Tax Cuts?

  • Germantown is committed to long term financial stability with five year financial plans not one year budgets.
  • This planning method provides stability in the tax rate for those on fixed incomes, demonstrates ability to service debt to financial markets and allows flexibility in changing economic conditions.
  • At the June 11, 2018 BMA meeting, Alderman Massey made a motion to reduce the property tax rate by $0.11 without collaboration with city staff and no fiscal analysis to support his position. (motion failed 2-3, Massey & Barzizza voting yes)
  • Estimated impact of this cut is $1.8-$1.9 million to the city budget, and there was no recommendation on how to meet those cuts.
  • Disregarding a long-term plan would likely require annual tax increases and also reduce the stability of our finances. Essentially forcing the city to live “paycheck to paycheck.”

Municipal finances are complicated. As I discussed in the piece on school funding, the city is funded by multiple sources. The majority of that funding comes from property tax. In 2017, the Germantown tax rate was $1.97. Now how your bill is calculated is a little more complicated. The county assesses the value of your property and then you pay tax on 25% of that value. So, a $250k house at 25% is $62,500 of assessed value. You then divide that by 100 (the rate is per $100 of value) and multiply by $1.97 for a tax bill of $1,231. For a comparison, commercial properties pay 40% of the value of their property.

Near the end of the June 11, 2018 BMA meeting, Alderman Massey began questioning the City Administrator and Chairman of the FAC about how they came up with the tax rate. This meeting was the second reading of the budget, certainly a proper time to ask questions but probably not the best time to make fundamental changes to the budget that will be in place on July 1 or just 20 days from the meeting. The budget process has been ongoing for months. He has been at some of these meetings. He knows the work the City and FAC are doing to pull a budget together and it appears to have never approached the FAC or city staff with his proposal. What proposal? Alderman Massey made a motion to reduce the property tax rate by $0.11.

Link to YouTube Video of Massey’s remarks

Rightfully, he was questioned about his support for this cut. This is a 5.6% cut to the city’s primary source of funding. Do you have a budget in your household? I hope so. In essence, what Alderman Massey is proposing is to make the city live pay check to pay check. That would likely require annual tax increases and also reduce the stability of our finances. The city budgets for stability. The city administrator clearly states “we don’t do one year budgets we do a five year plan.” Admittedly, I don’t know all of their process but from the City Administrator’s presentation they clearly budget five year capital plans and do high level expense projections to at least that term. The debt projections presented went out to 2048. I can tell you that in corporate finance we look out 5-10 years and sometimes longer.

The city’s commitment to long term financial stability helps on many fronts. The idea is that our tax rates are stable for 5-6 years at a time and some times longer. That stability allowed the city to make it through the great recession without a tax increase. This happens by being able to build up reserves and then draw down on them as time goes on. It works much like your escrow account for taxes and insurance on a house.

The stability this method offers allows people on fixed incomes to budget accordingly and shows the financial markets we are a responsible community and have the ability to service our debts. These funding levels help to dictate the rates we are charged when we borrow money. It also gives the city flexibility to adjust to changing economic conditions as they did in 2008. These are all the reasons Germantown wins awards for their budget processes.

So what support and analysis did Alderman Massey bring for his proposed cut? None, merely a statement that “the ratios, I think, bear out that this will not change our ability to maintain the funding.” Budgets are not built on ratios, they are the product of observations and trends. As I said before, this process has been going on for months. A team of financial professionals from both the City and Financial Advisory Commission (FAC) have worked and reviewed the budget to get to this point. It clearly appears he has not asked anyone on staff to look at this and he has no analysis to support his claims. Alderman Massey has asked for transparency in government and transparency would be evaluating this proposed reduction thoroughly prior to voting on it. I am very concerned that there was no supporting documentation for this proposed cut and two Aldermen (Massey & Barzizza) voted for this not knowing the potential impact.

This is the City of Germantown’s budget ladies and gentlemen. The budget as presented projects property taxes of $32.8 million of property tax revenue. That implies that at the proposed rate of $1.95 (after a $0.02 reduction from 2017 for assessor adjustments) each penny of the tax rate generates $168,000 of revenue for the city. The proposed tax cut would result in a reduction of approximately $1,850,256. The city is required to have a balanced budget. I would like to see where the proposed cuts would come from to meet this type of reduction. Do they come from our ISO Class 1 Fire Department, award winning police department or any of the other great services offered by our city?

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Civics 101: GMSD, “City Hall” and non-profits.

I saw the following post recently, and wanted to respond with more questions:IMG_8270

My questions:

1.  Why would an Alderman want to get information about Germantown schools (specifically about teachers who have resigned, as shown in a follow up comment)?

2. Why would this Alderman, an elected City Hall official, think he could get this information from City Hall?

But I couldn’t pose these questions in response because I’m . . . you guessed it . .. well, not technically “blocked,” but “muted” on this public page, meaning I can see posts but cannot comment on them. We started this blog to give a voice to those who are blocked (and muted), so I’m going to use that voice.

Does Alderman Massey know that City Hall and GMSD are separate entities? That other than approving a budget, City Hall has no oversight over GMSD?

This prompted me to look back at something I recalled from a Board of Mayor and Alderman (“BMA”) meeting earlier this year.

On February 12, 2018,  a $100,000 allocation to the Germantown Education Foundation (a separate, private 501(c)(3) charitable organization), was up for a vote by the BMA. Alderman Massey did not want to allocate the money to GEF and instead suggested that it would be better just to allocate it directly to the schools, cutting out the “middleman.” Putting aside several other problems with this (such as that the allocation to GEF helps support an organization that is very good at fundraising and every dollar allocated to GEF likely results in many more dollars raised for our schools),  it quickly became apparent that Alderman Massey did not understand the concept of Maintenance of Effort.  It is not unreasonable for an ordinary citizen to not understand this concept, but he is an elected official and this concept has serious implications for the city’s finances.  In short,  every operational dollar allocated directly from the city to the school system is considered Maintenance of Effort and must be added to all future operational fund allocations to the school system. So, an allocation of $100,000 to the school system in 2018 results in mandated additional allocations of $100,000 in 2019, 2020, and so on. This was mentioned a few times but did not seem to sink in.

In that same meeting, Alderman (and now Mayoral Candidate) John Barzizza suggested that it would be prudent to have the Germantown Education Commission* have direct oversight over GEF.  The city attorney pointed out that GEF is an independent Non-Profit, and as such, is required to provide financial information to the public.  Alderman Barzizza again suggested having a city Commission provide direct oversight over an independent 501(c)(3) entity.  That would be like saying the city should have it’s wellness commission oversee the Board of Directors of St. Jude or LeBonheur if it is going to donate any funds to those charities.

Does Alderman Massey think that GMSD is governed by City Hall?  That it is within his role as city Alderman to request and obtain personnel records from GMSD?  That City Hall maintains such records for a wholly separate government entity (GMSD)?  That even if there were something untoward found in such records, it would be the role of the BMA to address it as opposed to the GMSD Superintendent or School Board?

Does Alderman Barzizza think that GEF, a private charitable organization, is a city agency?  Does he think the city can exercise direct oversight over the board of an independent Non-Profit charitable organization?

*full disclosure:  I am a member of the Germantown Education Commission, which is an advisory commission, having no oversight over any school, school district, or independent education non-profit.

Our Purpose

 

Just to be clear, this blog was created to give a voice to those silenced by the actions of Alderman Dean Massey when he blocked a large number of citizens from the ability to converse with him on community pages like the Germantown Bulletin Board. It appears Alderman Massey has been removed from that page for rules violations.

While that is unfortunate, in a recent post on Massey for Germantown regarding his removal, he states that this blog is an attempt to smear him. A review of our posts should be clear that we have only answered statements by Alderman Massey with facts, never have we smeared him.

Alderman Massey also repeats that anyone who responds to his statements with facts are puppets of the Germantown Administration. He accuses us of trying to control the narrative. Unfortunately, Alderman Massey is unable to see that by blocking us, HE is controlling the narrative.

In no way do we intend to smear him or any of his supporters. Our only purpose is to provide a forum to freely answer his statements.

As I have stated publicly before, I have no interest in Alderman Massey’s personal family pictures on his personal page. My problem with being blocked is only with being shut out of the conversation he holds with his constituents. Additionally, by blocking all dissent, he gives the appearance that no one disagrees with his positions which is misleading.

Perhaps he now understands just a bit how all of us feel, being removed from the community conversation, at least in that one social media venue.

 

Love and Light

Just a few days ago, on April 4, 2018, we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His words are as relevant today as when he spoke them:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I’ve been filled with anger too much lately, about a number of things, but in large part about the relentless attacks I see on social media against my city, its leaders and many citizens.

I find myself angry when I see people who have shared facts or opinions, or dared to say they like something that the majority in a given echo chamber hate, get instantly bombarded with ugly personal attacks.

I was very angry earlier today when Mr. Massey once again posted a citizen email that raised concerns and, in his forum where only those who support him are allowed to comment, made himself out to be a victim and cast aspersions on that citizen, city leaders and law enforcement. And then when one of his chief supporters and the administrator of his page actually referred to our city as “Nazi Germany” and “the Reich”. 😳. Really? I privately let this person know how deeply offensive that comparison is to me and others affected by the Holocaust, and in return I was called a “narcissist” and told to “go away.”

I could go on, and it is tempting, but I won’t, because Dr. King was right. Only love can combat hate. So here goes:

I love my city. Is it perfect? Of course not. But…

I love the parks.

I love the schools.

I love that my city signed a resolution and the nationwide Mayor’s Compact against hate and bigotry in the wake of the neo-Nazi/KKK rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly.

I love the new coffee place and my little knitting group that meets there.

I love the greenway, and seeing so many friendly faces out running and walking dogs on sunny days.

I love the trees. Yes. There are sooooo many trees, a fact which I am reminded of every pollen season.

I love our amazing police and fire departments, and the fact that I feel safe walking at night in my neighborhood.

I love our library.

I love GPAC, and GAC.

I’m not afraid to say that I actually like the look of the new developments at Thornwood and Travure, and places like them and Whole Foods, that are set close to the street (though I would be called unspeakable things for saying that in certain Facebook groups). I think they look modern and clean and better than a large parking lot.

I don’t love – but also don’t hate – new apartments. They’re apartments. They don’t really inspire love or hate -or fear- in me.

I don’t love that our elementary and middle schools are overcrowded; but I do love that so many people want to join us here and that our schools and city are addressing the growth.

I love that this is a place where I, someone who didn’t really know anyone here when I moved here, and who, as a politically left of center Jew who doesn’t particularly like barbecue, doesn’t really fit in, was welcomed when I started to get involved in my kids’ schools, and later as a volunteer on a city commission.

I love our Apple Store, and that they have a helpful young “genius” there who wears a kilt. ☺

I love that we are finally getting a Trader Joe’s – YAY.

I love my friends.

I refuse to let darkness and hate win in Germantown.

Let’s drive away the anger, darkness and hate with neighborliness, light and love.

Political Tactics to Watch in 2018

Brian Ueleke also contributed to this article.

What can you expect to see between now and the local elections in November? Well, it is not likely to be fun as strategies will be used to intentionally divide our community. Some of these strategies are already actively unfolding. 

Focus will be placed on “wedge issues” intended to draw lines between voters. Examples of this include instilling fear over an abundance of apartments being built, fear of too much commercial growth and a focus on empty storefronts (although the occupancy rate in retail commercial real estate in Germantown is 94% with office CRE even better at 97.9% and commercial development offsets the tax burden on homeowners for schools, fire and police) and the repeated assertion that the city leaders are promoting development for their own benefit. 

Read these posts on social media and understand both sides. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. The intent of this blog post is to help understand what will likely happen and identify these tactics so you can judge for yourself what is the truth.

Remember, a lot of effort has been put into building the perception that certain city leaders do not listen to residents and cannot be trusted. This began back in 2016 during the last election cycle. While there is always an opportunity to communicate better; by and large, the processes that are in place in the City of Germantown ensure that multiple phases of review and open forums are available to discuss any change. The challenge is that most people don’t have time to attend all these meetings so many look to Facebook for answers.

Watch for these tactics:

  • Social Media: This is going to be one of the main battle fronts of this election. Expect to see open campaigning with supporters of all candidates boosting their candidate’s positions. 
  • Remember When?: Even simple posts reminiscing about the “good ‘ole days” may not be as innocent as they seem. This is a tactic which can be referred to as “Member Berries” (a staple of the program “South Park”). These posts are intended to make you think about the “good ‘ole days” and simpler times, making the challenges of today seem that much more overwhelming. 

    A staple of the program “South Park” during the 2016 election.
  • Blog posts: (and yes, I get the irony that this is a blog post) You will see subtle things like blog posts to establish credibility and expertise for candidates.
  • Blocking: (Yes, this again.) Just know this strategy is being used to create one sided conversations about issues. When elected officials engage in this practice on the scale that certain people have, it violates freedom of speech and stifles open exchange of political ideas in our community. When you read posts on pages like the Germantown Bulletin Board or Alderman Massey’s Germantown page, remember, Alderman Massey has blocked a large number of active citizens from the ability to comment on his posts. This gives the impression that everyone agrees with his statements.
  • Political Strategists: There is nothing inherently wrong with a candidate using a strategist and you will see them from all candidates. However, we already know mayoral candidate John Barzizza has taken on the services of Michael Lipe from New Blue Strategies. Mr. Lipe set up John Barzizza’s Rally.com fundraiser page. He is an experienced strategist who helped lead Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Tennessee (according to his LinkedIn page) – a campaign that leveraged social media to nearly unseat Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s Nominee. No doubt you will continue to see this type of influence in our social media conversations. 
  • Political Action Committees: We first saw this tool pop up in the 2016 local elections when Alderman Rocky Janda was up for re-election. The Germantown Sunshine PAC, funded in part by John Barzizza and his treasurer, Jon Thompson, established a false narrative of corruption involving your city’s leaders with the “Is My City Corrupt?” campaign that has divided this community ever since. Accusations were made when pictures of checks from the city to Alderman Janda’s business were posted on the “Is My City Corrupt” Facebook page. (Remember that?) But no complaints were ever filed or wrongdoing established related to Alderman Janda’s business transactions with the city. And as soon as elections were over, the Facebook page quietly disappeared. Who knows what is in store this year? But expect to see more innuendo that your elected officials are benefitting monetarily in some way by their service. Demand proof of these allegations. 
  • Remember these Sponsored Ads all over your Facebook feed last election cycle?
  • Citizens to be Heard: The mayor clearly states at the beginning of every meeting that the forum is a place to gain input from the public and not a forum for dialogue. So, you will rarely see any response from any city official during this segment of the meeting. That said, you can give the most eloquent speech, have it broadcasted to the community then conveniently saved to YouTube for future soundbites. There is no fact checking of statements, no corrections to inaccuracies so be sure you understand what is being said and don’t take if for truth just because it is presented in this forum. And be aware that something designed to give our citizens a voice in policymaking can be hijacked for political propaganda. When someone has a complaint, see if they explain how they are directly and personally impacted. If they are complaining about something that does not impact them, ask yourself why?

It never ceases to surprise us that the election season brings out the worst in some people. A reader recently commented on our LG blog that “being controversial and stirring up discontent is how some people make themselves feel relevant. It doesn’t matter to them if they are right or wrong (because in their heads they are always right), just as long as they get attention.” There will be those running for office who present themselves as a champion for the underdog even when they don’t really care about the underdog. They care “about creating a stink in which [they] look like a champion for those who feel disenfranchised (those who worry about their tax money being spent in ways they consider foolish.)” As we approach upcoming elections, you can count on our blog to follow the advice of our reader by continuing to challenge the political rhetoric and rebutting the wrongful allegations.