Clarksville, TN – The Parks and Recreation Department and the city council committee that works with them have been working on an ordinance that would allow the department and committee to review and adjust any program or activity fees as expenses dictated.
This would allow a quicker response to changing cost conditions, give more management authority and responsibility (more on that in the next topic item) to the committee, and save the council time and effort on what is typically a mundane operational procedure which the council typically approves when it come before them anyway.
This proposal actually came before the council last month, but was delayed due to request by the legal staff to recheck a couple of items associated with the potential transfer of such a responsibility. The legal review was accomplished and the proposed ordinance returned to the floor of the council this month.
One council member seemed to have a problem with the ordinance. She never did fully articulate what her issue was, but it seemed to be an issue of trust that the committee and department would abuse its potential new authority. She tried to propose that any increase of 10% would have to come before the full council. Parks and Rec provides many programs that are $3.00, $5.00, and $10.00 range, along with many free programs. Usually any fee charged is associated with paying for an outside instructor that Parks & Rec will bring in to teach or operate a program, money to replace high turn-over equipment that may have a limited life due to the demands of the program, equipment associated to a specific program that a user wants to take or maintenance and/or cleanup caused by a particular program that was sponsored.
The 10% requirement would basically make the ordinance useless because a change of $1.00 (one dollar) would result in the department and committee having to come back to the council on many of their programs and fees. This proposal was dropped and another that would set the limit at a $25.00 dollar increase was proposed. There was no rationale as to why $25.00 was the “magic” answer.
After wrangling on this issue for 30 minutes or so, the ordinance was sent back to committee for another month. I had no problem with letting the department and committee assume the authority and responsibility of setting fees. If there were to be an issue, a council member always has the right to bring it before the full council. More on committees next.
It has been a long-term concern of mine that committees have little to no authority or responsibility to resolve anything. Most are a “dog and pony” show to go over what will go before the council. The Finance committee used to be more involved in the city budget, but no longer. Finance still makes decisions on legal issues on lawsuits, but that seems to be called into issue lately. The Gas & Water Committee used to make decisions on where city gas, water and sewer services would extend outside the city limits without council approval, but when that authority was actually used and some requests started getting rejected instead of being “rubber-stamped” (I was one of those that used the authority that committee had) Mayor Piper had the city council approve rule changes that took away that authority.
Whether a committee approves or disapproves any proposed city legislation doesn’t matter, as it will still go before the council for a vote. For a committee to vote on anything there has to be at least a quorum. There are a couple of council members that have a track record of continually being late or missing committee meetings. Just for the record, city council members are paid a flat fee each month, unlike county commission who are paid by the meeting. There are no penalties for continually missing or being late to committee meetings, however it is inconsiderate and wastes the time of other committee members and department staff.
Another issue I have with committees is information that we will review is sent out 24 to 48 hours ahead of time to the members. Some council members do not review the information and extra time has to be taken to answer questions or direct them to where in the information package the data is. Department heads and staff are always very patient with these delays, but I see it as a lack of respect for the effort that city staff put into making an information packet and council members to not make an effort to at least scan the material.
You will also see this lack of study by some council members at the executive and regular council meetings. Information files are digitally transmitted so the council member can download the latest information at home on our iPads. The council member then can study the information and prepare for the meeting. However, it is very clear who does not do their homework when the first question asked has the answer clearly marked in the data we received.
Mayor McMillan announced at the council session that she was revamping the committees. Committees were just assigned six months ago. She mentioned that some consolidation was being looked at which means some council personnel shifts should occur. She did not state the extent of change or who was going where. We are supposed to be informed within the next week or so. It was not mentioned that any authority or responsibility changes were included.
The 2012 budget is finished. You have received my comments and concerns in previous articles and I will not rehash those items. I did ask the city Finance Director (in our final council budget meeting) to look at the potential future (2013) as to what he sees as revenue needs. The premise of my question was since a majority of the council would not approve any serious cuts to this year’s proposed budget, then it would be reasonable to expect that expenses would be at least at the same levels, if not higher next year. It must also be remembered that the 2012 budget used around $5 million in one time money of which $2.5 million was borrowed, for what I consider, everyday operational needs.
The director basically stated that we will likely need to find some new revenue sources for next year.
The director alluded that the debt we have incurred the past four years is a piece of the revenue/expense problem and we did not provide a new revenue stream to pay for it. A large portion of the debt is due to the park/marina, two road projects and federal court ordered sidewalk construction (the sidewalk construction will likely top out in the $30-40 million range). The director and I disagree on the lack of a revenue stream to pay for such debt and capital improvements.
The city refinanced and retired some debt to provide financial resources to pay for new debt. In addition, the Capital Projects Revenue District (CPRD) was established around the new hospital district. The new property taxes that would be generated from new growth and development in that district was to be set aside to pay for capital projects, either in full or to pay for principal and interest of bonds/debt used for the project.
As I noted in previous articles, over $2 million was available in the CPRD for the new budget to pay for new and existing capital projects. It has been the “piggy bank” to fund these items and debt. The director and mayor have stated that the district is the equivalent of taking money out of one pocket, placing it in another and doing the same things you could do with only one pocket. I disagree from a philosophical standpoint.
I, and others on the council, see the CPRD as taking revenue the city receives and dividing it into accounts to pay for specific items our city needs. The concept isn’t any different than a worker that gets a paycheck and knows that a set amount needs to set aside for utility bills, an amount for food, an amount for gas, etc. Thus, when over $2 million in available cash is taken from an account that was specifically established for funding and paying for capital project expenses and then we claim we have no revenue stream to pay for it, then I have an issue with how we are developing our new budgets.
Budget Continued – East-West Corridor
Another project that was not covered in the budget was the East-West Corridor. After being advised that some money to start the environmental studies for the East-West project would be included and then seeing none, I have grown concerned for the project and Clarksville’s future transportation framework. The $50,000 the council spent to update the corridor data, which states we need to act now, could wind up on the shelf to collect dust among the many other studies the city has done and ignored over the years.
The corridor is a political “hot potato” to some and since the need is defined as roughly 20 years away for the total project, it is easier to kick it down the road to be someone else’s problem. The moratorium the council place on development in the proposed path will run out next month. Options and money are limited, along with time.
The project will not get any cheaper and delays will soon make the project too expensive to ever do. Of course that makes a ready excuse for those on the council in the future that only if the city had acted sooner in recognizing this need. It all comes down to planning and carrying out the actions of the plan and both cost money too.
I am looking at what is available to get this needed future project rolling.
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 or the City of Clarksville.