaining Core Services: I have tried to minimize the impact on (a) core services and (b) those services the recent citizen's survey identified as most important to our citizens. For example, I considered a number of optional cuts to both police and fire services, but elected to forego those reductions at this time in favor of reassigning existing personnel to increase our number of officers "on the street" and to keep as many fire stations open as possible. I have tried not to submit the most sensitive core services for elimination. However, these recommendations assume we will keep the police and firefighter academies on hold until the City can afford to hire additional police officers and firefighters and has a stable, funded pension system in which to place the new hires."

Perhaps one of the options should be, if city officials are taking seriously the citizen survey, in which 98 percent responded "Keeping the crime rate low," was the most important of various issues regarding the planning of the City's future, making a bit less than the full actuarial recommended amount in order to take the police and fire academies off hold and end the hiring freeze in the police and fire departments. Perhaps, one of the options should be not removing neighborhood PAR officers and COP officers. Perhaps, the city should actually put core services first, instead of plundering the core service which the citizens who responded to the citizen survey ranked as the number one core city service the city offers, while they continue to try to resolve a very real problem with the police and firefighter pension plan. I'd like to see them not, inadvertently, create even worse problems for the future.

I think that is an option worth considering. I recognize I am not a member of a committee to promote passage of the police/fire pension plan sales tax, neither am I a member of a committee to oppose passage of the police/fire pension plan sales tax. I'm just a concerned citizen who has a bit of understanding about the background and the issue and think that in order to make wise decisions, the benefits of making the full actuarial recommended contribution, if the sales tax measure fails, by threatening to cut the most basic safety services in our city might need more examination.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Don't Worry, I'm not the Opinion Diva

Randy Turner of The Turner Report has had a lot to say about business unusual at the Springfield News-Leader of late. I've found his thoughts interesting.

Here's the latest entry he's made on the subject: If Shopping Diva is the wave of the future it's time to shut the Springfield News-Leader down.

I agree with him that what Sarah Overstreet contributed to the Springfield News-Leader was more valuable (I think it's safe to say that's what he was getting at) than what "the shopping diva" contributes. Turner talked about the name "Shopping Diva" and, I'm with Turner, the term "diva," is a trendy sounding term. Diva, alone, is a real turn-off to me.

This is not to insult Michel, I suspect she didn't choose her column's title, it was more likely the News-Leader who christened her a "shopping diva" but, diva isn't anything I would want to be called, as a woman. I would be insulted. To me, it suggests the woman described thinks of herself as on a pedistal, like a queen, ruler of her domain. Merriam-Webster's first definition for "diva" is a prima donna, or, get this, "a vain or undisciplined person who finds it difficult to work under direction or as part of a team," in other words, it's all about her. The etymology of a "diva" is: "Italian, literally, goddess, from Latin, feminine of divus divine, god," according to the same source, which then directs you to the word, deity. I wouldn't consider being a "diva" something to be proud of, myself, but, still, I understand it's trendy, in some circles, to be a diva, today.

I thought the timing was off, too. People are being laid off from their jobs across the country, as well as in Southwest Missouri. They are unsure about the future, many are buckling down. One could look at that from a couple of different angles, I guess. Those who are financially buckling down might appreciate advice on where to get the best bargains for purchases they are considering. On the other hand, they might resent the reminder that they cannot afford to look for bargains on unnecessary items when they are busy trying to pay their mortgages, utility bills and keep food on the table during a recession period.

I have nothing personal against Janet Michel, neither did Turner. I agree with Turner's assessment, she's just doing the job she was hired to do but, the last thing I want to read about, at the moment, is whether Michel thinks a frivolous item like an entertainment system is a good buy or not, and to have her tell me I should rush right to the store that was the source of the bargain to get one. They could mark the darned thing 75 percent off and it still wouldn't be in my budget at the moment.

Of course, most women wouldn't think attending City Council meetings was fascinating stuff either so, maybe I'm not the best example to use for a woman's view.

Anyway, I had some thoughts on the subject. Not sure why I thought it was important enough to blog about. I don't think of myself as the Opinion Diva or anything. I think someone else already holds that title but, don't tell him I said so. ;)

Acceptable Religion and this Week's Feature from Baptist Press

As my church's AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) secretary, Christi, and I were talking in the library this morning, she, getting awards ready and, me, not doing very well in getting thoughts together for AWANA Sunday, she told me about a song she loves. One of her sons loaded it on her Ipod for her. As her eyes welled up with tears describing a song that touches her heart, we started talking about getting "real" in our Christianity. I know a lot of people talk about "real" Christianity and they can mean a whole host of things when they say that. The Bible says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world," (James 1:27). That's the verse I usually use as a guide when doing a bit of retrospection in my own life.

The Book of James is my favorite book of the Bible because, I find it the most useful in defining how a Christian should be living their lives everyday. One of my favorite verses is James 1:25, "...the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does." We're supposed to take action on our religion, not keep it retained in our houses, hearts and between walls in a building with a steeple placed prominently on top.

Our pastor keeps referring to a song he likes in his messages, "We've Got to Live our Religion Every Day." I tried to find it on YouTube but it's just not there.

Anyway, the discussion reminded me of what I wanted to post about from Baptist Press (BP) this week, SPLASH people with God's love. It's a new 6 week study. One of the co-authors, Jim Hemphill explained the inspiration for the study in this week's BP featured article:

"I was bathing my grandbaby one day and, by the time I finished, I was wetter than she was. I walked away from that event and the Holy Spirit stopped me and said, 'That's what evangelism ought to look like. You get around Christians who love Me, then you get splashed with living water.'"

SPLASH is an acronym for Show People Love And Share Him. It's a 6 week study of Christ's life on earth and how He demonstrated God's love in every day life, setting an example for how we can demonstrate that love in our ordinary daily life and routines too.

According to the BP article, a SPLASH training seminar was recently held in Nixa, Missouri. Jim Wells, director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa hosted the author in presenting the training to 64 congregations. The article indicated, "A Sunday night rally this past November drew 360 pastors and church members."

I liked the concept so I thought I'd share it. You can read more about SPLASH at the link to BP.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Danged if They Do

City Council will consider future budget cuts today

Lack of communication played a role in the police and fire pension fund getting to the deficit amount it faces today. Some would have liked to have seen more foresight on the part of Springfield's City Council and City management.

Assistant Fire Chief David Hall indicated he began discussing troubles with the pension system's funded ratio in 2003 with, then city manager Tom Finnie. Hall said the board was assured by Mr. Finnie that it would be handled. Hind sight being 20/20, we know it wasn't handled at all.

Another factor, no City Council pension board representative, whether voting or non voting, sat on the pension board during the time frame when this pension "rain shower" became a severe thunderstorm. You can refresh your memory on the communication breakdown by reading the archived issue at the Community Free Press from September 10. Specifically, the story titled, "Pensions Remain Top Council Priority," on page 1.

Today, some are warning "dooms day scenarios" will play out at the City Council luncheon regarding ramifications on future budget discussions if the 1 cent pension sales tax does not pass in February.

So, Council is sort of danged if they do but, what if they don't?

Do we want a Council that will look ahead to the future in an effort to be prepared for a worse case scenario or don't we? I think we do.

One point that is missing however, in this discussion, is the fact that the city bought some time when they paid the full actuarial amount in fiscal 2008-09 and Council approved putting the tax initiative on the ballot in February.

We all know that the pension system needs fixing and sooner, rather than later, because, the deficit amount grows more every day but, if the tax fails in February, the city, by making the full contribution last year and by getting a tax initiative on the ballot, isn't required to make the full contribution in the upcoming fiscal budget. They bought themselves some time.

I hope they'll shoot straight with the citizens of Springfield and give them the whole truth. They bought time that would allow them to look at other solutions or initiate the sales tax proposal again.

Nothing changes the fact that the pension fund needs to be fixed and the problem will not go away without the sacrificial lamb of a huge cash infusion however, the city won't be forced to make severe cuts in the budget next year unless they choose to and, they may choose to but, they need to explain why they are choosing that route rather than presenting it as though it must be done and it must be done in the 09-10 fiscal year.

It is a complicated issue, the new city manager has done a good job of trying to articulate it so the public understands the issue. As long as he continues to do that he also continues to build credibility. If he fails to tell the whole story or tells it selectively? He runs the chance of damaging the credibility he has built.

Burris, early on, when he began pension presentations, indicated if the sales tax doesn't pass in February it will be brought back to future ballots until it does. These scenarios may be a strategy to make it appear they will be forced to make drastic cuts in the upcoming budget if the tax doesn't pass and it may be a beneficial tool to get voters to approve a tax the second time it is presented if it does not pass the first time but, it will be the city's choice, not their mandate.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Things that Make you go, "Duh"

Ball Dropping at Christian County and State Level?

I read with interest a little story in the Springfield News-Leader (N-L) this morning.

It seems that Christian County has been noncompliant in collecting property taxes since 2002, after a 2001 election in which a ballot initiative with a erroneously placed decimal point got voter approval.

One gathers that every year since 2001, the State Auditor's office has notified the Attorney General's office of this noncompliance, which in turn sends out a letter advising the county of their noncompliance.

Christian County Clerk Kay Brown indicated in the N-L article that the Commissioners think it is up to "the board" (the N-L article doesn't identify what "board") to put a new initiative before voters and the board thinks it's up to the Commissioners to do so. So, nothing gets done. Since 2001, nothing has gotten done and Christian County continues to collect more in property taxes than what, technically, the voters approved. To be exact, so far, $2.3 million more.

According to the N-L's article Alice Fast, the State Auditor Office's local government director, said this sort of thing happens in many counties. Fast said it isn't a case of Christian county "scamming" their residents because they "intended" to collect 5 cents per $100 of assessed property value but, the amount actually approved by voters was 5/100th of a cent per $100 of assessed property value and the N-L article doesn't point out what they are "noncompliant" with, other than to say they are "noncompliant in collecting property taxes," perhaps the News-Leader feared using the strong language they might have used, Christian County has been noncompliant with State law in collecting property taxes from their residents and have failed to correct it by putting the issue back on the ballot for 7 years. My goodness, that's a lot of years to be made aware of noncompliance with State law and yet, not take action to correct it.

While the board kicks it to the Commissioners and the Commissioners kick it to the board, the N-L quoted the Attorney General Office's Scott Holste:

"If action was to be taken by our (Attorney General's) office, our authority would be to ask for an injunction to stop an improper tax from being collected," Holste said. "That could happen one or two ways: The taxing authority would lower the voter tax or hold a new election in the spring to have the voters approve the tax rate that the taxing authorities are collecting."

I have to wonder how many years a county has to be in noncompliance of State law in collecting property taxes before the State Attorney General's office deems it worthy of action. Clearly, 7 years hasn't been long enough.

(And just an aside to the N-L, who's "Fox?")