Is McKinney Sandbagging Revenue Estimates?

McKinney is asking for citizen input for the upcoming budget at tonight’s meeting. Since most citizen comments are limited to only three minutes, I am opting to blog my observations on sales tax revenue assumptions.

I monitor sales tax revenues for every city, county, transit authority and special district in Texas every month. That would be over 1,600 local governments. Due to the beating levied on the oil patch regions in Texas, the total collections have been relative flat for about 18 months. But the total $8 billion annual local government base has been stable and is now growing again.

However, while many regions have suffered, that is not the case for others such as in North Texas. The collections have been robust in the DFW area. Let’s look at McKinney in particular. On a Rolling 12-month (R12) basis, there has been constant growth at an impressive rate since the Great Recession. As of April 2017, the City has collected $48,852,787 in the last 12 months, the highest ever. Just about every month is another record breaker.

The annualized growth rate is 11.34%! The R12% is the most telling and sensitive indicator of growth. It will announce slowing, peaking, bottoming and recovering points way before you can grasp the changes in dollars. The R12% is an incredibly robust metric for McKinney. Double-digit growth is difficult to sustain. But half that amount isn’t.

April 2017’s check was $216,062 higher than April 2016 or 6.57% more.

By the way, you can see the anomalies such as the positive $5 million + Audit Adjustment McKinney received back in 2011. The R12 spiked for exactly 12 months and then returned to its strong growth trend.

But let’s shift our attention to the Sales Tax Per Capita calculation. On a statewide level, Texas local governments are receiving $161.86 per capita on a 1-cent basis. McKinney is collecting $139.32 on that same basis. That can be translated into $3,951,225 below average or twice that amount since McKinney collects the full 2-cents allowed for local governments. But we knew that even before the City spent money to have a “leakage” study done in recent years.

McKinneySalesTaxChart

But let’s put $139.32 per capita into perspective. I prepared the chart below a few months ago and have not updated it. However, the value remains. It is instructive to look at McKinney’s Sales Tax Per Capita when you can see several years of history and adjust the calculations for inflation (CPI).

You can see the fluctuations that come from a mix of population growth and economic peaks and valleys.  You can see clearly where McKinney has been in recent years. This metric was $133.26 at the end of the fiscal year 2016. I had projected that it would rise to at least $137.81 at the end of the current fiscal year and then up to $139.61 at the end of FY 2018, the budget year for which input is being requested. I was intentionally slightly conservative. I used an inflation rate of 1.75% when it is likely to be above 2.00%.

This estimate translates into the following, again, on a 1-cent basis:

  • FY 2016 $23,594,961 Actual without any audit adjustments.
  • FY 2017 $24,917,139 or 5.60% higher than FY 2016.
  • FY 2018 $26,367,347 or 5.81% higher than FY 2017.

So, there’s my input.

PerCapita

In looking at the agenda packet for tonight, I find a presentation that indicates a sales tax growth rate of 2.06%! It does not say whether the growth rate is going to be applied to the 2017 Budget, the 2017 Revised Budget or any other base. That’s important. It appears to be scientific in that it is the composite of the Fed Median GDP Projection; the 10-Year Dallas Fed PCE; the 10-Year Rolling Average; and the Low 5-Year Average.

Hold on a second. I’m not sure any those are logical linkages. Here is what I do know. I have prepared some very sophisticated sales tax modeling algorithms in my career. And no matter the degree of complexity or academic statistical excellence I worked into the model, my last step had to include dividing the numerator by the denominator (residential population and employment) to come up with a Sales Tax Per Capita value.

Questions Abound

On the surface, the concept of making conservative estimates sounds noble and smart. But here is the problem. Actually, there are several problems. If you are too conservative (lowering revenue estimates and raising expenditure assumptions), then what is there to manage?

One can brag about how the spending came in under budget. Big deal. Not to hard to do with enough padding.

One might even brag about how money has been “found” mid-year to come in and save the day for new need, especially a political need. In my career, I have seen how eventually nobody needs to fight for resources during the budget. Just know that the real budget “tightening” will come when the budget is revised mid-year in face of the true income and spending levels. Except “tightening” can turn into new-found money (oh how I hate that phrase).

The net result of being overly conservative, other than the kudos for rescue funding mid-year, is that reserves get boosted. But then that argument gets abused. If you have 60 days of operating reserves, wouldn’t 90 be better? Well, if big is better, then why not build reserves up to 180 days. Where do you stop?

Next, comes the most insincere and most abused argument of them all: “the bond rating agencies want big reserves or else they will drop the bond rating.”

Rage sets in on me. I’ve watched the McKinney finance staff shut down a legitimate question asked by a councilmember by simply invoking the “Bond Rating Agency Threat.” Grounds for dismissal in my book. Especially the Deputy City Manager who directs the financial staff. He knows the game, and recent abuses have been on his watch.

But here’s the deal. The bond rating agencies place a high degree of emphasis on fiscal management, including controls and planning. They will even hang with you if you are in trouble. They mainly want to know a couple of things: 1) do you know you are in trouble; and 2) do you know how to get out of trouble?

Want to know how the bond rating agencies will react to something? Go ask them! They are approachable. Plus you pay them a big fee to be rated.

Here’s something else I know. McKinney is flush with reserves after years of overly conservative budgeting. I won’t be handing out a badge of honor for big reserves when there are legitimate needs for spending – or to cut the tax rate.

And I know this. Overly conservative sales tax budgeting boosts the need for property tax revenues. It works like this. A penny on the tax rate produces about $1,700,000. A one percent change in the sales tax revenue equals about $260,000. Low ball the sales tax revenue by 4% and you need the property tax rate equivalent of $1,400,000 or a TRE of about 6/10 of a penny. ($260,000 x 4) / $1,700,000.

So, do this at the McKinney meeting tonight: ask for the Budget vs Actual for Sales Tax Revenues for the past five years. Ask what the revised FY 2017 sales tax revenue estimate is expected to be now that nearly half the year has gone by. LFM

BTW, if you want to see the first chart for every entity in Texas, you can download my charts I prepare monthly. It’s a big PDF file.

You can view “StatewideCharts201704.pdf” at: https://files.acrobat.com/a/preview/8bd7f399-4e3a-48e0-a717-50b9b92e7125

Are We Chasing Our Re-Tails Too Much?

Are We Chasing Our Re-Tails Too Much?

By Lewis F. McLain, Jr.
President, CityBase.Net
lfm@CityBase.Net

Introduction.

The borders for Retail shopping are disappearing with the exponential increases in online sales. My wife is within a fraction of a percentage point of buying all of our Christmas items online. In fact, we’re close to 100% of all purchases being via the Internet with the exception of food. The red flag was actually raised a few years ago as not just old malls, but relatively new malls have been torn down. We don’t even have time to get nostalgic about a mall before they head toward bankruptcy or the wrecking ball. Worse, when blight attacks strip centers way before the neighborhoods around them, we have a different world to face. You know things are different when there is a Web site called http://www.deadmalls.com.

I’ve been intrigued with the number of studies being conducted in search of Retail Leakage to adjacent communities. We even have all kinds of illogical connections being made in my own City of McKinney where a mayoral candidate is convinced that if we create a Restaurant Row, businesses will be beating down our door to move to our swell town. This is a particularly bizarre movement since McKinney is not without restaurants, and many of them are in areas that fit the definition of a Restaurant Row.

When lunching with a colleague recently, our conversation turned to this concept of chasing pretty things like Retail. His community has an exceptionally large portion of warehouses. You know, those ugly boxes. Those boxes that have a very attractive amount of property tax revenues with a minimal amount of demand on public services. However, if you look closer, there is also an impressive amount of sales taxes that may be associated with inelegant structures in your city.

 

Let’s Look At Some Data.

Below is a recap of Texas cities with a population of greater than 50,000. It is helpful to look at these kinds of numbers before you get dizzy with excitement over some study numbers that give the impression that there are $billions within your grasp if only you know who to chase. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a relatively good picture of where your expectations might be reasonably placed. The average of these cities below is $185.94 on a per capita basis placed on a one-penny equivalent. The median is $169.82 on the same basis.

Yes, there are some wide variances. And without a doubt the main consumer-driven sources make a difference. However, don’t overlook that some of the above-average results are coming from cities with a large portion of business- driven transactions. Remember that the actual correct label is not just Sales Taxes; it is Sales & Use Taxes.

The bottom line is that you need both to have a healthy income stream for both Sales Taxes and Property Taxes. In all cases, realize that there is just so much that can be squeezed out of the consumer. And when squeezed too much (credit cards, HELOCs), a painful recoil is just a matter of time. Before you celebrate that a new Kroger has just opened, realize that you might be seeing an equivalent size grocery store closing within a couple of years. You might be just seeing a zero-sum situation except now you have to figure out what to do with an empty grocery store.

c1

 

Where did I get the Consumer/Business allocation data? Actually, from two places. Similar but different. The first review was from the top level categories as compiled by exact information I have from over 25 cities of all sizes (total population of about 3.5 million in population and with collections of about $872 million in the last year) across the state based on NAICS codes that I have cleaned up. By cleaned up, I mean that many of the codes used by the State are in error. Apple Stores, for instance are classified as Manufacturing vs Retail.

A summary of the scrubbed data is in the table below. To no surprise, the dominant consumer categories are on top. However, you might be surprised at the level of sales tax that comes from Wholesale and Manufacturing and others.

c2

Second, I took each of the cities in my first table and allocated into Consumer vs Businesses groups based on data that can be obtained from the state for all cities and then used my judgment to allocate. It is not scrubbed, but the accuracy should be sufficient to make a meaningful comparison. My allocations are in the table below. No doubt you and I might allocate the Categories a little differently. However, this is the best I can do with the public data I have.

c3

Conclusion.

It seems pretty obvious to me that many cities may be chasing the wrong things for sales tax purposes. It is acknowledged that I am focused only on sales taxes and not the production of property taxes nor on the number pf pure jobs and the pay levels for jobs. I can’t resist being Captain Obvious here by saying go for everything that helps provide a healthy balance in your revenue base.

However, now that Amazon and most of the prominent companies do in fact collect sales taxes and remit based on the city from which the order is placed, the potential for a city to get a substantial amount of retail sales taxes whether you have a business located in your jurisdiction has changed in your favor if you care to have your citizens’ money out of pocket coming back to their home city.

Don’t overlook the other Categories that are likely to generate a substantial amount of revenue and actually be more stable over time. LFM

 

 

 

 

 

Is Texas Charging A Hidden Tax To Local Governments & Citizens?

Introduction.

I fully understand that all local governments (counties, cities, transit authorities and special districts) in Texas are subdivisions of the state. One way to look at that fact is say everything you have, children, is because we gave it to you out of our generosity. Be grateful, stop complaining and leave me alone.

But that is not how I see it.

Local governments are taking a beating from the State in many ways. In small General Law cities (under 5,000 population), the State says we will give you the Charter. You can’t do anything unless the State law says you can. In Home Rule cities (mostly those over 5,000), the State says you can do anything you want unless the State law specifically says you can’t.

Perhaps with at least some justifiable reasons, the State continues to take away local control from cities. Their actions are actually pretty insulting in that the treatment is as if the cities aren’t accountable to the local voters. Again, you are too dumb and evil to be trusted, local governments, so we have to step in to throttle you back as we see fit for the sake of your citizens.

The net result involves several areas of constraints, but the biggest is revenue caps. If we can cut off your oxygen, local governments, we can reform you into good soldiers in our self-professed image.

It’s Two-Faced.

This blog is about an example of how the State is two faced. The mantra is taxes are bad. Actually, that translates into your taxes are bad, local governments, but ours are okay. In fact, here is a deal for you, ungrateful local governments, we will let you charge a sales tax up to 2.00%. This will be added to the State sales tax of 6.25%. Oh, by the way, even though we are collecting sales taxes for us anyway, we will collect and remit your portion. For this privilege, we will charge you 2.00% of your take. We will call it a service fee.

A fee implies there is some rational nexus (logical connection) to the effort it takes to provide a service. Logic would say that the State should charge the local governments about 2.00%/8.25% of the actual cost of the service. The State would recognize (in a logical business setting) that the State’s portion to bear is 6.25%/8.25%.

If the amount paid by local governments is well above the cost of services, then it is a tax.

Whoa, buddy! There goes that nasty word.

So are you saying, Lewis, that the State is taxing the local governments and their citizens?

Well, Let’s See.

Do we want to look at the State’s true cost of service first or the amount that is taxed by the State to the local governments?

I have tried to get the actual cost of service for the Sales Tax Division from the Comptroller’s Web site. It does not appear to be separated. There may be a good reason for that. If you can get me a good number, please send it to me.

Meanwhile, let’s approach this junior high story problem a different way. How much are local governments paying to the State for collecting the local portion of sales tax? I am so glad you asked, because I happen to have that number to the penny.

In the last 12 months, the local governments have paid the State $164,148,777 to handle those collections. In a fair cost allocation model that would mean the entire cost is $164,148,777 divided by 2.00% times 8.25% or $677,113,707.

Do you think it costs the State $677,113,707 to collect sales taxes every year?

I don’t either. To say that is a lot of money is the understatement of the century.

Conclusion.

So, if our State leaders are so emphatic about cutting taxes for the citizens of Texas, as all of their campaign rhetoric states as well as the continuing mantra they chant to local governments, why not do the noble thing:

1)     Determine the real cost of service for sales tax collections.

2)     Charge local governments for their proper share, which is the simple calculation of 2.00% divided by 8.25%.

Otherwise, the State of Texas is imposing a tax disguised as a cost-based fee to the citizens of Texas.

Below is the recap of the annual tax charged to local governments along with the Top 50 payers.

ENTITY GROSS COLLECTIONS 2% SERVICE FEE
GRAND TOTAL

$8,207,438,785

$164,148,777

HOUSTON MTA

$706,588,797

$14,131,776

HOUSTON

$649,877,508

$12,997,550

DALLAS MTA

$549,512,086

$10,990,242

SAN ANTONIO

$326,024,050

$6,520,481

DALLAS

$286,439,874

$5,728,797

AUSTIN MTA

$224,847,374

$4,496,947

AUSTIN

$207,111,910

$4,142,238

SAN ANTONIO MTA

$139,467,030

$2,789,341

FORT WORTH

$139,043,247

$2,780,865

ARLINGTON

$103,856,316

$2,077,126

EL PASO

$84,544,840

$1,690,897

PLANO

$79,127,702

$1,582,554

FRISCO

$76,561,830

$1,531,237

AMARILLO

$76,188,475

$1,523,770

CORPUS CHRISTI

$73,886,344

$1,477,727

FORT WORTH MTA

$69,078,582

$1,381,572

ROUND ROCK

$67,996,147

$1,359,923

LUBBOCK

$66,316,817

$1,326,336

IRVING

$66,009,062

$1,320,181

FORT WORTH CRIME CTRL DIST

$65,433,451

$1,308,669

SAN ANTONIO ATD

$63,220,054

$1,264,401

MCALLEN

$61,739,232

$1,234,785

MIDLAND

$54,979,855

$1,099,597

SUGAR LAND

$53,198,028

$1,063,961

GRAND PRAIRIE

$51,143,821

$1,022,876

MCKINNEY

$46,632,047

$932,641

EL PASO COUNTY

$45,826,233

$916,525

MESQUITE

$43,412,130

$868,243

GRAPEVINE

$42,358,646

$847,173

CONROE

$42,325,549

$846,511

EL PASO CTD

$41,951,196

$839,024

ABILENE

$41,233,710

$824,674

TYLER

$40,309,897

$806,198

ODESSA

$39,931,872

$798,637

BEAUMONT

$39,684,062

$793,681

LAREDO

$39,468,031

$789,361

ALLEN

$37,741,460

$754,829

WACO

$37,621,206

$752,424

BROWNSVILLE

$37,556,119

$751,122

LEWISVILLE

$35,782,795

$715,656

CARROLLTON

$35,274,253

$705,485

RICHARDSON

$33,472,183

$669,444

COPPELL

$33,098,877

$661,978

CORPUS CHRISTI MTA

$32,885,321

$657,706

PASADENA

$32,755,524

$655,110

MIDLAND COUNTY

$32,588,281

$651,766

ECTOR CO HOSP DIST

$31,148,828

$622,977

BRAZORIA COUNTY

$31,121,946

$622,439

DENTON

$30,871,972

$617,439

LONGVIEW

$30,430,549

$608,611

Texas Local Government Sales Taxes Are Flat

One always has to remember that you can drown in a pond that only averages being 6-inches deep. I’ll get back to you on that one.

For the most part, local governments (cities, counties, transit authorities and special districts) take advantage of the maximum sales tax rate of 2-cents. That amounts to just over $8 billion each year. The state collects their 6.25%, so it is easy to see how significant this revenue source is in Texas. They also collect on auto and boat sales while the locals get none of that slice. Sales taxes are one of the major ways we keep from having an income tax in Texas. It is usually either the number one or number two largest revenue sources for the cities’ General Fund, often trading places with Property Taxes. Sales taxes are the Property Tax Rate Equivalent of about $0.35-$0.45.

When you look at sales tax data that is seasonal, while also being tied to the economic cycles (two different factors), it is hard to make sense of it unless you view the data on a Rolling 12-Month basis (R12). That way you are always looking at a year’s worth of data. As you can see in the chart below, the trend has always been to the upside except temporarily during recessions. Texas is not immune from hurting badly when the consumers (70% of the economy) decide to slow down their spending, willingly or unwillingly. There is also a significant amount of business-to-business (B2B) sales and use taxes that make up this important revenue base.

Interestingly, you can use this data to identify the exact month that it was clear to the chart reader that we were entering into the Dot Com recession as well as the Great Recession. We can also see the exact month we had a confirmed bottom. The depth and length of the recessions and the rate of the recoveries are also critical to understand. Part of the understanding of recessions is simple: they happen! Economic cycles are treated as an injury that demands all kinds of rescue efforts and major surgery. Hence the Federal Reserve as well as the Political Machinery jump into action and sometimes do dumb things to prevent a natural economic cycle from playing out as it should.

As a whole, the local governments in Texas have collected $8,040,691,221 in sales taxes for the 12 months ending May 2016. However, the amount collected for the 12 months ending May 2015 totals $7,966,819,038! That’s almost perfectly flat. In fact, we are in our 15th month (it really went flat in March 2015) of almost zero growth.

Even more revealing than the absolute dollars is the R12% growth rate, the red lines. This is a more sensitive indicator and announces a slowing and changing of a trend quicker than can be seen just looking at the blue dollar bars. There are several stories in the red lines. Since 1992, the average has been 6.14%. That is a very robust number that takes into consideration 1) population and business growth; 2) inflation; and 3) a “wealth/debt” factor. We are a relatively wealthy state, but we have also been as foolish as the rest of the nation with consumers spending more than we have via HELOC loans, credit cards and any other kind of money we could borrow.

As a rule, as the historical data proves it, any time the R12% growth rate has even approached 9-10%, a recoil soon follows. The recoils can be ugly and as deep as the preceding rises were steep. This makes sense in that the third factor listed above cannot be sustained for a long period of time without bursting. If the consumer lived with their means, there would not be as many booms and busts. Also, full-employment has the unwanted and unsustainable pay increase pressures that breakdown at some point.

So, where are we? The most recent R12% peak was at 8.02% in March 2015. If you are studying the chart below carefully, you should be asking about the previous recent spike that declined to the average and then rose again before the current roller-coaster dip started. The answer is that we were recovering from the Great Recession just fine, peaked and then were pulling back when something happened. Gasoline prices plunged giving the consumer a few extra bucks to spend. Wal-Mart keeps metrics and can actually tell when tax laws change or some event gives or takes away $20 per week of people’s spending money.

But in Texas, cheap oil and gasoline is a double-edged sword. Hence, the downward pressure of the economy overwhelmed the state. An extra $20 per week for the majority can’t offset $30,000 to $100,000 jobs being lost by the thousands. The interconnectedness of our state started showing up in a big way 15 months ago.

The R12% growth rate peaked and has declined in 14 of the 15 past months. That statistic dropped to a brutal low of +0.93% in May 2016. It is possible that it could stay near-flat for months, but there would be every reason to believe we could go negative in the R12 and the R12% as early as next month.Yes, it is possible the sales tax levels could rise again. But I’ll let you make the call.

Today there were several stories in the news about some of the major bellwether retail companies suffering big declines. The job market has been softening for several months at both the national and state level. Fitch came out today with a report that housing prices in the North Texas were 15-20% too high. My goodness, we have learned absolutely zero from the causes of the Great Recession!

So if this is statewide information, how are individual regions, sub-regions and cities doing? Well, that’s why the 6-inch drowning comment was made in the introduction. While the state as a whole is grinding to a stop, some cities are getting killed. Mostly in the oil patches and where local economies heavily support the oil & gas industries.

See the TML Regional Map following the chart. Most of the regions have been falling steeply for months and have been negative for at least a few months. As of May 2016, these are the following R12% results:

TML Region 02: -2.10%. (Amarillo area)
TML Region 03: +0.65%. (Lubbock area)
TML Region 04:-5.90%. (Midland-Odessa area)
TML Region 05: -1.58%. (Wichita Falls area)
TML Region 06: +3.88%. (Abilene area)
TML Region 07: +0.40%. (San Antonio area)
TML Region 08: +12.28%. (Fort Worth area)
TML Region 09: +4.53%. (Waco area)
TML Region 10: +7.24%. (Austin area)
TML Region 11: -2.97%. (Corpus Christi area)
TML Region 12: +4.62%. (Rio Grande Valley area)
TML Region 13: +17.96%. (Dallas area)
TML Region 14: +18.29%. (Houston area)
TML Region 15: +8.13%. (Tyler-Longview area)
TML Region 16: -1.39%. (Beaumont area)

Yes, North Texas and a few other regions of the state don’t know what everybody is talking about regarding slow growth. There have been some huge corporate moves in motion that don’t stop until  done. And remember that these TML Regions are quite large. Region 14 is doing well, but Houst0n itself is down -2.71%.

Here is what I do every month, and I invite you to dive in and see for yourself. First, look at the state as a whole. Then look at the 15 Regions. Appreciate the economic diversity across the state. Then look at any of the 1,600+ individual entities.

You can train your eyes fairly quickly to just look at the shapes and directions. Then with the roll of the wheel on your mouse, you can spend just a few seconds on each chart to size up the magnitude and direction of sales taxes. A dozen people looking at 50 charts are highly likely to arrive at the same conclusion regarding the overall direction and health of this key metric.

Appreciate the fact that sales taxes are just about as early of a warning system as we could have. The sales tax checks we received last Friday are for the actual business activity through March 31, 2016. Imagine that. Buy an iPhone on March 31, and the sales tax is in the local government’s bank account about 40 days later. That is dang near real time.

The collection of charts can be found at this link. It is a large file that may take a few minutes to download. I can download on my iphone and iPad, but it is best downloaded to your laptop or desktop. For those of us who like real data in addition to charts, a recap of the last 25 months can be found at this location.

Let me know if you have any questions. LFM

ScreenHunter_03 May. 12 16.40

TMLREGIONSmap

You can go to http://www.tml.org/regions to see the exact counties in each Region.

Another Project for the McKinney Suckers

This is the way it starts out. Unfortunately, the story sounds good:

Resort hotel coming to McKinney?

By Marthe Rennels
Community Impact
April 20, 2016

Craig Ranch could soon be home to a new resort hotel if David Craig’s plans come to pass.

Craig of Craig International and developer of Craig Ranch presented a plan to McKinney City Council during a work session April 18 that included plans for a 250-room resort hotel.

The proposed resort-hotel would include 15,000 square-feet of indoor meeting space and an additional 3,000 square-feet of available meeting space at the TPC clubhouse. Plans also include two ballrooms, two or three breakout rooms and one boardroom.

“We desperately need hospitality near the McKinney Corporate Center,” Craig said. “This is an opportunity to bring one of the essential developments and attractors to the corporate center in the form of a hotel that brings many of the amenities required by corporate America: meeting space, dining and overnight stays on campus.”

Craig said the occupants of the hotel would have access to the TPC Golf Course in Craig Ranch, an added bonus that he said would encourage weekend stays and help provide additional sales tax revenue in McKinney. On-site restaurants are included in preliminary plans, and the hotel’s future management firm, Aimbridge Hospitality, said it is open to amenity requests from the city and public.

According to the presentation, the estimated construction cost is roughly $68.75 million. Craig requested the city council allow the city manager’s office to speak with Aimbridge Hospitality in hopes of establishing some type of partnership with the city in terms of McKinney Community Development Corp. or McKinney Economic Development Corp. funds.

“I do think this is an opportunity for all concerned,” Mayor Pro Tem Travis Ussery said.


The timing is uncanny. There are two enormous projects in McKinney that have turned into a money pit. The first and most significant is Craig Ranch. The second is known as the Gateway Project. The Gateway Project has been a series of nightmares with lawsuits, project delays and investors jumping in and pulling out.

I have made a Open Records Request to try to obtain documents that would allow me pull together the total dollars the City of McKinney has spent on both. There has been cash, infrastructure improvements, impact fees and other fees waived and … well, that’s just it, I don’t know just how much more. That’s what I wanted to find out. You can ask for records, but the first thing you are told is that the law doesn’t require the City to answer questions. How interesting.

On April 1, 2016, I made a request for two things:

  1. “I would like to request records that would show the total costs incurred by the City for the Gateway Land and All Related Projects, irrespective the name of the project or payee.
  2. I would also like to request records that will show the total costs incurred by the City for any aspect of the Craig Ranch project, irrespective of the name of the project of payee.”

Anticipating a clarification letter I often get, I try to add some explanation to my request:

  1. “I am seeking to determine the entire financial investment the City of McKinney has made in the ‘Gateway Project’ as well as the ‘Craig Ranch Property’ irrespective of the names of the payees or conduits. For instance, if money was paid for a parcel of land but was wired through an attorney, then those items would be included in [the] ORRs.
  2. While I emphasize ‘total costs’ this is meant to convey all costs. However, I am requesting detail check payments, wires or any kind of transfers of money by fund: Capital Projects, Bond Funds, General Funds, Utility Funds, MEDC/MCDC funds.
  3. The definition of ‘total costs’ includes any direct or indirect payments, reimbursements, infrastructure expenditures, land purchase, and any waivers of building permits, impact fees or other waivers. It should also include any city in-kind payments or services other than administrative costs. For instance if the city paid for any surveying costs related to a land transaction, those are costs that should be included in my ORR.”

I guess I failed in trying to be explicit. I received a clarification letter anyway. I didn’t explain the term “All Related Projects” in my first request. Okay, mea culpa. These projects have boundaries. Money Pit 1 and Money Pit 2 have lines on maps encircling the projects. How much has the City put into those two Money Pits? I’ll try to rephrase and improve on my ORR later today.

The second clarification has to do with the specific documents I am asking for that reaches into development agreements, contracts and a litany of things. I am forewarned that these documents may be voluminous and entail significant staff time to locate and compile. Okay, I’ll work on that one today, also. I think know I am convinced that I want everything. I was told before I requested the information that the City won’t be very happy to dig into the amount of money that has been spent just on the Gateway land.

However, this brings me to a complaint I have made to both the Mayor and Interim City Manager as well as the City Council. Everything I am asking for is what THEY should be asking to see. Maybe not detailed documents. But as of April 22, 2016, do THEY even have a clue how many dollars have gone into these two projects since they pulled up to the City’s Money Pumps?

Why am I the one having to ask? THEY are telling me this information hasn’t been asked before! If so, you would just point me to the link on the City’s Web site where that information has been compiled and made public already. Oops! Apparently that’s not what they mean by transparency.

So, here’s the deal. I want to know, but THEY don’t apparently. So THEY are going to make me pay to get some of the most profound information that has ever come out of the City of McKinney! Information that would likely be a citizen’s first question to ask when David Craig came calling yet AGAIN!

Mayor Pro-Tem Ussery thinks this may be a good opportunity for “all concerned,” but I’m not so sure. And some others may be wanting to get a little better educated before making that bold statement. There is no doubt in the world that this is a good opportunity for David Craig.

Mr. Mayor and City Council, at one point in time, the City had invested zero on these two projects. How much has been invested as of April 22, 2016? You say you treat the City’s money like it was your own in an attempt to convey stewardship and fiduciary responsibility. Why aren’t the new council members asking for an independent forensic audit? Would someone go in an shake the members of the City’s audit committee and tell them to wake up. Oh wait, I think it is chaired by Mayor Pro-Tem Ussery.

Any project works as long as there are sufficient subsidies to build it and make a profit for the developer.

By the way, what is the capacity and the utilization rate of the Gateway Hotel? Where is the demand study for a resort hotel in Craig Ranch? What will the room rates have to be? Or do you plan to pump $millions into another project and just hope it works out? An investor using their own funds would never put money into something so large without an independent study showing there is a demand. Well, a smart investor.

Speaking of smart investors. According to the news media, the money behind Craig Ranch appears to be from the Van Tuyl Group, one of the largest auto dealerships in the country. Warren Buffett has now purchased the Van Tuyl Group. Ask Mr. Buffett what the Craig Ranch development is worth at this point and how much more money he is willing to invest in it.

The City of McKinney has put $millions into Craig Ranch. Don’t put another penny into this developer’s pocket. LFM

 

 

 

Is McKinney A Self-Sufficient Island?

It seems to me that McKinney is just far enough north on US 75 and just far enough east on SRT to be in the right pathways, and a city that could have it all if patience existed. We are part of a vibrant region, but we really don’t want to be a participant unless it is all to our benefit. Collin County Commissioners Court does not set a very good example, either. It wasn’t always that way. It was way before the Tea Party took control. In one sense, we are in a self-defeating mode. There is some inertia going for us, for sure. But we are only getting bread crumbs.

There are many municipal services that are too big for every city to handle. Water and sewer is a municipal service, but the cost of infrastructure and availability of a source is such that most cities had to create or be part of regional services decades ago. Now there are a few major players making sure there are ample supplies. The North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) serves from the McKinney and Frisco Area to the the Garland and Plano area and beyond. Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) takes care of most of the entire Dallas Area. The Upper Trinity Municipal Water District (UTMWD) serves from below Denton to down to Flower Mound and out to areas both east and west of I-35. The Trinity River Authority (DWU) and Fort Worth Water Utilities (FTWU) serve most of west side of I-35 from Grapevine to the mid-cities area through Fort Worth.

The key point I am trying to make here is that some things are too big for single cities. And the infrastructure is so vast and costly that no city could do it by themselves.

Transportation.

The big elephant in the room is transportation. Like with other other major infrastructure systems, especially those that know no municipal boundaries, even the state and federal government can’t easily deal with well over a 1,000 municipalities in Texas. The counties provide some essential services as an arm of the state, such as the judicial system, but even the 254 counties are often too many to be effective to communicate and coordinate the big-ticket items.

So, 50 years ago Texas created 24 planning agencies to do just that – plan, coordinate and communicate. We live in the first and arguably the best and most effective planning agency area, the North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG). The headquarters are located a few hundred feet from the corner where the roller coaster Judge Roy Scream is at Six Flags in Arlington. The entire first floor of the main building (NCTCOG is in three buildings) is for public meeting rooms. Decisions on as much as $200 million in federal and state monies annually are made in those meeting rooms.

NCTCOG serves a massive area that covers 16 counties. From Wise, Denton, Collin and Hunt to the north, Erath, Hood, Somerval, Johnson, Ellis and Navarro to the south, Palo Pinto to the west and Kaufman to the east, it’s all NCTCOG. Denton, Collin, Tarrant and Dallas County are where most of the dollars and attention are spent.

You can bet that county judges are highly involved as well as mayors and council members from both the major cities and many of the smaller cities. NCTCOG has an Executive Board made up of 13 elected officials. But get this, the Transportation Board has over 40 members. Those members are charged with watching out for all 16 counties, but you can be sure that they are watching out for their own.

And They Watch Us.

I have not talked to a single person at NCTCOG recently about what I am about to say. These are my views.  But I have watched the Transportation meetings, both live and recorded, over many years. If you go to the Collin County Administration Building here in McKinney, you will note that it is named after a long time regional player named Jack Hatchell.

Mr. Hatchell was a team player, a former councilmember at Plano. He also was a traffic professional. Literally. When I went to his funeral, the large church was filled with people and overflowing with praise for his vision, his leadership and his appreciation for the fabric of a region and how critical it is woven together. Mr. Hatchell was actually the president of the Executive Board at one time in addition to leading the Transportation Planning Council.

An observer watching our current County Judge would hardly find that kind of regional spirit. While he is protective of Collin County, which is nice, it is hard to see where he is interested in the region. He is tolerated, but he is not a player. He is viewed as arrogant and smug. Perhaps his Tea-Bagger constituency, of which he is a leader, is part of the reason. Here is the deal. The Transportation Staff and the Transportation Board make major decisions on how funds are allocated throughout the entire region.

So, let’s see how I would view Collin County and the City of McKinney if I were on the Transportation Board and Staff. There is a transportation provider that serves McKinney. That board is governed by key elected officials from both Collin County and McKinney. The local agency is providing services at a level that exceeds its income. What do the Collin County and McKinney elected officials on the local board as well as the McKinney City Council do? They bail! They are the captains of the ship that jump into lifeboat first while everybody left in the ship sinks.

NCTCOG comes into the picture and tries to help. They offer some temporary relief and a solution that would cost McKinney a little money every month while everything can be sorted out. The money was mainly to help provide a modest level of service for the handicapped and elderly. What does Collin County and the City of McKinney do? It involves communicating using the middle finger.

I believe DART may have offered some help, too. Again, middle finger.

Consequences.

Here’s the rub. Tea-Baggers don’t care about consequences. They just love the word NO, and the image of their leaders being tough on guv-ment.

I am fairly certain of one thing. The ultimate middle finger will come from the Transportation Board to Collin County and McKinney. Most of us don’t have a clue, but the Collin County and McKinney representatives know full well that there are $millions in discretionary funds controlled by the Transportation Board and Staff. It is very, very easy to help out with a $million here and a $million there since just about everybody has more project needs than they can afford locally. It is just as easy to say, nope, not gonna happen.

It will probably be impossible to document or trace, but I feel very confident in saying that the refusal for help offered by NCTCOG and the relatively few dollars McKinney was unwilling to come up with, pocket change in the bigger picture, is going to cost McKinney $millions. Thanks, Tea-Baggers, that’s being tough. And foolish.

Another Example.

If you really look at the way things have worked in McKinney and continue to unfold, it is easy to predict that we are going to be a community of nice homes first with a modest amount of non-residential property. Quite frankly, I am okay with that. But we aren’t thinking like a commuter community. We have no visionaries who will face the facts. We’ve got a lot, but we don’t have the patience to wait for the best. Developers don’t make money today by waiting until tomorrow.

We have $250 million we have spent without much to show for that amount of money. I am fairly sure that kind of money could have built a commuter line from the DART Parker Station to Bloomdale Road by now. Or our own bus system that would serve all of our internal needs plus just have a Park & Ride from McKinney to Downtown Dallas and to DFW Airport.

Yeah, yeah, I know those are restricted funds authorized by the voters. However, did you know that HB 157 now allows the voters to use the full 2-cents for any purpose the Council deems a priority?

We are 50% built out with all the growth north going to produce traffic going south to SRT or 75.

We should not just be a regional player, but the most impressive regional leader. We are not an island. LFM

McKinney: What Have We Gotten For Our Quarter-Billion Dollars?

The City of McKinney is not having such a good week in the economic development department. First Lincoln Properties pulls out of the celebrated Gateway Project. This is particularly disappointing since the hotel component didn’t happen without lawsuits and  $millions spent before this more recent phase moved into the forefront. So in early 2014 we think something is finally going to happen on the remainder of the Gateway property. And by early 2016 it is stalled again as the developers walk away.

Now comes Barclays Bank. In September 2014, we hear that 500 jobs are coming with a $4 million investment on the City’s part. And now in April 2016, Barclays is leaving before fulfilling their mission. The City says none of the $4 million was spent because Barclays had not met their threshold for jobs. Not to Barclays, maybe, but not a penny paid to the property developer?

Are we just that unfortunate here in McKinney? Yes, things happen. And there is much not within our control. I suppose.

However, this opens a door. I’ve walked through it before when I have questioned how the money is being spent for both the McKinney Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) as well as the McKinney Community Development Corporation (MCDC). The City Council did give a nod to a gigantic step when they indicated it would be a good thing to move the MEDC/MCDC Board meetings to the Council Chambers and video record those meetings. I greatly appreciate that move when it happens.

I have harped on this subject before, but I think it is imperative that the citizens of McKinney really get the full picture of where the MEDC/MCDC (4A & 4B) money has been used over the years. Between the two Money Boards, $250,955,609 of sales tax money has been collected for MEDC and MCDC operations and projects. For all the scrutiny the Council and public would give on the General Fund budget, is the same attention being paid to the Money Boards?

In just the past 12 months, $21,718,989 has been collected for the two funds. You may recall that I urged the MISD to show us the cost of the football stadium in terms of the Tax Rate Equivalent (TRE). So what is the TRE on the sales taxes going into the Money Boards? That’s very easy to determine. The taxable value is currently $15,200,173,814. If the City did not have sales taxes at all, and the same amount of money was spent in the City budget, it would take a property TRE of 28.58 cents to generate that much in funds.

Since the General Fund gets 1-penny while the other 1 penny is split evenly between the MEDC and MCDC, then we can see that these two Money Boards are getting the TRE of 14.29 cents.  That’s a lot of money!

So, what are we getting for that money? Let’s just focus on the MEDC right now or about 7.145 cents and $123 million since it started being a revenue source in 1996. What is the return on our investment?

Just how closely would you personally monitor every dollar if it was your $123 million? That’s the deal. It is our money. We elected the City Council, and they have appointed a City Manager and Boards to watch over it like it was their own checkbook.

In fact, when you go over the 75/SRT flyover and look down at Gateway, if you can see it, just exactly how much of OUR tax money has gone into that project? And after you head west on SRT and glance over at the Craig Ranch property you can partially see, how much money has been given to that developer? And what have we received in return?

In addition to cash, how much has been given by the City putting in infrastructure the benefited Craig Ranch? Or how many dollars have been waived that would have been paid in other parts of the City by developers for roadway and utility impact fees?

There is an exact amount. I have sent an Open Records Request asking for documents that will let me compile that number for my readers. It think it is going to be a shocking number. Later, I will hope to answer another question I am curious to learn more about. How many people were on the MEDC Board (and City Council) that were working for Craig Ranch, directly or indirectly, when decisions were made to give money to that project as well as to the Gateway Project?

How is it that this information isn’t more readily available on the City’s Web site in the holy name of Transparency? Maybe we can all learn soon. LFM

BTW, if you like to study charts, and I hope a few of you do, you will notice that the Rolling 12 Month totals spiked for a period started in September 2011 due to favorable audit adjustments that benefited the City to the tune of $5,345,794. State law protects the specifics from being revealed, but it is an anomaly that skews the data. Otherwise, you can actually see the exact months the City has headed into a recessionary period and recovered. Many cities are peaking in their sales tax collections at the current time.

MCKSalesTax