Welcome All Chumps
It may have taken me a couple months of breaking down the tax information for everyone, but now I am going to show you how the city is playing us for chumps.
In last year's budget work session, the budget requests were not much unlike this year's.
The 2016 Budget Matters in 2017
Listen closely to this video. You'll hear City Manager Mindy Manson asking council not to reduce the tax rate because she has to pay for everything presented. The main takeaway here is that every year, at every initial budget work session, Manson comes to council presenting a virtual doomsday scenario that requires every penny available to cover expenses. Not to mention the increasing tax revenues they are sure to get above and beyond the "conservative" estimates presented. I say not to mention, because they sure don't.
I know, I know, 2016 is so last year, so why am I going over this now? As we dig into the requests presented in 2016, we can begin to see the picture of how the money flows at city hall.
First, I'll point out that I have no problem paying staff salaries that are in line with other similar communities with similar budgets. I believe staff do a great job representing this city. Just look at City Secretary Carole Ehrlich alone, she is a massive fount of information and even if she cannot stand the blogger who has at times made her life hell, she always has a smile for me. I don't want the city to become a training ground for youngsters who turn around and leave for higher paying city jobs. That just creates lost revenue and productivity.
I agree that every person working in the Police and Fire departments deserve to be fairly paid as well. They hold jobs I certainly wouldn't want to do. I am grateful for every one of them, every day, because we have had to seek their help in the past. Like when my father-in-law had a massive heart attack and they were at his house a block away from mine within four minutes. Also, every time I have had to call the police to report the activity of the highly popular drug dealer on my street, they have been super helpful. These blog posts are not aimed at staff in any way, they are aimed at the executive city leadership and Mayor Eric Hogue, who are playing everyone's emotions while they build a Monopoly empire.
That said, a complicit council has gone along for the ride, certainly for as many years as I've lived here. I have yet to witness any sitting council that has the ability or intellect to understand how budgets and city finance work. Their questions about the budget through the years tell me they are without a clue. That's not to say there haven't been council members who get it, because there have been, but they are beaten down year after year. We saw this with former councilmen David Goss and William Whitney, and now we will begin to see this with Dr. Toby Wallis. As long as the Mayor and Mindy tag team are running the show, nothing is going to change with our taxes. Nothing.
If you want something to change, vote mayor out in three years and demand they fire the city manager. Don't say I neglect to present you with solutions.
I blogged about this almost one year ago to the day in Wylie Tax Rate Kept Artificially High.
An example of the players can be seen in the video above. Mayor and Mindy bantered back and forth about how a 1/2 cent decrease in our tax rate would only result in a measly $20 decrease. At one point Hogue completely dismisses it saying it's "nothing" for taxpayers and Manson agreed, stating how harmful a decrease in tax rate would be to the budget.
The reality is that the decrease was worth far more than their fictitious $20 when applied to my own property value increase. That alleged $20 turned into a $135.11 increase last year. And over, and over, and over again, each year my taxes to the city increased, totaling $561.75 since 2012. You can see from the taxes on my home below where they got really greedy starting in 2015, but it didn't become noticeable to taxpayers until 2016, when escrow notices started arriving in the mail.
Mayor and Mindy's flippant attitude is precisely the problem with this city.
After the budget was initially presented in the video above, they conveniently modified it. With those modifications, they lowered department expenditures and provided a 2 cent tax rate decrease by the time September rolled around and council voted to approve the budget. After all that they still took in that massive $2.9 million tax revenue windfall.
Rainy Day Fund
Note that in the last budget work session in June, Manson claimed that the city needed to keep 30% of the total budget in "reserves", which must be their fancy new name for the "rainy day fund". Back in 2011, an independent auditor told them they needed between 20-25% of budget in the rainy day fund, in order to keep our high bond rating. Suddenly, Manson is suggested that the city needs 30%. I'm calling BS on this one. That is nearly 1/3 of our entire budget and in the current model of dramatically increasing property values, I cannot image the necessity of nearly 1/3 of our budget to hold our bond rating steady. That's preposterous. What's worse, I cannot believe she dared say that with a straight face, or that nobody on council said a word about this ludicrous claim.
When we compare the 2016 budget to the CAFR that was officially audited in January 2017, we can see that the city spent considerably less in certain departments and used the money in other departments.
Notice that public safety, otherwise known as police and fire with a little bit of animal control sprinkled in, was provided with $18,180,607 in the final approved budget, but actually used $17,534,893 under-spending by $645,714.
Also notice that general government expenditures, also known as the city manager's kitchen sink, conveniently overspent by $428,141.
So the police headcount of 61 the city so desperately wanted for the 2015-2016 budget meant the city manager could pilfer a line item she knew full well would never be spent in it's entirety. How did she know? Because there is a clear record of what the city is asking for in headcount and what they actually fulfill each year.
In 2014 alone, the city budgeted 15 new headcount for PD. In September 2014, city council voted to approve a budget with 61 total officers, yet they only had 46 at the time, and they only added 7 of the 15. Obviously the funds "allegedly" available for PD to add headcount were used elsewhere.
Notice, in September 2015 when the 2015-16 budget was passed, they had 53 officers and held eight slots open for the budget for a total of 61. You can see by 2016 they only filled two slots. THIS a game the city manager and Mayor Eric Hogue are playing with OUR money. And this is just the PD's budget. I wonder what FD headcount would look like if I put in the same information request for them?
This is NOT the fault of PD or FD. THIS IS the fault of the city manager and mayor who are playing games and pilfering funds from emotion-based departments in order to have some mad money lying around throughout the year. If they are doing it with PD and FD, they are surely doing it with other departments. And the city council members just bobble their heads in approval. It annoys me greatly that the chiefs of police and fire are being played.
Tugging Your Heartstrings
Our city gets away with it because they tug at the heartstrings of a benevolent taxpayer base, who want to see police and firefighters get what they deserve. I mean, how can we tell them no? Just as our council members stumble over themselves while ingratiating Mayor and Mindy's backsides, they believe they are altruistic in the money grab.
Meanwhile, Mindy and Mayor NEVER intend for the money to go entirely to public safety. The excess funds are always spent or moved elsewhere, like the $645,714 under-spent in public safety, which was then clearly overspent in $393,124 in an ambiguous line item called "combined services general" for 2016.
So, what about that tax revenue windfall of $2.9 million last year? As a taxpayer, wouldn't you expect them to return your money back to you? Nope, they included it as part of the $3,151,965 put in the bank last year, as you can see from the ending fund balances below.
Enter the Hailstorm
Which takes me to the final part of this 2016 video, which played out over the past year. What started out as repair and remodel of the public safety building after the hailstorm, has turned into a full remodel and expansion as heartstrings are tugged at yet again, this time by hail.
The public safety building was damaged by the hailstorm and insurance paid what it would cost to repair the building, roughly $1.2 million plus a yet undetermined recoverable amount. Normally the city would come to us with a bond to build such an expensive building, but how can they? Our taxes have been going up and people have been pitching a fit over it. They certainly can't increase our tax rate without rioting in the streets. So how are Mayor and Mindy going to pay for their expensive building and get away with it?
Had the hailstorm not occurred, rest assured, the city would have come to us for a vote. Instead, when they have so much excess tax revenue coming in and they are stockpiling money, they have no problem paying for not only a repair and remodel, but a $7+ million dollar expansion reported in The Wylie News on May 17th of this year.
You can view the presentation on the total overhaul of the public safety building here. In this meeting that took place May 9, 2017, council voted in favor of ADG architect firm at a cost of $943,880 just for the design plans. That doesn't include construction.
Oh sure, the weepy saps around Wylie are nodding in unison that the PD deserves a nice building, and they do. But nobody came to us to ask if they could use our money to do it. It's just going to be done because that's what Mayor and Mindy want.
What Mayor and Mindy want, they seem to get, even it it means taxpayers lose their homes over it, which is what is taking place as people are moving out at high rates since May. Sadly, people can no longer afford their house payment because of the dramatically increasing property values, coupled with the city's obstinate refusal to adopt the effective tax rate. So as a homeowner, why not take the increase in property values and beat feet out of the highest taxed city in Collin County? It seems our city leaders think that's just a casualty of all these "services" they claim we are getting with the luxury of paying the highest tax rate.
How will the city be paying for these new police digs then? If they combine last year's tax revenue windfall that was put in the bank, with the insurance payout that will total more than $1.6 million, as well as any tax revenue windfall they can scrape off of our backs this year, voilà!
The moral of this story is that on July 18th, at the next budget work session, we'll be lucky if the city adopts any tax decrease at all. Instead, they will fling the back of their hand to forehead and tell us, just like in past years, that the thought of adopting the effective tax rate is simply too much for our budget to bear. What with all those wonderful services we are getting, and all, like a larger library (the 80s called to say there are now actually things called preschools and handheld readers!) and a rec center that has never operated in the black since the day it opened (um, Ballys is calling and they want to run it for you), and all those roads they are building, yup they intend to push for a bridge over Lake Lavon yet again (yawnsville).
Oh, and good luck trying to tell Mayor and Mindy what they can cut from their precious budget. Yup, we're pretty much chumps when only a dozen people can bother themselves to complain about our taxes at a council meeting.
Now back to my schoolwork, for which I am also paying a mighty price.