A Huge Local Government Expense Not Being Disclosed

Hold off on shooting me with the GASB Gun for a minute. Let’s go back to Accounting 101. There is a principle that says you should not record the Net of items that should be separately disclosed. For instance, if you buy a big piece of equipment for $250,000 and get $25,000 for the trade-in or sale of the old piece of equipment, you shouldn’t record the piece of equipment at $225,000. There were two transactions or events. You record the piece of equipment for $250,000 and the sales or trade-in of the old piece of equipment at $25,000.

Two different pieces of information.

Another example where the separation is distinguished is with property tax collections. You record your property tax revenues as a revenue and the cost of tax collections as an expense: sound accounting with a focus on the expense side of things. If you netted the expense into the revenue, you might never see the cost of the contract.

You get a grant for police overtime and record the revenue separately from the overtime expense.

This is pure accounting logic.

Then We Fly Off The Cliff

The State Comptroller collects the sales taxes for every local government in the state. There are 1,658 Cities, Counties, Transit Districts and Special Districts. The Comptroller charges a “fee” of 2% for this service. In the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, the fees collected totaled $183,421,882.77. One year!

So, please show me where any of the 1,658 entities are showing $183,421,882.77 in their budgets or audited financial statements. They are out of the spotlight. And so the years roll by with the expense amounts rolling up. The last 10 years alone, this expense has been $1,471,718,694.39.

Or to take a page out of the Legislative Playbook, accentuated with the obligatory gasp and deer-in-the-headlights look, Local Governments have paid a “fee” that has increased 53.9% in just 10 years. Where is the outrage?

Is This Really a Fee?

A service fee is supposed to bear some resemblance to the the cost of the service. A tax does not. So how much is the cost of service for collecting and distributing sales taxes to local governments? Well, that’s not easy to tell. You can take a look here in an attempt to find out. In all fairness, the cost of service (the numerator) should include all of the direct costs of collecting sales taxes plus administrative overhead and facility costs. Heck, it could even include some kind of return, a few percentage points.

But the denominator should be the 8.25% with 6.25% being borne by the state and 2.00% being paid by the Local Governments. If this is a fee.

The next logical test is that if Local Governments are being charged $183,421,882.77, then are there $756,615,266.43 ($183,421,882.77 / 2% x 8.25%) in sales tax collection costs involved here? I don’t see it in the link above. Not by a long shot.

So, Isn’t It Really a Tax?

Sure looks like it to me. And a huge one! Wow! Talking about ironies. This tax has increased 53.9% in the past ten years. It’s staggering and flies in the face of all the ultra-conservative rants about egregious spending.

What Should We Do?

From everything I can tell, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar is the fairest and most professional state elected official in Texas. In fact, I understand he is assembling local government officials to provide him with feedback on the sales tax processes October 10th in Austin. There should be a plea for him to put the service fee on a true fee basis. Ask him to conduct a cost of service study to show the full costs of collecting and distributing sales tax checks, including the audits.

Then allocation to Local Governments a 2.00% / 8.25% share.

The difference should be refunded to Local Governments.

Or there could be an alternative. Local Governments are spending $millions to hire consultants to find missing or mis-allocated sales taxes. In today’s GIS technology, there is no reason the Comptroller couldn’t provide detailed maps that show that every payer within the boundaries of a local government is being credited to the correct Local Government. It is insane to be paying $183,421,882.77 to the Comptroller and not be able to reduce the extra outside consultant expense of paying for zero-sum overall work. A consultant finds my money being paid to adjacent city, and then finds my city getting money from an adjacent city. That’s nuts.

There is so much more that the Comptroller could do. If a Local Government wants to see their confidential data, and have not requested the data in the past, they can only get the current calendar year plus the previous calendar year. They can’t even pay for the older data, although they could have more than ten years’ worth if they had requested all along. There simply is no excuse for not having access to that data given Local Governments paid the Comptroller $1,471,818,694.39 for services over the past ten years.

I also recommend that Local Governments record the money paid to the State Comptroller as an expense, along with a ten-year history in the Statistical Section of the CAFR. Okay, holster your GASB Gun, and just think through this sizable expense that nobody sees. It’s just not right. LFM

 

TOP 100 SERVICE FEE PAYERS
ENTITY FY 2018 LAST 10 FY
HOUSTON MTA $15,361,118.74 $128,778,118.43
HOUSTON $13,834,219.14 $119,675,201.80
DART $12,102,684.18 $96,457,914.20
SAN ANTONIO $7,123,770.08 $55,973,579.44
DALLAS $6,174,655.08 $50,817,283.63
AUSTIN MTA $4,912,997.85 $37,947,647.15
AUSTIN $4,501,162.52 $35,435,387.02
FORT WORTH $3,170,699.72 $25,015,008.73
SAN ANTONIO MTA $3,076,589.76 $24,641,435.31
ARLINGTON $2,219,554.11 $19,104,724.93
EL PASO $1,822,050.20 $15,694,629.71
PLANO $1,825,602.08 $14,654,342.83
CORPUS CHRISTI $1,601,425.38 $14,375,510.67
AMARILLO $1,556,903.62 $13,866,968.91
ROUND ROCK $1,652,458.97 $13,633,749.50
FRISCO $1,760,066.77 $12,449,367.34
FORT WORTH MTA $1,581,857.22 $12,234,380.67
LUBBOCK $1,423,145.53 $12,083,596.67
MCALLEN $1,256,629.69 $11,975,359.06
FORT WORTH CRIME CTRL DIST $1,498,063.00 $11,509,551.40
IRVING $1,368,553.42 $11,343,913.50
SAN ANTONIO ATD $1,393,679.69 $11,247,208.26
MIDLAND $1,343,112.17 $10,880,266.43
SUGAR LAND $1,064,268.06 $9,296,012.76
GRAND PRAIRIE $1,158,254.94 $9,060,253.59
EL PASO COUNTY $984,366.81 $8,419,147.39
MCKINNEY $1,090,433.95 $8,286,018.26
ABILENE $929,552.21 $8,076,564.57
ODESSA $1,333,220.96 $7,956,553.78
MESQUITE $895,256.60 $7,843,212.97
EL PASO CTD $897,755.60 $7,784,597.54
BEAUMONT $893,369.08 $7,708,526.39
TYLER $872,384.49 $7,702,418.21
GRAPEVINE $858,074.78 $7,617,770.02
LAREDO $847,208.61 $7,588,217.27
CONROE $983,471.07 $7,551,793.18
ECTOR CO HOSP DIST $1,055,593.34 $7,234,169.75
BROWNSVILLE $776,629.29 $6,992,229.32
MIDLAND COUNTY $1,135,900.69 $6,964,687.15
WACO $797,908.34 $6,638,438.31
ALLEN $807,651.79 $6,490,283.11
LONGVIEW $653,952.04 $6,189,432.57
CORPUS CHRISTI MTA $684,638.60 $6,058,247.70
LEWISVILLE $786,461.53 $6,025,063.44
WICHITA FALLS $639,148.79 $5,892,314.81
RICHARDSON $752,399.61 $5,885,538.19
PASADENA $693,306.84 $5,797,550.16
CARROLLTON $800,454.13 $5,711,078.50
COPPELL $781,511.52 $5,546,727.18
DENTON $748,902.86 $5,394,389.41
JEFFERSON COUNTY $614,518.93 $5,128,554.10
PEARLAND $671,736.32 $5,104,639.21
NEW BRAUNFELS $636,155.25 $4,972,018.84
SAN MARCOS $696,280.24 $4,884,031.36
SAN ANGELO $569,693.76 $4,861,878.87
VICTORIA $509,933.03 $4,846,560.21
GARLAND $581,891.15 $4,809,790.45
BRAZORIA COUNTY $683,020.36 $4,693,231.84
COLLEGE STATION $558,512.89 $4,591,624.75
THE WOODLANDS TOWNSHIP $566,894.72 $4,451,978.93
HARLINGEN $515,516.14 $4,319,363.18
DENTON CTA $568,921.08 $4,295,995.78
LOVING COUNTY $501,889.91 $4,167,991.23
KILLEEN $473,129.85 $4,142,585.33
SOUTHLAKE $585,815.19 $4,025,304.40
TEXAS CITY $461,344.06 $3,999,540.80
CEDAR PARK $583,660.03 $3,936,826.55
GEORGETOWN $523,324.40 $3,785,135.05
TEMPLE $443,364.36 $3,785,106.83
GALVESTON $427,354.93 $3,746,206.02
EDINBURG $450,221.71 $3,670,199.59
ROCKWALL $474,143.35 $3,637,845.13
MANSFIELD $467,429.37 $3,604,736.31
THE WOODLANDS TOWNSHIP EDZ $469,257.78 $3,601,842.03
SHERMAN $438,472.36 $3,546,488.54
SMITH COUNTY $373,708.72 $3,296,506.95
BELL COUNTY $391,111.34 $3,289,384.68
LEAGUE CITY $474,237.27 $3,283,983.43
BRYAN $406,889.80 $3,251,463.72
BAYTOWN $441,180.82 $3,196,052.66
WEBB COUNTY $345,070.07 $3,152,808.70
STAFFORD $339,895.96 $3,145,208.76
WEBSTER $359,497.34 $3,074,961.16
HURST $326,454.61 $3,063,773.43
GREGG COUNTY $316,354.01 $3,037,652.00
BURLESON $367,294.36 $3,032,756.95
MCLENNAN COUNTY $367,618.37 $2,981,097.38
TEXARKANA $332,270.03 $2,980,873.77
EULESS $367,093.16 $2,957,350.90
ROSENBERG $405,017.66 $2,935,111.20
THE COLONY $573,739.85 $2,917,157.71
MISSION $308,031.87 $2,916,947.54
PORT ARTHUR $314,769.35 $2,915,125.13
PHARR $372,817.34 $2,871,553.92
BRAZOS COUNTY $364,087.63 $2,834,916.46
HAYS COUNTY $417,860.60 $2,817,597.20
FLOWER MOUND $373,709.84 $2,768,979.25
NORTH RICHLAND HILLS $309,456.92 $2,739,693.78
FARMERS BRANCH $291,967.84 $2,709,455.24
CEDAR HILL $303,371.39 $2,668,111.18

 

Job Needed: Information Ombudsperson

Recently, I was telling a group of City Managers about a job description I wrote several years ago. An attendee asked to receive a copy, which I could not find, so here is my recollection. I hope to someday get all of my articles and essays moved to this blog site. Perhaps I can enlist a granddaughter to help in the future.

The job title, updated to reflect the times, came from me wanting to play off the Input/Output (I/O) computing term. However, the position is much more than IT even though I’d give a full 50% of the necessary skill set to computing sector.

Where do I suggest this position be placed? The Budget Office would be my first choice. This is where data should be directly married to management intellect. I believe the I/O could also be within the City Manager’s Office (CMO), probably reporting to an Assistant City Manager (ACM). Many ACMs reach the CMO via the Budget Office these days. And most City Managers, if honest, would say the ACM position is the best job in the House.

The I/O must be able to speak the language of management and to think like a manager. They must be politically savvy yet not be political. They should also be able to think like a crook.

The I/O must be able to transform operating data into management data. I’ve witnessed software systems being purchased over the last four decades on the basis, hope and promise of management data, analyses and reports. In fact, many if not most software systems produce operating data that in turn generate slightly higher level operating data. But not managerial data.

Operating data include registers, ledgers and details ad infinitum. Management data includes summaries, exceptions, graphical representations and the ability to slice and dice that information in multiple ways. Implied in the transformation of operating data into management data is the need to gobble tons of data in a way that makes sense such that the data can form the basis to support a decision.

Free to Stay in the Research & Development mode

If there is tragedy in data analysis, it is due to a lack of freedom to get into and stay in the R&D mode. If you try to use process people with a full plate to advance into data analytics, then forget it. Process people are budget analysts or accountants or just about anybody dedicated (or trapped) by operating cycles that allow no breathing room to think, explore and develop a skill-set. Even Project people with a full annual schedule of duties are unlikely to be able to take on and advance/excel in data analysis. And there is nothing worse than stop-start situations where one cannot remember where they left off once they pick up an old analysis effort.

The Tools

Obviously the first tool to reach full potential as a data analyst is Excel. To go way beyond basics, the I/O must master some of the more powerful features of Excel that can lead to super models and analyses. The first thing that might come to mind are the use of Excel micros. However, there are many more tools that need to precede macros, and I could make an argument that you can make quantum leaps in number crunching without macros.

The single most powerful tool in Excel is the ability to build pivot tables. This blog is not capable of focusing on the details of Excel features, but the easiest and most powerful tool is the ability to build a pivot table so that a large amount of data can be analyzed with built-in drill-down features to go from high summaries to the lowest detail with ease.

Excel can also import data from a number of sources, such as SQL Server. SQL is how most databases are constructed and stored for everything from your accounting and utility billing systems to building permitting.

However, it isn’t long before the capacity of Excel is challenged even though you can have 1 million rows and 15,000 columns of data in Excel. SQL Server has virtually no capacity limits. Along with database management, there are power SQL query and analytical tools. Yes, now you are stepping into computer program language territory, but one should not fear in light of the results one can get from SQL. However, you cannot dabble in that the skill-set comes with practice, practice, practice. I understand that some business schools and accounting programs now require multiple courses in SQL. There is a reason that is so. One leaps into a broad and powerful world of data analysis with SQL.

The Data Warehouse

Watch the face of your IT Manager when they learn you want to tap into “their” SQL databases. They have a right to be concerned, but they should not be if they are proactive. A tell-tale sign of assistance and cooperation is when you want a data analyst to have access to accounting and other data systems and get a roadblock as opposed to a suggestion to use a data warehouse. In essence, you want to be able to play with the data yet not touch the live systems. For instance, if you wanted to take a deep dive into your A/P system or your Utility Billing system, a data warehouse would include a download of the live system to a separate location as of the night before. Or it could be refreshed upon demand throughout the day. What’s the problem if I am not touching the live data?

Examples

I want to look at the details of our p-card spending by person by vendor for the past five years. I want an aging of our water meters, including the number of meters with over 1 million gallons of water in our system. How many batteries have been replaced in our fleet by vehicle over the past three years? How much overtime is being used in the past 10 years as employees approach retirement and might be spiking their pay? How much salary lag have we accumulated in the system so far this year? Are our water loss and unaccounted for numbers getting better or worse?

I can think of hundreds more, and you could, too.

The Danger Ahead

Several things have been happening over the past decade or so. More elected officials work for organizations where management data is derived from operating data and being made available to them in their operating and executive capacities. They often are appalled at the questions they want answers to that are met with, “we don’t know” or “we don’t have access to that information.” WHAT??? We have $millions invested in information systems and can’t get these logical questions answered?

If you haven’t noticed, the news media have been adding in-house talent or have been contracting with third-parties to analyze massive amounts of public data. So, they ask for a download of your utility bills or your check registers (already online) and then produce an exception report that is placed back into your hands as a story you should already know.

And the local complainers and watchdogs, many retired with analytical skills, can have a field day doing as I have explained.

Conclusion

In this day of forensic audits, you cannot be caught with someone outside your organization telling you something about your business you should already know. But this is not simply a plea for a defensive posture I am talking about here. It’s a plea for professional management.

I often open up a presentation with a statement like “while you are listening to me for the next few minutes, somebody is stealing from you this very minute.”

What I do know is that when something blows up, nobody gets thanked for the lean and mean staffing that also may equate to a lack of oversight where it should be.

But here’s the good news. Take one good analyst and give him or her three things. The right tool set; the authorization to explore any and all systems other than the confidential police data; and the time to be left alone to explore and build queries that can be run to look for exceptions.

I predict the payoff will be big. It will be in the form of trends you otherwise didn’t see happening or heads up to explore yellow flags. It wouldn’t be long before the organization fully realized that everything from operating statistics to revenue performance to spending is under healthy scrutiny. LFM

 

What Does This Troll Have to do with Managerial Problem Solving?

 

Troll

This Troll is located under a bridge in Seattle, Washington several miles from Bill & Melinda Gates’ $68 million home. I saw it on a bus tour on Saturday. It is visited night and day by kids, families and sightseers. How could you resist the invitation to go look for the troll hiding under a bridge? You can see the pedestrian bridges coming down both sides. That’s a full-size VW in his left hand. The hubcap resides in his left eye. There is a road in front of the troll to see it by driving under the bridge.

But this is end the of a story. Let’s work our way back to the beginning. The troll is the product of a neighborhood contest. A group was formed to come up with an artsy idea, and this was the result. A grant was provided to construct this attraction. Great idea, right?

Yet the motivation wasn’t to support the arts. The purpose of this troll was to solve a problem. A very ugly problem. This was the site for nightly drug use at the height of heroin addictions in Seattle. Police detectives were being called to this location almost nightly to deal with overdose problems. If detectives were called, then you know this was a death-related call – the kind that sends a team of people seeking the cause of death and another team seeking the drug dealer or murderer, either the direct or indirect cause of death.

Let’s Enumerate the Team

At the risk of stating the obvious, let’s count off the people who might be involved in just one case like this. I’m sure I’m leaving some group out, but this is from memory.

  1. Police call takers and dispatchers.
  2. Police patrol squad.
  3. Police Detective Investigators.
  4. EMS.
  5. Public Hospital Staff.
  6. City Morgue.
  7. Pauper Burials.
  8. Crime Scene and Crime Lab Personnel.
  9. Jail Facilities and Personnel.
  10. County Criminal Court Facilities & Staffing.
  11. District Criminal Court Judge and Administrative Clerks.
  12. Two Criminal Bailiffs for Court.
  13. Two Criminal Bailiffs for Criminal Transport.
  14. A Court Reporter.
  15. Two Criminal District Attorneys & Investigative Staffs.
  16. Two Court Appointed Defense Attorneys.
  17. The Jury Fees & Lost Time for Jurors.
  18. Expert Testimonies.
  19. Prison Facilities & Personnel for Decades, perhaps.
  20. Probation Officers & Support Staff.

Back when I was the Dallas County Budget Officer in my early career, I priced out the cost of just one trial. It was staggering back then, so I can only image the sticker shock today.

May I remind you that I mentioned the calls for overdoses and murders were routine. And it was just for this one location.

So, what if this wasn’t such an easy place to do drugs? Oh, and did I mention this problem in turn was creating a blighted area well beyond the spot in question as do all neglected areas where crime is left to move in?

That’s what the City in general and this neighborhood in particular wanted to address.

There is always the conventional alternative, and that is to keep adding costs triggered by one murder multiplying into 20 different areas of specialty – all at premium costs. Can you imagine the General Fund budgets for the City and County governments bloating up? Much worse, the money would grow as the problem grew, but not a thing would necessarily be done to solve the problem.

How do you stop that one murder from happening?

Lights, people and traffic motivated to come see an attraction was their answer. An investment instead of an expense. Hey, the protective shelter for Mr. Troll was already there! And imagine this – an art project investment turns into an economic development stimulator as the immediate area was reclaimed without corporate welfare!

Comments & Conclusion

If your first response is that all this did is to move the drug users and dealers to another location, then you have just revealed something about yourself. You are worthless as a problem solver.

Here is what I do know. The tax caps and cuts that are coming are real and will likely be severe, especially as they become cumulative over a period of a few years and then compounded by an economic downturn where real losses cannot be restored politically.

It’s. Going. To. Happen!

Here is a companion comment and a few questions. How many people working for you right now would be hired/re-hired today knowing what you know about them and their productivity right now? For each one of them, what are you doing to train/re-train, mentor, motivate, discipline or terminate? How many of them have 1 year’s of experience 20 times vs 20 years of continued growth in responsibility and contribution?

How many are good people, but they have just become way too expensive as the numerator has climbed with raises and generous benefits while the denominator has diminished with extra holidays, vacation days and sick leave days?

More than once in my career I have had city managers and department heads yelp like they had their legs chopped out from under them from a cutback – only to tell me privately that it was one of the best things that could have happened to make them step up to earn that part of their paycheck that includes making hard decisions they had been hesitating to make.

On The Other Hand

If your first response from the Troll story is that the demand side of your workload has got to be addressed, especially for services that require 24x7x365 coverage, then I apologize for scolding and only wish to provide encouragement.

I don’t like the way things are going with citizens and elected officials caring less about who gets hurt, that there is only one priority – cut taxes. I am working hard to provide analyses to show the fiscal impact for every city, county and school district in Texas. You should have already seen my report.

But you know what? They don’t care about facts. And I hear that nothing sets them off like being threatened with the consequences to public safety. I’ve even heard that one State Senator responds to that threat with “sometimes a few people may have to die.”

Here’s the deal. There are only a dozen or so ways to balance a budget. Improving Productivity is the first and Raising Property Taxes is last. LFM

Budget Balance Options

(I’m writing a more complete blog on these alternatives as soon as I can)

  1. Improve Productivity. $Impact: High.
  2. Defer Needed Spending (kick the can down the road, compounding costs) $Impact: High.
  3. Trim Expenditures. $Impact: Low.
  4. Reduce Program Service Levels. $Impact: Medium.
  5. Eliminate Programs Altogether. $Impact: Usually High.
  6. Don’t Start New Programs Requested by Citizens. $Impact: High.
  7. Refuse Unfunded Mandates. $Impact: Medium to High.
  8. Use One-Time Solutions (i.e. Reduce Reserves). $Impact: Medium.
  9. Shift the Burden (ie. To employees or another government). $Impact: Medium.
  10. Charge New Fees for Service. $Impact: Low to Medium.
  11. Increase Existing Fees for Services. $Impact: Low to Medium.
  12. Raise Property Taxes. $Impact: Medium to High.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The McKinney Elephant NOT in the Room

Let’s keep this simple:

  • Commercial and Industrial taxpayers cost less to serve than Residential.
  • The tax rates in cities that have a high Residential to Non-residential ratios are generally higher.
  • McKinney has a relatively high R:NR Ratio. And it has grown significantly higher in the last two decades as we have added many, many residential rooftops.
  • Just about everybody running for McKinney City Council in recent years have had a big plank in their platform acknowledging everything I’ve said up to this point AND pledging that they are going to do something about it to lower taxes.
  • Now comes the issue of raising the tax exemption for homeowners over 65 from a gigantic $60,000 to an even larger $65,000. Who can resist the opportunity to lower property taxes for the voting class, especially those over 65? Exactly nobody.
  • But here’s the catch. Every exemption for one taxpayer is a tax increase for another taxpayer. In most cases, the burden is added to the Non-Residential class + Apartments + Renters.

Watch the video from the Council meeting of June 19. Mayor Fuller tried to make the points outlined above. I don’t think he used the word “irony” in his comments, but that was the centrality of his message. The plea was to no avail. In the drama of a patriot explaining why he or she would die for their country, it was clear that most council members were going to vote to raise the exemption. So, Mayor Fuller makes the motion to approve the exemption increase himself. Good for him.

Where’s The Frigging Elephant in the Room?

There was not a single member of the business community there to explain the irony and the issue of making it attractive for businesses to come to McKinney. Wait, before you shoot me with the gospel gun, I know that there are many reasons for a business wanting to locate to any particular city. I can list them all. Fair treatment to the business community is just one of the signals that we want everybody to be part of the family here.

We spend a lot of money giving economic incentives to attract new businesses. Where was the McKinney Economic Development Corporation Board to at least make the points the Mayor was trying to make?

Thanks a lot big talkers who go to Chamber luncheons to make each other feel like you’re important and to talk about prosperity in McKinney. Thanks a lot MEDC for letting the Mayor twist in the wind while he was trying to keep a good balance between Residential and Business tax burden.

Oh, I forgot. You want somebody else to put their name and reputation on the line while you raise a glass to McKinney today and look only for opportunities to help YOU. If being on the MEDC Board is a stepping stone for being elected to the Council someday, why would you want to speak up for the McKinney headed for more imbalance in the decades ahead? The two-year vision you have while serving on the Board is quite revealing.

We stand behind you, Mayor! Waaaaayyyyy behind you. I expect there might have been a few from the Chamber or MEDC who called the Mayor after the meeting to pat him on the back for trying. You are of the most cowardly and selfish people walking the streets of McKinney.

Business Community, MEDC: you got what you deserved. And there will be more shifted to you in the future. The new guys will get incentives for coming. You will get shafted for staying quiet. LFM

Should McKinney Refund $29,770,931 to Taxpayers from Excessive Taxation? You Make the Call!

McKinneyFB

Municipal budgets are a compilation of tons of numbers. The focus is usually on Revenues & Expenditures. However, not to be overlooked are the resulting Fund Balances, both the incremental addition or drawdown for any particular year as well as  the cumulative Balances.

Fund Balances should be clearly highlighted in a budget. They should also be viewed in light of the overall expenditures in each fund. There are several “funds” such as the General Fund, The McKinney Economic Development Fund, The McKinney Community Development Fund and the Water & Sewer Fund. The largest is the General Fund where most of the property taxes, sales taxes, franchise taxes and building permit revenues can be found. Also, the Police, Fire, Parks & Recreation Departments and most all typical city tax-supported services can be found in the General Fund.

The McKinney General Fund budget indicates a financial policy desired minimum Fund Balance of 90-days of Expenditures or about 25%. That’s pretty healthy. I also wouldn’t consider a 120-day balance or about 33% to be excessive but rather very healthy.

While the Budget documents are of value, I consider them secondary to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which are the audited financial statements for a government entity. You will note from my table above that I have recapped some key number from the last 10 years of CAFRs for McKinney. These CAFRs are available at this link. The pages from the CAFRs I am using to compile my table can be found here.

To summarize my table and the CAFR schedules behind it, the City of McKinney has continually under-budgeted Revenues and over-budgeted Expenditures. Sure, there will be a variation out of a 10-year view, but the story is unmistakable.

The supporting schedules also show the changes between the Original Budget, the Revised Budget and the Actual Results. The Revised Budget figures are often shown late in the year about the time the Budget is presented to the City Council. That would be right about now as the City Council Budget Workshop is scheduled for tomorrow August 4th, when there are less then 60 days remaining in the Fiscal Year (October through September).

I would like to think that such a sophisticated staff as McKinney has, with all kinds of software and computing power to slice and dice the financial data, tailor queries and such, could stand flat-footed in August and get a very close estimate of the year-end actual numbers a few weeks away.

As you can see, the Actual results show the General Fund Balances to be well in excess of 120 days or 33% year after year for a decade. As of the end of September 30, 2016, the Fund Balance in the audited financial statements totals $65,606,029. When compared to Expenditures of $108,998,422, the metrics are 220 days or 60.19%.

If you compared to 120-days, the excess would be $29,770,931!

So, what could be done or should be done with that excessive amount? First, you would have to convince the City Manager that it is excessive, because he argues just the opposite. Actually, all you have to do is convince the City Council, the policy makers who adopted at the staff’s recommendation for a General Fund Balance level of 25% at a minimum.

Ah, nobody said anything about a maximum!

Would the City be in dire straits if the Property Tax Revenues had been $29 million less in recent years? Hardly. But you make the call. I want to see somebody stand up and tell me that $25-35 million at 120-days is too skinny.

Could the $29 million have been spent to buy 2-3 downtown garages out of cash and the City still be in sound financial condition? Yes. Or the same spent on a new city hall or on any kind of infrastructure needs? Yes.

Could or should the $29 million be returned to the Taxpayer since the rates could have much much lower in recent years and the City still be fiscal responsible? I think so, but you make the call. The $29 million excess got there because of unneeded taxation, pure and simple.

Has a refund like this ever been done before in the region? Yes, Farmers Branch did so many years back. They called it a dividend to the taxpayers.

Does the City have excessive reserves in other Funds? Yes, download the most recent CAFR and take a look. You will be blown away.

Did the City Council sitting in early 2017 when the FY 2016 CAFR was presented to them and accepted by the Council understand the General Fund had a $65 million balance? Dunno. Ask the three still on board or call up the four still active in the community. What about the current Council members? Dunno either. Ask them.

What is the staff projecting for the contribution to the General Fund Balance (or drawdown) going to be as of the end of the fiscal year in 60 days? I’m told a decrease of $381,105. And for FY 2018? I’m told it will be zero, that Revenues and Expenditures will be exactly the same.

We shall see.

Will Fund Balances even be discussed at tomorrow’s Budget Workshop?

Tune in.

LFM

 

 

A Few Governance Wishes on July 4th

It was only a couple of months ago that I had high hopes of there being a big turn in political leadership in McKinney. Then it happened in grand style. A corner was turned and now the road ahead looks promising. I’m not expecting 7-0 votes on every issue by any means. But I see possibilities for new unities that serve the good of McKinney. That wish of mine is happening – yet to fully unfold, but the formation is visible and tangible. And it is beautiful!

I only wish that the Citizens of McKinney would wake up and get active to assure a more balanced, reasonable and business-like approach to politics and governance for the long-term. For political extremists like the Tea-Party to control or unduly influence city politics is flat wrong. Unlike County, State and Federal government, most of the municipal services are here because the Citizens asked for them. We want safe neighborhoods, recreation, parks, libraries and senior programs. We are here for a Quality of Life to meet our needs in the Maslow sense.

A reasonable person knows those things we want and asked for do not come free. We have a right to ask for these services, and the municipal government has a duty to provide them as efficiently as possible – and to require a reasonable payment for those services. That’s why we became a Home-Rule City about 155,000 citizens ago.

It is easy to count off the obvious services that are mostly paid for by property and sales taxes: Fire, Police, EMS, Parks, Recreation, Libraries, Streets & Lighting, Median Maintenance and Property Code Enforcement. There are many, many more services that you would notice only if they stopped being provided.

Based on an average house value in McKinney of $319,000, before exemptions, and current tax rate of $0.573, the tax bill would be $1,827.87. That equates to $5.01 per day per household. Yes, I know all about how to make things look small by dividing by the greatest denominator or look really huge by multiply the tax bill by 10 or 20 years.

But look, this is reasonable arithmetic. We are getting all of these services and paying property taxes equal to a venti Frappachino at Starbucks! Dear Citizen, you have been sucked into the vortex of Tea-Party hate-mongering by unthinking reaction to taxes. They are the cost of providing largely 24×7 protection of life and property in McKinney.

Do I think the taxes are too high? While reasonable, I am 100% positive they could be lowered and should be for the next fiscal year beginning October 2017 and ending September 2018. However, the full answer is too elaborate for this blog. I will be blogging more on this after July 25 when the property values are certified by the appraisal district followed by the obligatory publishing of the Truth-In-Taxation rates two weeks later.

I can talk about lowering taxes and even raising taxes when necessary without my blood pressure going up or down. So long as we are able to keep a perspective!

Since this is My Wish List blog, my point here is that I simply wish elected officials and citizens would do a little homework and keep things in perspective rather than being blindly persuaded to buy into the Tea-Party rhetoric. You are being deceived in the worst way.

For those of you elected largely because you had to subscribe to the Tea-Party propaganda to get elected, I wish you would simply think for yourselves. It is obvious when you are being sent text messages on the questions to ask. Or when your vote doesn’t match the expression on your face.

Collin County

I believe the same hysteria applies to Collin County politics. You can be conservative and still be responsible. County government is a little different. They deal mostly with the ugly services. That is the phrase I have used since the 1970s when I worked for county government for a couple of years. I actually love county government. They deal with the criminal justice system, mental health and other services that fulfill the State’s obligation. They are the chief administrative arm of the State. Who steps up to bury or cremate the dead pauper nobody will claim? That would be Collin County.

With the average Collin County home value being $339,000 and a tax rate of $0.208395, the annual tax bill (before exemptions) would be $706.46 or $1.94 per household per day. So, it is appalling to me when Collin County won’t pay their bills instead of protecting the Tea-Party Darling, AG Ken Paxton. C’mon, County Judge Keith Obvious and Commissioner Chris Oblivious. Get real. Actually, Get out! A robot can be programmed to say NO!

I wish for a Commissioners’ Court that would simply be realistic and honest rather than being puppets for the Tea-Party. I wish for a Court that would be more of a regional participant. I wish for low taxes but not at the expense of deferral in needed spending or to siphon off of Dallas County for indigent health care while recklessly blaming them for stepping up to the responsibilities Collin County shuns.

I wish for Commissioner Court leadership that engenders a more collaborative relationship with Collin County cities. Collin County is not an island within the region and the Commissioners’ Court is not an island within the county itself.

Our future is too important for Tea-Party control to annihilate basic good business decisions that affect everyone over the next several decades. I believe the Tea-Party to be the essence of evil motives without regard to reality.

Please, Dear Citizens. Get educated. Get involved. Help Collin County find a balance that is fair and reasonable. Put the people in front of and above politics. We have a chance to make this great county become even greater. Elect collaborators and communicators who can think for themselves and make informed decisions on their own. LFM

 

When Conservatism Stinks

I hate labels. But I know we can’t escape using them. I’m conservative for the most part, but then I’m not a Republican (although I’ve always voted so while pinching my nose) and certainly don’t buy in to the Tea Party mindset of “just say no often and loud and ignore reality.” And add Patriot to the description so the positions can look iron-clad and justified. Fact is, I don’t like any extremes.

But I am a human. And a Citizen. And neighbor. And a Religious Person.

I support a few charities like Hope Women’s Center in McKinney. But I don’t go to their dinners any more – the banquets where some of Collin County’s finest conservatives stand up and plea for help for a good cause in the region. There are many good causes. And there are several agencies that help. I heard the number of charities in McKinney alone reaches way past several dozen, way more than I would have guessed. And of course, Collin County churches are always there to help. Help to feed and clothe and counsel.

But not to treat for health needs, especially critical health issues.

If Collin County leaders were as caring as they sound when asking for money and help at banquets, we would have our own hospital for indigent care. Oh, calm down. I can hear the Political Conservatives shouting and levitating off their cushy seats at the horrible thought of imposing on a taxpayer to help someone less fortunate.

The cry is first and foremost how poor people are that way because they are lazy. And some are, I’m sure. But what about those who are genuinely in need? And just exactly who makes that call? Would County Judge Self and Commissioner Chris Hill volunteer to stand at the door of Parkland Hospital when a Collin County indigent is rushed in by ambulance or simply taken there by choice so they could hold up their thumbs up/thumbs down sign? Easy enough to sit at the Dais while the real boots on the ground look a person of need in the eyes.

I was the first County Budget Officer in Texas when hired by Dallas County in 1977 after enabling legislation was passed to allow the Commissioners’ Court to prepare a budget instead of the County Auditor appointed by District Judges. The Commissioners’ Court did not prepare the budget for Parkland Hospital, but they had to approve it. Therefore, I had my first introduction into the issues surrounding a public hospital in the late 1970s. There were many.

Of course, one of them had to do with the high costs of a hospital. Extremely high costs. And then the linkage to the cost-drivers, number of people served. And the inability to pay. Whoa! And then the lopsided issue of people being served who came from outside of Dallas County! Although entrants were screened for the ability to pay, and even more pressure was put on Parkland to tighten the standards, it was an imperfect system. And I’m sure it is still so. But it was not an open-door policy by any means.

The ability (and yes, even the willingness) to pay issue has not gone away forty years later. It has only grown in size. So, I have a question to ask of every Collin County citizen/taxpayer. If the situation was reversed with Collin County treating Dallas County’s indigent people, what would you do? And if another county’s response was “tough luck, sucker, the problem is there because you Collin County weaklings just don’t know how to say NO, how to slam the door in the face of the needy,” what would be your reaction?”

For the last 11 years, I have lived in Collin County. For almost six decades before that, I lived in Dallas County with a few years in Denton County. My view is the same: Take care of your own; pay your fair share; do the right thing! DO THE RIGHT THING!!!

But that’s not the response from the Ultra-Conservative, Tea-Party driven Collin County leadership manifested in two men and their backers. And that’s wrong on so many levels that I want to puke.

I was set to blog about the topic this morning after a news story came out a few days ago. Then this columnist below penned his views that included my thoughts and even some of the exact phrases I was going to use. I will take advantage of his writings to complete my comments on this topic.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the day when the Conservative Extremists of Collin County find a balance and do what is right.

Oh, did I just hear you say, “move if you don’t like it.” No way. I’m here for the duration, dude. You move. Actually, just drop your intoxicating mantra, do a group hug, step up to the plate and be responsible citizens. You are the weaklings whose days are numbered. One can be conservative and still say Yes to a need.


 

How dare Dallas County’s neighbors bite the hands that treat them at Parkland

Dallas Morning News
Written by
James Ragland, Columnist

It’s bad enough that Dallas County’s public hospital has become a lifeboat for so many uninsured people across North Texas.

We don’t need our richer neighbors up north in Collin County mocking or maligning us for doing the right thing — especially when we’re required to do so by law.

We need them to chip in.

Here’s the long and short of it: Without Parkland Memorial Hospital’s excellent trauma and emergency-room care, we’d have a bunch of people — especially those without insurance — suffering longer or dying sooner.

That’s not a polite thing to say, but it’s true.

Thanks to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act — a 31-year-old unfunded mandate from Uncle Sam — Parkland can’t turn away anyone coming through its emergency department even if they’re without insurance or the means to pay.

With 600,000 uninsured people in Dallas County alone, you can see how big of a potential burden that is on our hospital and our taxpayers.

But guess what? It doesn’t stop there.

We’re picking up the tab for out-of-county patients, too, as my colleague Naomi Martin recently reported.

Uninsured and indigent patients from across North Texas are benefiting from Parkland’s mandated largess — to the tune of $27.4 million last year alone.

This has been going on for decades.

And you know which out-of-county patients benefit the most from Parkland’s expert care and generosity? That would be Collin, the seventh most populous county in the state and one of the wealthiest based on per capita income.

Still, patients streaming in from Collin County last year cost the hospital $6 million. If you’re hoping we’ll get any of that money back, don’t hold your breath.

That’s a huge and bitter pill for Dallas County taxpayers to swallow. The one-sided deal strongly suggests that Collin and other counties aren’t able — or willing — to take care of their own.

Except — hold on — that is not the way Collin County Judge Keith Self spins it. Instead, he blames Parkland’s “liberal policies” for catching nearly 6,000 Collin County residents in its health care safety net last year.

“These are not indigent citizens,” Self said. “These are people who don’t pay their bill, they’re uninsured.”

In other words, the judge is saying his county is home to a bunch of deadbeats. Perhaps Dallas should figure out a way to slip that into its corporate recruiting brochures.

Anyway, in a tone reminiscent of the partisan bickering coming out of Austin and Washington — and we see where that’s gotten us — Self shamelessly throws salt on the wound by blaming Parkland’s CEO, Dr. Fred Cerise, for the hospital’s dilemma.

“If he’s got very liberal policies — I’m not going to comment on Parkland hospital policies that give more generous health care,” he said.

This is what happens when you’re a blue county in a red state: No do-good deed goes unpunished.

Parkland Hospital slashes 300 jobs amid budget cuts

What the Republican judge fails to acknowledge, however, is that this is far more complicated an issue than Parkland being too generous with taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

About half of Collin County’s 110,921 uninsured residents are eligible for indigent care. And it’s true, as Self mentions, that Collin isn’t the stingiest of counties in Texas when it comes to taking care of the indigent.

But the county simply doesn’t have a big enough safety net. And its health providers still can turn away people who don’t qualify for the network of services it offers.

That’s why so many out-of-county patients end up in emergency rooms — mostly Parkland, which happens to boast some of the best trauma care in the nation.

To be fair, not everyone in Collin County shares the judge’s harsh, if not downright ungrateful, judgment.

Some, like Rick Crocker, head of a homeless shelter in McKinney, understands the critical role that Parkland plays in saving lives. And he agrees that that Parkland “can’t bear the entire burden of this” alone.

It’s a “shared responsibility,” he said.

It sure is. And what we need is a regional partnership coupled with a cost-sharing strategy that takes into account the special role that Parkland plays in North Texas.

More pointedly, we need our suburban neighbors to step up to the plate. And, for once, they need to leave partisan politics out of the mix.

Last I checked, Parkland’s ER doctors don’t ask any of its patients whether they’re “liberal” or “conservative” before treating them.

They simply want to know where it hurts.

For Dallas County taxpayers, we know the answer: That would be the pocketbook, followed closely by the condescending rebukes from suburban politicians who should know better.