Monday, March 31, 2008

Will City Council Vote Against These Kids?

Before I retired, I was the Southwest Regional Coordinator for the Missouri State Teachers Association. I was involved in a lot of school district levy and bond issue campaigns. I was the treasurer of the 2003 successful Springfield bond issue. I received one of those Star Catcher awards for my work on that campaign. I got the pin stuck in the wood over my work bench in my tool shed. So, I know a little bit of which I speak.

People don't vote against kids in elections. If you can successfully frame the discussion in a school bond issue to be entirely focused on kids and not tax increases or teacher salaries or increasing property taxes, you will have a pretty good chance of success. People won't vote against kids.

Most of the speakers at tonight's city council meeting (I watched it on channel 23 and I spelled the names as I heard them. If I need to correct the spelling of a name, either email me or leave a comment to this post) framed their comments to feature kids. I say most of them did because Stan Melton wanted to let the Ice Park sell beerlike the ball park down the street. He believed beer sales would would increase their revenue and reduce the city subcity. He is probably right. What's a hockey game without beer- boring. The woman who spoke after Melton, Reba Sims, said the parks would cut the pool hours to 4days instead of 5, hurting kids. She said the parks had absorbed $660,000 in mandated raises in the past few years and it wasn't fair to kids to ask them to cut more.

Mayor Carlson, to his credit, said the core mission of the city was to provide minimum basic services and there was considerable debate where the parks department and supporting non-profits fit in that core mission.

Councilman Burlison asked about diverting the park sales tax to fix the pension issue. Some of the tax is going for operations, some of it going for new stuff. I have put forth idea before and, like Councilman Burlison, didn't get a solid answer.

Then, several people spoke against the park cuts, including Rob Baird (non-profits are vulnerable, don't gut them), Terry Reid (don't cut anything that affects children), John Sellars of the History Museum (18.5% of his budget was cut. That 18.5% is only 3/100 of 1% of the total city budget. Cumley didn't seem to understand that, he said we are cutting 7%, not 18.5%, oh well). In between Kevin McAdams suggested selling buildings on a lease/purchase plan. (This worked for school districts, it may work for the city. But it get complicated when the lease nears its end.) Mayor Carlson said prepayment penalties would eat up the gain. Also said some of the properties were on 30 years bonds. City Manager Cumley said it comes to "is Council willing to sell assets."

Tom Martz spoke. He had some good stuff to say that made sense. I was getting a drink while he spoke, but you can read what he had to say on his website. (Tom, if you are reading this, send me a link to your website.) Mayor Carlson asked Martz if he was affliated with any groups, a question he asked of no previous speakers. I thought that was an unnecessary commment, if the speaker was speaking for himself, so be it. If the speaker did not identify himself as speaking for a group, what business was it of the mayor's? It would be akin to wanting to know what political party I identify with before I spoke to council.

Ray Close spoke to the same issues as Martz. Stephanie Montgomery spoke against cutting parks and the zoo. Tom Slate said these cuts would hurt kids and old people. Almost all the speakers against the parks cuts implied that the council was hurting kids by making these cuts. Major Carlson reiterated that parks makes it own mind up what to cut, the city just says cut 7% wherever. Guy Mace spoke against the park cuts, Cindy Stevens spoke against the park cuts. The guy from the Watershed committee spoke against the parks cuts, so did a couple of other people. Basically it was the same message: cutting the parks will hurt kids.

Carl Herd and Fred Ellison also spoke tonight. I am taking their comments out of the order in which they spoke because both of these guys made some interesting and valid point.

Herd said new taxes are not the answer. The best thing that can be done to fix the budget crisis is for the City Council to improve its image. He spoke of the money wasted on the container issue, the matching funds for the square, the Commercial Street TIF and, his personal straw that broke the camel's back, spending $5,000 for a survey to see if the voters would support, a year out, a new sales tax for the fire/police pension.

City Manager Cumley said it was a prudent investment, spending $5,000 to see if the public would be receptive to an election that would cost the city $80,000. Actually, I think it was spending $5,000 NOT to see if the public was receptive to an election but to see if the public WOULD approve a sales tax increase. As I recall, the results of the survey were about even, within the margin of error.

Fred Ellison said that city council and city management were responsible for the shortfall in the pension plan. I agree with that statement. They bear the responsibility. We need to remember that during the next City Council election cycle. Ellison also spoke against a sales tax, it puts an unfair burden on lower income people. I agree with him, a sales tax is a regressive tax. If you make $1,826.00 a week (and we have school officials who do) and you buy $100 worth of gas to fill up your SUV, you are paying less tax than a person who makes $500.00 a week and buys $100 worth of gas for their SUV.

The thing about sales tax is, you sell it to the public by saying that the 'other people' pay for it. Remember the hotel/motel tax? If you don't stay in motels, you don't pay the tax. Ha! just look at these casual encounters ads on the Springfield Craigslist, maybe City Council ought to increase the hotel/motel tax, or start a casual encounters tax? STOP! Before you click on that link to casual encounters, remember the ads contained in that section are placed by adults and are probably NSFW (Not Safe For Work). Dang, Springfield IS the fun place to be!

So, interesting meeting, wish I would have made it in person, I would have had something to say. But nothing appeared to be resolved this evening.

Special to Councilman Wylie, even I know the sales tax rate in Springfield is 7.25%, not the 6.75% or 6.25% you said it was. And the tax you pay on property you own in other towns does not lessen my tax burden one bit.

I would approach this just like I do my family budget. Cut out all the non-essentials. Then, when the bill is paid, we can bring them back. And never forget who got us into this mess. Maybe the City Council and City Management ought to sit down with Mike Cherry for a few sessions.

I have been in this discussion for a long time and I was under the impression that these proposed across the board budget cuts of 7% were to be in effect until the police and fire pension plan stabilized. Then the cuts would be reinstated. Maybe I am wrong, won't be the first time. But I know I am not the only one who got that same message.

The city has a review on the Council meeting on the city connect website. Life Of Jason has his recap of the meeting up and Jackehammer should have it up on her blog soon. All of these blogs are linkable from the links list on the right side column on my blog. The SN-L will have a story on the meeting tomorrow also, I am sure. All of these reports are good reading.

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