The following represents an unofficial account of the significant items discussed and/or voted upon during the July 27, 2015 City Council Special Meetings. The complete agenda packet is found here and a video of the meeting can be viewed here. Draft meeting minutes will most likely be posted at the city website as part of the August 2015 Regular Meeting Agenda packet.
For those who want to skip the details, here is the essence of the results with regards to the FY16 Budget:
- Council adopted a property tax rate of $2.52, the same as the state certified rate but more than the revenues/expenditures of the FY15 rate of $2.39. Translation: This is NOT a flat budget since it increases spending.
- Council moved $335,000 onto the trash collection bill meaning that rate payers will now pay an additional $3.50 per month for refuse collection. Council held onto those dollars by not reducing the budget.
- Council approved providing the schools with an additional $326,302 (3.8 cents equivalent on the tax rate) thereby permanently obligating us to a higher MOE rate. They’d requested over $650K, but now stand to receive over $574K from the county increases and maintain a healthier fund balance than required, somewhere between $4M-6M which is at least double the 3% mandate.
- And of greatest concern to me personally, by shifting the refuse collection monies and by absorbing over $2 million from multiple funds into the general fund (Street & Public Transport $207K, Grant Fund $1.05M, & the Special Programs Fund, AKA RLC, $895K) we have artificially inflated the general fund thereby artificially suppressing the tax rate. We’ve set the stage a major tax increase next year (as much as 20 cents or more) when we no longer have the revenues to cover the same level of appropriations as this year. It has yet to be determined, but we are very likely about to be in the top three, if not THE top taxed city in the state.
Final adoption of the tax rate is scheduled to occur on August 3rd.
My position: Given the 30 cent increase Roane County has made, the 10 cent increase facing Anderson County and our having doubled water/sewer rates in recent years (with another increase coming this year), we cannot lament in one breath that our city is overburdened with poor people and claim that the solution is to take more of their money. We are penalizing those who live here and forcing them to choose to move elsewhere. It’s a vicious, endless cycle. It has been proven time and time again that there is waste in both houses’ budgets. The people expect more of us, not us taking more from them.
NOTE: On this night, the city manager called two special meetings. Council was notified of the second meeting 2 business days prior and were provided the agenda and supporting documents at 4:10p.m. one business day prior. Half of the reduction motions were based on his subsequent recommendations which are contained within the agenda packet. All of his recommended motions passed in one form or another.
1st Special Called Meeting
PUBLIC HEARINGS AND FINAL ADOPTION OF AN ORDINANCE
a. An ordinance to provide for a budget and appropriations for municipal purposes for the FY which began July 1, 2015 by adopting a budget and adopting appropriations.
7 citizens and 2 BOE members spoke during the public hearing.
Given the level of emails and phone calls we’ve received this past week, the city manager addressed the library issue upfront stating that it was not on the chopping block in this budget. My response on the matter is pasted at the end of this summary.
Property Tax Revenues Discussion
We were told that the state certified rate of $2.52 actually yields more than FY15 revenues due to growth ($19,723,917). Council spent significant time trying to understand what the previous tax rate of $2.39 yielded in revenues for FY15. I’d asked for clarification on this multiple times in recent weeks. I’d also asked for copies of the communications from the state that showed the certified rate and its correlating figure. The end goal was to determine what a flat revenue stream would equate to. We were provided at least five different answers tonight. I –think— the final answer was: $19,649,000.
(Of note, our proposed budget projects FY15 actuals at $19,876,300).
The Finance Director and the City Manager urged us (in fact compelled us by way of the order of these agendas) to first adopt a budget based on appropriations (total spending) as this was how they formulate the budget.
I stated that the process was illogical and that we should start by establishing a spending limit via a tax rate. I attempted to make a motion to amend the property tax rate at a flat rate of $2.50.The mayor called my motion out of order because I misunderstood that the reference to a tax rate had been removed from the ordinance entirely. (See hour 1:05)
My understanding is/was that this was the public hearing and final adoption of the ordinance first passed on 6/15/15. The 6/15/15 ordinance originally stated that it would “carry over a temporary tax rate….for FY2015 by imposing a temporary tax rate…. and adopting appropriations.” (pulled from the very first paragraph of the ordinance).
At a point of over 30 minutes of discussions, I attempted to make another motion to which the mayor asked me to retract it as we had yet to bring the ordinance to the floor. (See hour 1:11 of the video). He then was instructed by Watson that we needed to make a motion to adopt the amended ordinance. Hensley made the motion and I believe Callison seconded it. After carefully reviewing the entire meeting, I am unable to locate when a vote taken to actually amend the original ordinance with specific reference to the tax rate.
I have since sent the following question to the city attorney and city manager: In what meeting, and at what point in that meeting, did council vote to amend the original ordinance passed on 6/15 by removing this first paragraph in its entirety?
Motion #1: Baughn moved to reduce the school appropriation line item to the same as last year, the MOE required amount, of $14,629,302, equaling a $652K Line item reduction. Motion failed 3-4 with Baughn, Chinn and Smith voting yes and Gooch, Hensley, Hope and Callison voting no.
Motion #2: Chinn moved to reduce the school appropriations line item by $325,000 bringing the total to $14,955,915. Motion passed 6-1 with Hensley voting no.
Motion #3: Chinn moved to increase the refuse collection fee by $7. He later amended his motion to increase the fee collected by $3.50. That amounts to $335,000 or 3.9 cents on/off the tax rate. Motion passed 5-2 with Baughn & Smith voting no. Before the vote, I stated that I could not support this move unless it was preceded by an equal reduction on the tax rate. Mr. Chinn attempted to do that in the subsequent motion, but it failed. Therefore, we are avoiding a tax increase by taking these monies from taxpayer by a different route.
Motion #4: Chinn moved to decrease the budget’s total appropriations by $335,000. Motion failed 5-2 with Chinn and Baughn voting yes.
Motion #5: Gooch moved to reduce the storm water budget by $100,000. Motion passed 7-0.
Motion #6: Hensley moved to restore Healthy Start funding to $31,500. Smith amended to $31,850. Motion passed 7-0.
Motion #7: Gooch moved to reduce total appropriations by $31,850 within other areas of the budget at the staff’s discretion. Motion passed 6-1 with Smith voting no.
Motion #8: Baughn moved to reduce Chamber of Commerce funding from $175K to $90K. Motion died for lack of a second. Per Watson, the CoC used only $125K each of last two years. Furthermore, our per capita spending greatly exceeds that of both large and smaller area cities:
Atlanta: 0 cents (they do not contribute any tax payer monies to their chamber of commerce according to their budget chief)
Nashville: 57 cents
Farragut: 70 cents
Oak Ridge: $6.03
Motion #9: Smith moved to allocate $260,000 to the capital projects fund. Motion passed 5-2 with Baughn and Chinn voting no. (This was essentially appropriating the majority of the funds recouped by motion #3)
Motion #10: Baughn moved to reduce the city manager’s budget by $85,000 (the new equivalent of 1 cent on the tax rate). Motion died for lack of a second. The city manager’s budget has increased by $83,764 since 2014, to include a 66% increase to his travel allotment and at least 16% in salary raises for himself. He’s gone from having one direct employee (his secretary) to four. What’s more, his most recent add of an assistant appears to be performing much of the work that the city clerk once did.
Motion #11: Callison moved to accept the budget as amended. Motion passed 5-2 with Baughn and Chinn voting no.
2nd Special Called Meeting
CONSIDERATION OF RESOLUTIONS AND AN ORDINANCE
a. Resolution establishing a certified tax rate of $2.52 for the recently completed general reappraisal of property within the City of Oak Ridge. Motion passed 7-0 This was simply an acknowledgement of the state recommendation of a rate that would yield a revenue-neutral funds.
b.An ordinance to establish the property tax rate for the tax year 2015 as $2.52 per $100 of assessed value.
Chinn motioned to amend to $2.50. Motion failed 5-2 with Chinn and Baughn voting yes, Gooch, Hope, Hensley, Smith and Callison voting no. Original motion passed 5-2 with Chinn and Baughn voting no. NOTE: This ordinance was segregated out of the original ordinance discussed in the first special meeting. It will now require a second vote.
c. A resolution modifying the due date and delinquency date schedule for property taxes for tax year 2015. Motion passed 7-0
d. A resolution authorizing the mayor to submit a letter of support of the Oak Ridge Rowing Association’s efforts to bring the 2016 American Collegiate Rowing Association Championships to Oak Ridge. Motion passed 7-0
For a different, but accurate take on these meetings, Oak Ridge Today’s Summary of these meetings is found here.
Council has not, and at this point likely will not, consider adjustments to the library budget. We have, however, encouraged the city manager to explore cost saving measures. I’m not too keen on the idea of outsourcing, but without a specific proposal to review, will reserve judgment. I did specifically encourage the city manager to first take his proposed savings to the library director and afford her the opportunity to propose alternative cost saving measures.
As you can see from the excerpts below, I am of the position that the library is currently overfunded:
I made the suggestion last year to reduce library funding based on the fact that our per capita spending was $48 compared the Blount County Library’s $16. Soon thereafter, Aditya Savara researched the matter and provided council with an outstanding analysis clearly demonstrating serious inefficiencies. He found most of our $1.4Mbudget is spent on staff while only 10% is spent on materials. His research of national averages shows that the average library spends closer to 20% on materials and suggests we are overstaffed by at least 30%. He posed a question that begs a response: “If we spent $1 million a year on books and let the Oak Ridge citizens take them home, would we be better off than employing 17 librarians?” Let’s take him up on his challenge and at least reduce funding by $90,000, or 6.4%, of their total budget.
Reduce library funding. I love our library and am likely one of its most frequent patrons. However, our per capita spending is $48 compared to the $16 per person spent by the Blount County Library. Theirs is the only library servicing Maryville and Alcoa and is funded by all three municipalities. I propose we reduce our spending to that same level. Savings to taxpayer: $952,000 or 10.5 cents off the property tax rate.