Clarksville, TN Online: News, Opinion, Arts & Entertainment.


Clarksville City Council Regular Session Budget Report – Part I, June 9th, 2013

 

Clarksville City Council - Ward 10Clarksville, TN – I don’t know if there is a Guinness Book record for long council meetings, but I believe we would qualify after Thursday’s regular session. The meeting started at 6:55om Thursday and ended about 2:20am Friday morning.

Things started mild enough, then got feisty and progressed downhill to the point that at the end of the meeting Councilman James Lewis stormed over to Councilman David Allen as they were leaving and said he would see him outside. Police were requested to go outside to ensure the situation did not turn into a knock down and drag out affair.

So basically, it was a regular night at the Clarksville City Council.

After such a long session, I needed a day or two off before working my usual recap reports to you.

There are a number of budget items that were addressed and I will break out the action into several articles.

Clarksville Police Department Budget

The mayor did not request any new police officers in her FY 2014 budget. This was of great concern to half the council. At issue is the Clarksville Police Department has set a goal of maintaining a ratio of two officers per 1000 citizens. The national average is 2.2 officers per 1000. The regional average is 2.5 officers per 1000.

During my first term on the council, it was a mission of that council to try and bring the police force up the proper manning and equip them to standards needed in the 21st century.  When the census was completed after 2010, we had 271 officers onboard by 2011 and a ratio of 2.02 officers per 1000 citizens.

Around 2007/2008 we had started 243 officers and had 8.66 violent crimes per 1000 citizens (992 reported). In 2011 that ratio had dropped to 6.58 violent crimes per 1000 (883 reported). Total crime rates per 1000 also showed similar drops. The ability to be proactive with police force staffing is one of the easiest mathematical equations a city can have, yet we are ignoring it.

In my second term, neither the mayor nor a majority of the council seems willing to “bite the bullet” to ensure the police force is maintained at a 2 per 1000 ratio. This ratio has proven successful due to the highly trained officers we have and the outstanding leadership within the ranks. Being nationally accredited and crime numbers that have dropped support this.

However, as the city population grows, there is usually a correlation that crime growth will occur to some degree too. We will reach a tipping point where our police force cannot address or handle the calls they get in a timely manner. Documented police calls and other law enforcement activities show increases with 12,000 to almost 15,000 a month occurring. The lack of concern to increase officer strength with a fast growing population was proven during the council budget meeting.

The U.S. Census reported several weeks ago that Clarksville is the fifth fastest growing city in the U.S. As of July 2012, there were approximately 142,500 people in Clarksville and growing at a rate of almost 5%. At that population size, we should have 285 officers, thus we were actually short 12 officers A YEAR AGO based on the latest population numbers.

If we have maintained even a 4% growth for the past 12 months, that means our population is around 148,000 at the present time (June 2013). We are preparing a budget for where we want to be by this time next year (June 2014) when our population may grow another 4% resulting in population in the range of 154,000.

At that size population we should be looking at officer strength of 308 – a shortfall of 35 officers compared to our current force structure.  If we do not initiate increases now, we may not be able to catch up for years and could be facing a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” scenario when crime jumps.

I proposed a budget amendment adding four officer positions in the third quarter (January 2014) of the budget year and four more positions in the fourth quarter (April 2014). This would add $227,516 in budget costs for FY 2014. I had prepared budget reduction proposals in other areas of the budget to completely offset this increase.  Thus, the balancing act to start reacting to the officer shortfall and manage it within the budget.

During the discussions on my proposal there were a couple of council members that stated they were very supportive of the police department (a strong political statement for public consumption), but they would not support any increase in officers (if the mayor wasn’t asking for an increase then they would not either).  There is a saying that if you are going to “talk the talk, then walk the walk”.

Another council member stated if the police chief wanted officers he would have asked for them. Since the police chief had no increases requested in his budget presentation to the mayor, then he must not need them.

True, the chief did not request any new police positions, but he did present a very informative chart that clearly stated that the department needs two officers per 1000 citizens to do the job. It also clearly showed that the department was not meeting that goal with the budgets being presented. The data chart was also showing a population growth of only 1.5% per year through 2017.

It was after the public police budget presentation to the mayor that the U.S. Census released data said Clarksville’s population was growing at almost a 5% rate and had reached 142,500 in July 2012. The chief’s data had not expected to reach that population size until 2015.

The council member thought his citing of the police chief’s budget presentation that did not ask for new officers positions was a sufficient trump to counter my request for officers and it would show his support to the mayor’s budget to not fund any additions.

However, he had no response for my comment that it must also be pointed out that the police chief also did not ask for any pay raises for his officers in his budget presentation. So should the council eliminate their pay raise based on this council member’s logic? Of course the answer is no?

The mayor told them before they developed their budget presentations for her April public review not to include any, but later changed her mind.  As council members we all have the right and responsibility to point out documented needs, address them and make corrective budget changes just like the mayor did.

As a side issue to the police budget, the issue of what was or was not presented in the mayor’s public showcased department budget presentations is interesting. I had previously told readers that these presentations were somewhat staged as the items presented were not always the true requests or needs of the departments, but what the mayor wanted the public to see.

Such “budget staging” allows Mayor McMillan “plausible deniability” by suggesting if the department head did not list a budget need in their public presentations, then she or others could refer back to those presentations as grounds to either support or not support something. This “budget staging” was noted by other council members who knew some city department heads had interests in items or needs that did not show up in their public budget presentations.

Further evidence of this staging was found when reviewing the almost 400 page budget document and its line-by-line budget details of each department. There are department items that showed up as budget line items but were cut/deleted and did not make the mayor’s public presentation version for that department’s budget.

On April 18th, 2013, I requested Mayor McMillan provide council members with her budget guidance and items/issues that she did or did not want to be included in the budget presentations. Such information would aid council members in knowing if an expected item in the budget did not appear, was it due to being deleted by the mayor or just forgotten to be included. As of this date, Mayor McMillan has refused to provide this data.

There is also concern in the directives and data that Mayor McMillan provides to her department heads in order for them to prepare budget assessments. An example is what city population is to be used in forecasting or supporting city/department needs.

The Police Department used a Clarksville population count of 136,250 for 2012 in their needs assessment while the Fire Department listed 141,342 as the population for 2012.  When trying to correlate personnel and equipment needs to population, using the same databases is imperative for assessment purposes.

In the end, the vote to add the eight officer positions in 2014 and show some positive movement on a documented need resulted in 6–yes & 6–no vote.  Mayor McMillan broke the tie and voted no.

Two Rivers Company

The Two Rivers Company (TRC) is a non-profit organization that the city established a couple of years ago for the purpose of revitalizing the downtown and riverfront areas. In the FY 2014 budget the TRC is asking for $98,944 from the city. This funding would hopefully fund a permanent Director. Another $30,820 would come from Aspire (a privately funded organization of area business functions and leaders to promote economic growth and business expansion for jobs and better quality of life initiatives) to help cover support staff, office expenses and operational costs.

It also now appears that TRC wants the Director position to become a city employee position, which causes some concern with why we made the TRC a separate non-profit to start with. I have not found any city position earmarked as a TRC director and, when the discussion came up at the council, Mayor McMillan made no mention of it.

I proposed that the city budget portion for the funding for the Director position be cut 50%. The purpose of allowing only six months pay was to force the TRC and the city to properly fund the function through an impact or special assessment tax from those properties directly affected and benefiting most from the operation of the TRC.

While the city has banged the drum loudly and proclaimed the goals of the TRC as needed, we have paid only lip-service to fund it properly. The TRC wants a five-year funding commitment but knows it will have to come to the city council each year for money. Getting the city to say it will commit and then actually providing the proper funding to carry out the projects that may be needed are two different worlds. The funding issue is likely the reason TRC is suggesting the director position become a city employee.

However, the fight there is, if such an action is taken who is really running TRC? Will the appointed board or the city mayor have true control? We have had past issues with the arrangement of the Parking Authority (a separate city appointed function) and the parking manager (city employee paid out of parking funds) over who controls what and to whom. The TRC operation would be a much bigger issue and if disagreements break out then problems will bigger too.

Some of my fellow council members stated the city needed to fund the full amount for the director position and a March newspaper editorial supporting that topic was handed out.  Somehow, my support to fully fund the position, but utilize another method to fund part of it and provide a secure stable source of future project funding got lost in the discussion.  Here is why I suggested the funding method of using an impact/special assessment fee on affected properties within the TRC zone.

The TRC showed in its public budget presentation that it needs 5-year stable financial commitment to do its assigned job. In a comparison with other cities that use something similar to the TRC (Knoxville TN, Chattanooga TN, Columbus GA, etc.), the sums spent to accomplish the mission run from $360,000 to $3.2 million.

If we really want to see the TRC perform, it will take money to make money. The TRC, the city, and all other involved parties need to lay out a plan and what it will cost to get the job going. When looking at what other cities spend, it would appear we need to have an opening fund of $300,000 to $500,000 to engage the same kind of successful development as other cities have had. That would show us being serious when vying for grants and other potential investment and business opportunities.

If the city will not fund police officers with a proven track record, growing population and documented force structure need, what makes anyone think the city will agree to fund the same documented structural needs and growth projects on any long term schedule for the TRC?

It is time for all involved parties to say what the true cost is of doing this program will be in order to see successful accomplishments. If no one is ready or able to step up to that challenge, then it calls into question if we really want to do it or spend any money at all.

Another supporting issue for some type of assessment in the TRC area is the strategic guiding principles they present. These principles are to strengthen the district’s economic vitality, create awareness of a viable district to the community, manage traffic and pedestrian issues within the district, maintain and promote an environment in which to work, live and play in the area and provide leadership and support for district stakeholders.

While all of Clarksville can benefit, it will be those who actually work and live in the TRC zone that will gain the most. As such they need to participate the most in funding, management and the operations of the TRC. One of the reoccurring themes from the TRC in reviewing past efforts in the riverfront and downtown areas was lack of funding and lack of implementation of plans that have been previously developed.  Those two issues really go hand-in hand.

Here are some facts as provide by the Planning Commission:

  • 697 public and private properties within the district jurisdiction of the TRC
  • 240 residential properties
  • 341 commercial properties
  • 359.65 total acres
  • $56.5 million assessed tax value

There are a number of ways that an assessment fee could be developed and applied to those gaining the greatest benefit.

However, it was interesting that Councilman Marc Harris, whose has a sizable portion of the TRC district in his ward was not in favor of my proposal. Which goes back to the question if the TRC’s mission is to provide greater business, financial, cultural and quality of life improvements to this area, should they not also provide the greater share of the budget need?

Some council members believe no portion of Clarksville is any more important than another. Thus, should general taxpayer funding be direct to a specific area for only that area’s primary benefit?

Another issue I have heard from some business and property owners is they believe they are not being listened to or consulted with on issues within the TRC in an effective and timely manner. If those affected property and business owners are the primary funding source of the TRC, I would believe that organization would have to become more responsive and effective.

If it does not and cannot show a plan and list of accomplishments, those providing the primary funding will demand the removal of the leadership or elimination of the program. That would be another reason NOT to have the Director as a city employee. The board and those who fund the program would have total power, with less politics, to hire and fire.

After stating these points, the vote concluded in a 6-yes & 6-no vote with Mayor McMillan voting no to break the tie.

If the voting outcomes of these budget issues causes you concern, then the council and mayor need to hear about it. You have a couple of weeks before the final FY 2014 budget vote.

More to come.

Editor’s Note: This article contains the view points of Councilman Bill Summers and may not represent the views of the rest of the City Council, the City of Clarksville or ClarksvilleOnline.


About Bill Summers

Sections

Politics

Topics

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Personal Controls

Archives