THE PEOPLE’S BUSINESS – 5/16/13 OAK RIDGE CITY COUNCIL MEETING SUMMARY/FY2014 BUDGET

The following represents an unofficial account of the significant items discussed and/or voted upon during the May 16th, 2013 City Council Special Meeting. The complete agenda packet can be viewed here. Draft meeting minutes will be posted at the city website, most likely, as part of the May 28th Regular Meeting Agenda packet. Note that this meeting was neither videotaped nor aired on local access cable. However, Ellen Smith live-blogged the entire 4 hour meeting here. THANK YOU ELLEN!

Note: I’ve noticed that there are some slight variances between my account, the local papers and Ellen Smith’s account of statements made by each council member. Since no video was taken, we cannot easily verify exact wording. I have done my best to be as accurate as I can based on my notes and my memory.

IV. CITY COUNCIL PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE GENERAL FUND FOR FY2014 BUDGET

Prior to discussing specific amendments, council agreed to an informal discussion in which each member would state their position/goals.

Individual Goals/Positions

Tom Beehan stated that people are happy, that he was not interested in cutting the tax rate, that it would send the wrong message to people.

Anne Garcia Garland stated that our tax rate isn’t a problem, that it is not a burden for most people. She wants us to support the changes that the city manager has been making.

I (Trina Baughn) stated that my goal is to live up to the commitment I made to those who elected me and reduce the property tax rate so that we could return to the citizens some of the money they have sacrificed for the city’s many failures like the golf course and Rarity Ridge. Though I’d proposed 45 cents worth of cuts, I am flexible and would settle for 5-10 cents and  be willing entertain others’ suggested increases that I had previously opposed if we could come to an agreement. (At another point in the meeting, after all other council members had indicated no willingness to reduce the property tax rate, I stated that I would not support any increases in expenditures)

Chuck Hope wants to add more money and focus to economic development and the Chamber of Commerce. He stated that lots of good things are happening.  He wants to increase maintenance and operation funding for unforeseen issues for both the city and schools.

Jane Miller stated that we shouldn’t cut the property tax. She, too, wants to increase funding to the Chamber of Commerce. She supported increasing maintenance funding for the city but not the schools. She wants to use cuts in staffing and travel, except for police and fire, to fund Hope’s requests.

Charlie Hensley stated that he wanted to keep the tax rate as is. His goals are to maintain services, to not be the cheapest city in TN, increase school security, develop the center city, protect open space and hold out for the opportunities to come out of the UPF.

David Mosby is concerned that we are micromanaging the city manager if we make amendments to the budget. Council’s role should be limited to setting policy and providing direction to the city manager.

Economic Development/Maintenance and Operation/Fire Station

a. Motion to amend the appropriation ordinance to provide revenue for municipal purposes by increasing the General Fund by $500,000.00 (Hope and Miller).

  1. Increase funding by $200,000.00 for economic development by adding $75,000.00 to the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce Contract with the remaining $125,000.00 established as a contingency from reserves.

Tom Beehan wanted to divide out Chuck Hope’s proposals into four separate motions. Chuck Hope did not agree and made his first motion. Hope motioned to increase the Chamber of Commerce funding by $75K (above Watson’s proposal of $125K) and add another $125K to economic development “reserves.”

Baughn opposed the motion. Quoted total annual expenditures for “economic development” as being between $2-3 million annually, which included $200-300K specifically for the Chamber of Commerce since 2002. Total expenditures on economic development since that time has been over $33 million. I pointed out that other cities don’t pay their chambers this much; Farragut pays $14K per year and Lenoir City pays $7K and both have experienced tremendous growth compared to Oak Ridge. I also stated that the chamber has not produced any data to support any ROI; instead the take credit for things they had little to do with, like Kroger who was already here.

(See additional dialogue transcribed by Ellen Smith here)

Mosby proposed an amendment to increase Chamber funding by $50K. His amendment included reducing or increasing the economic development line item, but to this day it is unclear to me what was truly voted on. I’ll consult the minutes once they are published to verify.  Mosby Motion passed 4-3 with Hope, Mosby, Miller & Hensley voting “Aye” and Baughn, Beehan and Garcia Garland voting “Nay.” This amended the main motion which passed with the same votes as above.

Public Comments: (I’m not sure if these occurred before or after the votes) Andrew Howe, Andy Marathe, Mike Massey and Martha Fowler express opposition to increasing chamber funding. David Bradshaw, former Oak Ridge mayor and former Chamber Chair expresses his support.

  1. Increase capital maintenance of the Maintenance and Operation Fund by $250,000.00 from sources to be determined.

Hope? amended his own motion to specify the source of the revenue come from the Red Light Camera (RLC) fund; Hensley seconds. Baughn expresses opposition since those monies were previously dedicated to safety issues only.

Citizen David Mullins states that the funding should come from the reserves, just as the other increase did.

Watson appears to contradict himself or Krushenski when one says that RLC money had been used on the Woodland roof repair last year and the other says it was not used for that purpose.

Motion passes 5-2 with Baughn & Garcia Garland voting Nay and Beehan, Mosby, Hensley, Hope and Miller voting Aye.

Return to main motion of increasing M&O funding by $250K. Main motion fails 4-3 with Hensley, Hope and Miller voting Aye and Baughn, Beehan, Mosby and Garcia Garland voting nay. (This nullifies the previous motion of using RLC funds.)

(See additional dialogue transcribed by Ellen Smith here)

iii. Add $50,000 to start the process of pre-engineer drawings and studies for the relocation of Fire Station No. 2 to Melton Lake Drive from reserves.

Hope made the above recommendation via a motion that Hensley seconded. Mosby motioned to amend from an expenditure obligation to making it a goal for staff. Garcia Garland seconded. Mosby’s motion passed 5-2 with Baughn and Miller voting nay and the rest voting aye. Vote on amended main motion passes 6-1 with Baughn voting nay.

See additional details here and here

Personnel

b. Motion to freeze/reduce city personnel levels through attrition (Miller and Baughn).

Ms. Miller explained her position that these cuts were standard in industry and that she only wanted to make staff cuts through attrition of non-police or fire personnel.

I first asked for clarification on how we were funding the only amendment to pass so far (chamber increase) and Mr. Watson stated that he would use reserves. I recalled (to myself) that Ms. Miller had stated in our May 20th meeting that we had many “underfunded needs.” I then asked Ms. Miller what her intentions were for the excess funds if her proposed cuts were passed. She indicated that she had no specific plan, that they’d simply be placed in reserves. I stated that I had no interest in sacrificing our staff, resources or services for no specified purpose…that if we didn’t have an end game or plan that I could not justify making cuts. I withdrew all of my past motions to reduce expenditures. 

No formal motion had been made by Ms. Miller, therefore there was no vote.

See additional details here and here.

Training & Travel

c. Motion to reduce the travel/training funds by 36% except for Police and Fire Departments (Mayor Pro Tem Miller).

Miller made the above motion and Baughn seconded for discussion. Miller states that total savings would be $38,400. I made a motion to amend Miller’s motion to reduce city council travel by $3,000 more than her proposal to account for my portion of travel. Baughn’s motion failed 6-1 with Baughn voting Aye.

Miller inquires as to whether or not her motion would affect Leadership for OR training. Baughn inquires if the city is also paying the Chamber of Commerce to send city staff to this Leadership for OR training. Watson confirms but cannot state how many staff have or will attend. (Leadership OR is a training program run by the chamber at a cost of $1,200 per person, at least that was what was stated in this meeting.)

Miller’s main motion fails 4-3 with Miller, Henlsey and Mosby voting aye and Baughn, Garcia Garland, Beehan and Hope voting nay. NOTE: My position is  that we needn’t make cuts without a plan for the reallocation of those  funds. Had council voted to reduce any expenditures without reassigning them  to another line item, we would have essentially created a “slush” fund, IMHO.

See additional details here and here.

Sanitation Services – Item not discussed per my retraction of all past motions to reduce funding

d. Motion to transition the tax-funded portion of the City’s refuse contract to the individual rate payer’s bill (Councilrnember Baughn).

Traffic Cameras

e. Motion to direct the City Manager to research alternative safety solutions in advance of next year’s contract negotiations and dedicate all monies received from traffic camera toward that solution (Councilmember Baughn).

I did choose to make the above motion which Garcia Garland seconded. Hensley moved to split my motion into two parts. Hensley motion passed 4-3. The motion to direct the city manager to research alternative safety solutions passed 6-1 with Miller voting nay. I reworded the second motion to “preserve all RLC funds, current and future” until a decision was reached on replacement solutions for the cameras at the high school and Robertsville Rd/Illinois Ave intersection. Garcia Garland motioned to table, motion passed with Miller and Baughn voting nay.

Remaining items not discussed per my retraction of all past motions to reduce funding

Previously Acted Upon Motions (Councilmember Baughn)

  • Eliminate excess funding for acquiring and demolishing blighted properties
  • Refund a small portion (1/3) of the Economic Development Fund
  • Reduce travel expenditures by 20%.
  • Reduce club membership costs by 50%.
  • Reduce library funding to per capital spending of $16 per person.
  • Reduce the Recreation and Parks by 10%.

Meeting concludes with Hensley requesting a staff recommendation at the final reading on SROs being added to the budget.

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5 thoughts on “THE PEOPLE’S BUSINESS – 5/16/13 OAK RIDGE CITY COUNCIL MEETING SUMMARY/FY2014 BUDGET

  1. If one follows the link to Ellen Smith dictation you’ll see that I opened my big mouth at this meeting.

    “Public comment on main motion: Andrew Howe says city shouldn’t be funding a chamber of commerce or economic development in general. City should fund schools, emergency services, etc., but let the free market work things out. Kroger Marketplace must have had city action behind the scenes to make it work. Sees that there is money laundering going on. Thinks that the city is in the red (apparently referring to the city’s long-term debt, which is actually for capital items such as schools and which is roughly equal to the city’s total annual budget).”

    yes, the city is in the red according to how I make a budget. If I have more outstanding debt than I have in my bank acct, I’m in the red. Taking this viewpoint forces one to conserve during times of debt. People who consider themselves completely solvent when they accrue interest penalties on their credit often wind up in bankruptcy.

    I asked Mayor Beehan if we were “in the red”. He said, “No.” Later on in the same meet councilperson Miller stated “The city is in debt.” Countless times during that meeting it was reminded to everyone by nearly everyone that the purpose of the meeting was to figure out a way to get through this upcoming “lean” year.

    If I actually said ‘laundering’ WAS going on, it was a mis-speak due to nerves. What I was trying to say is that the city gives the council money, the council give business money (or spends money on courting businesses). I’m not a criminal, so I may not know the proper word for this kind of ‘funding projects by channeling money through another organization’.

    No, I don’t actually think there’s laundering going on. But I fully worry that we fund the Chamber so greatly because the residents in the past have raised their voices quite loudly against the city paying to get businesses into town (WalMart, Golf Course, Mall, Target, etc). By giving the CoC money, the city govt can continue to give money to business ventures and keep the transactions off the official city ledgers.

    “All of the city funds that are contributed as part of this agreement would be matched by the Chamber.” say Stephen Witson in this article from a month ago:

    http://oakridgetoday.com/2013/04/25/guest-column-chamber-hopes-to-continue-working-with-city-on-business-development/

    That pretty much implies the city gives the CoC money so it can follow the city’s financial lead (or the steering committee’s) in these development processes.

    Mind you, giving money to businesses IS NOT inherently bad, and I am NOT inherently against it. Apparently it happens all over, and we are in direct competition with other cities for new businesses. What’s bad is that this kind of financial arrangement and tight political bonds between the city and CoC creates a poor image and perception, one that we sorely need to outgrow.

    I demand transparency and trust from our local govt. There’s not much we can do at this point to wring the problems from our federal govt, but we can gets the kinks from our own.

    Residents first.

  2. Trina this is an excellent post.  Thank you.  I support you all the way.  We do need property tax rate cuts and we need spending cuts.  I would also like to know where all of the money goes that the Chamber of Commerce gets.  Something does not seem right about that.  Thank you for the email and keep them comming.  

    Steve Cappiello

    ________________________________

    1. Lowering the tax rate is only half of the story. We also need to ensure that the appraisal values stay the same as well. If the city lowers the rate, but starts appraising higher, residents end up paying the same.

      If you open this link in IE (google chrome doesn’t like this page), then click the “propsed property tax rate and financial impact” on the left hand side, you’ll how this is done.

      http://www.oakridgetn.gov/images/uploads/Documents/Departments/Finance%20Department/Budget/2006/BudgetPresentation2006_files/frame.htm

      Don’t forget what Barbie once said in the 80’s. “Math is hard.” There are people, organizations, and policies which exploit that.

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