Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tax increase or government cuts?

Well, that's the choice and I think most would agree that Toledo's government hasn't done what it needs to do in terms of cost savings or cuts prior to talking about a tax increase in the guise of a 'trash fee' added onto our water bills.

What I find so frustrating in all of this is that Councilman Frank Szollosi (D-at large) is the one leading the charge to cut rather than tax - and no one is joining him. Where are our Republicans on council? Surprisingly silent on the core Republican philosophy of small government and low taxation.

Here's my suggestion. Before you begin to even consider a yes vote on increasing taxes on Toledoans, mandate that all non-union employees incur a payroll deduction to help pay for their insurance coverage...Not just city council members, though they should pay, too - but ALL city employees not covered by a union contract. After doing this, the city will have better standing to go back to the unions and request an agreement on payment as well.

Then, roll back all the PERS pickups that have been granted to all non-union employees. The city is required to contribute a specific percentage toward PERS for every employee. But over the years, as unions bargained for pick-ups (the city 'picking up' part of the mandated employee contribution), those pick-ups were applied to non-bargaining employees as well. Eliminate the PERS pick-ups for all non-union employees, including the Mayor and Council if they currently enjoy such a benefit.

Again, this will give the city better standing for similar discussions with the unions.

Some other things that can be done? Council can pay their own parking, eliminating the $5,000 cost for parking expenses separate from their parking garage costs. They can also eliminate the $13,000 auto allowance...use your own cars and claim a deduction on your income tax instead of charging the public for travel or having us pay for a vehicle for you to use.

The Mayor can eliminate some of the publications he's getting...his budget went from around $700 to over $2,000. He could also use email instead of sending formal letters and reduce his postage costs. And why he needs $18,000 in outside printing when that line item hasn't been over $8,000 in several years is beyond me. I guess that he's using our tax dollars for publicity purposes while saying there's nowhere else to cut the budget.

He can also take a lesson from Gov. Strickland and reduce his 'food' budget which is currently around $6,000. Miscellaneous supplies is the line item where you can hide a bunch of goodies...it's at $6,600 but hasn't been over $2,000 for several years. Or the $10,000 for marketing, $13,000 for travel, $1,000 for parking (not the government center garage), $5,600 for vehicle rental, $18,000 for advertising (separate from the already mentioned marketing), $30,000 for interns (let them earn credit instead of paying them), $18,000 for temps, $21,000 for misc. charges and services ... the list goes on.

And these are just two offices. With these kinds of expenses, don't tell me that you have to cut police and fire or charge for garbage pickup!

One person who spoke during the public hearings said the budget needs to be 'nickeled and dimed.' I agree. While each of these items seems like a small amount when you look at them individually, every city department has these kinds of expenses and they add up.

Cut these things first - then we'll see if we need to talk about tax increases conveniently called a 'garbage fee.'

Link to The Blade which has downloadable pdf's of revenues and expenses...these are large files.

23 comments:

Lisa Renee said...

I'm looking thru the list right now, but one question that immediately came to mind is why is the City even paying for parking? Shouldn't a certain amount of parking spaces come with Government Center? Is the State collecting that money from the City?

Lisa Renee said...

I never realized that the PERS contribution for City Council is almost the same as the PERS contribution for the Mayor's office.

I didn't realize there were that many employees to have it be over $190,000.

Maggie Thurber said...

Lisa - all tenents in 1 Government Center pay for their parking spots in the garage, the same as they pay rent. The building and garage are owned by the state...

And don't forget that elected officials earn PERS as well...so you have to count the 12 council members when comparing PERS costs between council and mayor's office.

Lisa Renee said...

So the State makes money off of not only the rent but the parking spaces...Too bad the City and the County can't negotiate a deal for a certain number of spaces included as part of the rent.

I knew the 12 council members earned PERS, I just didn't realize it was that large of an expense.

And I thought my household budget at times was a nightmare...I'll never think that again after viewing that pdf.

:-)

Maggie Thurber said...

Pretty scary, huh, Lisa? What I don't know is whether or not the councilmembers and mayor get the PERS pick-up that everyone else gets...If so, that's GOT to go!!!

Lisa Renee said...

It's troubling that the information on PERS would not be public information.

You'd think we should know where those dollars were going.

-Sepp said...

After my cursory look at the budget, I'm seeing fat...lots and lots of fat that should be cut closer to the bone.

Hooda Thunkit said...

And while they're cutting the fat they should take a good look at all of those bones, gristle, cartilage..., you get the picture ;-)

Hooda Thunkit said...

Is there a forensic accountant in the house?

Andy said...

I had a thought on this Maggie. It is governments responsibility to provide necessary services for the residents (taxpayers) and do so in a fiscally responsible way. It is not governments responsibility to guarantee jobs until retirement for those who's positions were created in more prosperous times. All government employees seem to forget the fact that they are "piblic servants". This means that they are employeed to serve the public (I know, not rocket science right?). They are not, however, employeed to be served BY THE public!!! By this I mean that it seems to me that most of the workers fortunate enough to be given a government job consider it an entitlement to get their 3% or more raises every year. When the City/County/State runs out of money, as is the case in Toledo, they do not look for ways to cut spending, they instead look for ways to increase income, which translates into "how can we take more money (taxes) from the residents?" This whole way of thinkng makes me wonder why the pilgrams even left England.

OK, enough ranting, on with my idea. I am focusing on the trash collectors because I see this as one of the "fattest" areas of the budget. The collectors work until their route is done, then go home. It does not matter that they get done with their route in 3 or 4 hours, they still get paid for eight. This is an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars, and these employees are not "entitled" to this perk. The way I see it, the city has 2 options.

1) Look at the average hours it actually took to complete each route over the last year. Those who are assigned a route that has not averaged over 37 hours per week will be immediately cut to part time and have to pay the part time rate for their health insurance. Going forward, collectors will be paid for actual hours worked with routes expected to be completed within 1 hour of the average time with anything over that explained in detail.

2) Open bids for a private hauler to take over city trash collection. A lot of the current employees would be able to find work with the private company as I am sure it would mean a vast increase in work force to the successful bidder, and the city's cost would be fixed by contract. No overtime, no holiday, no workers comp. I am sure you will not find any private contractors who would agree to let collectors work 4 hours and get paid for 8, but I say welcome to the real world. Selling all of the city trash equipment would mean lower insurance rates, and no more maintenance costs. Now I have not ran the numbers, but I would be willing to bet that this option would dwarf any amount the city hopes to collect through increased trash taxes.

Intrested in your thoughts on this.

Joe Birmingham said...

Maggie, I was told by Jerry Denniger council receives a 14% pick-up in addition to 10% we pay. I don't know what the mayor's pick-up is.

I may not be adept at the political game, but I have opposed these tax increases from the start. I just believed if you did the right thing people would notice. I was wrong.

Joe Birmingham

Maggie Thurber said...

Andy - you're correct that many seem to have forgotten the fact that they are 'servants of the public' (included those who are elected)...but as you said - that's a rant.

As for the idea about reforming the way we do garbage pickup, I think you're on the right track. I've often thought that we should allow our current trash department, and any private trash companies, to bid to provide the services. We'd then take the lowest bid.

This would be a real wake-up bell for all our current city employees who provide this service. They'd realize that there are inherent costs in them doing the job which are vastly more than what the private sector incurs. Either they'd reduce the costs to be able to compete, or they'd lose their jobs. Interjecting competition into services most often results in lower costs and/or better quality of service.

In listening to many of the comments from the city unions the last couple of days, it seems to me that, instead of supporting more money for government, they'd want some of the items on this post reduced or eliminated. Council and the Mayor are spending money on unnecessary items while threatening to lay off critical services. Rather than support this philosophy, you'd think they, too, would be demanding cuts of non-essential items.

And another thing - this isn't a fee for garbage. This is just the name they've given to a new tax. We already pay a 'fee' for garbage pickup in the 3/4% temporary tax...this money won't go toward garbage pickup - it's going to go directly into the general fund and will used for the whims and desires of the elected officials. Sorry - that's another rant...

Maggie Thurber said...

Hi Joe!!!!

Thanks for the information on the PERS for city council...but it leads to another question: is the 'pickup' of 14% the mandatory amount that the employer must pay with your 10% the mandatory employee contribution?

Or is the city picking up part of your mandatory portion?

I don't think that anyone will have a problem if the city is required to pay 14% and you're required to contribute 10%. The problem arises, I think, when the city is only required (FOR EXAMPLE) to pay 12% but it's paying 14%...

If you can clarify this - great!

Katie_1973 said...

I attended the budget meeting with my nine-year-old homeschooled son for two hours today. As we left, he focused on a ream of pale pink fliers left on a counter near the security desk in One Gov't Center. It was advertising a city sponsored "Egg Xtravaganza." The flier states as follow: The City of Toledo's EGG EXTRAVAGANZA 2007 will be held on Saturday, March 31, 2007 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Ottawa Park. Activities include: Egg Hunt, Candy, Bounce ride, Face Painting and crafts.

Although it does note that Kroger and Meijer are 'assisting' with the event -- how much is it running the city, and the taxpayers, to foot the bill for kids to get jacked up on sugar at Ottawa Park? Aren't there enough private and religious groups that sponsor similar events already? Or is Toledo trying to take 40% of the private community activities market as well? Are we supposted to consider this an essential service?

Think the city will ever get a clue?

Maggie Thurber said...

Katie - so glad you took your son to the budget hearing. I'd love to hear what he thought of everything...

And what a teaching opportunity for you when you came across the flyers...a wonderful time to explain priorities and budgeting and the differences between 'wants' and 'needs'...

But money for an easter egg hunt is just one example of the numerous items they pay for while telling us that there's no fat left to cut.

Unbelievable!

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

Rant on! You're very good at it;-)

And keep on saying "It's another tax, it's another tax, it's another tax."

Maybe it will stick and the Sheeple will wise up.

kaleidoscope said...

HI Maggie!

This is the male half of Kaleidoscope. I have been following the City's budget issues and am really frustrated at the fact that the voters keep the same ol' crowd in place and keep getting the same ol' thing. I feel like getting involved would be jousting at windmills. The City of Toledo is racing Youngstown to the bottom of the heap and few seem to care.

I do have a solution to the budget problem however. Since the City gave its checkbook to the unions (and note the union hacks standing with Carty at his presser, union officials on City Council, and the County Commisioner's office by the way, and in the local Democratic Party administration) I suggest that the unions offer to increase the dues of their members and use the revenue to fund the budget deficit. Shouldn't be a problem!

By the way, did you note the recent Blade editorial (read "the going bankrupt with management and labor problems Blade")telling the City how to resolve ITS financial problems? "Physician! Heal thyself!"

Maggie Thurber said...

Hi Kaleidoscope - I didn't realize that you read my blog, but I'm glad!

As for your comments, well - I think you shouldn't sugarcoat it so much and tell us how you really feel! :)

Interesting idea aboout the unions increasing their dues to offset the budget deficit - bet they'll get right on that!

-Sepp said...

I say a good start would be to cut funding to everything that is NOT a tax funded essential service. Police, fire and, refuse collection should be the LAST services to be considered. But, this is Toledo and, extortion politics has always been the name of the game.
How much is being subsidized to private groups that could collect donations via other avenues? If the city cut them off, my guess is that they would find alternative funding. It's just been too easy for too long to take a cash-cow handout from city council. When the city returns to prosperity, then we can start talking about taxpayer financed donations. Til then, take a walk!
We could also save 125 grand by dropping an inneffective mayor.

Maggie Thurber said...

When the city returns to prosperity, then we can start talking about taxpayer financed donations.

Sorry, -sepp, I disagree. No matter how much prosperity the city has, it's not right to take tax dollars to make 'donations.' The government should spend money only on mandated functions (like police, fire, etc) or on things that make such services more efficient (computer systems, etc). When they take tax dollars to make 'donations,' they're saying that they need the money for such charitable functions more that you and I need the money to pay for mortgages, cars, etc.

I'm a big one for limited government and 'donations' are not the function of government.

Maggie Thurber said...

Further, if government has enough disposable income to make 'donations,' they've collected too much in taxes and a refund should be in order so we can make our own choices about 'donations.'

Katie_1973 said...

Have often thought about the Declaration of Independence and how it relates to our present day governments (city, state, and national.) As the city council debates the trash tax and refuses to budge on budget cuts, I think we can take a lesson from that document.

The Declaration of Independence tells us:

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

The Roman Empire fell because of governmental abuse and fiscal irresponsibility. Those weren't the only issues, of course, but they were the issues that started the chain reaction. Meanwhile, the people were kept happy with free grain (gov't handouts) and entertainment. Sound familiar?

The French waged a bloody revolution because the people were taxed beyond belief so those in power could enjoy the perks they refused to give up. The rulers refused to listen to the population that provided their power and lifestyle. Again, sound familiar?

These same things are happening not only in the U.S. but in Toledo. Is it time for us to throw off the government and provide new Guards for our future security? Now, not talking about recreating the French Revolution -- although I do have my pet daydreams :-) -- but it's time for the people of Toledo, like the people of Colonial America and the people of 18th century France to throw off the government that "evinces a design to reduce [us] under absolute Despotism" and enjoy the freedoms and rights provided by the founders of our nation.

Andy said...

Katie for Mayor!!!!!!!!!!

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