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Clarksville City Council Budget Recap for June 19th, 2012 – Part 1

 

Clarksville City Council - Ward 10Clarksville, TN – The Clarksville City Council met Monday afternoon in a special session. Topics were cost/project mediation talks with the general contractor of the marina and Liberty Park (held in closed session) and the city budgets for FY 2013.

Marina and Liberty Park – I can not go into any detail here as the final wording and other legal requirements on issues the city has had with the general contractor, and vice versa, are being worked out. I believe other than some “punch list” and finishing items the project is heading toward completion.

If you haven’t been out to the park then you need to go. I have received a large number of positive comments about how great the new facility is.

The final touches and construction at the marina are also underway. If you want a boat slip contact marina manger Ric Cheyney. He may be reached at 931.444.0646 or visit him at the temporary office that has been set up next to the marina parking lot by the big green (I think that is the color) power building.  It says Marina Office on the front so you can’t miss it. Ric may be relocating to the actual floating marina office very shortly so if he isn’t on land, then check the floating dock office.

Clarksville City Budget – FY 2013

The second round/vote of the city budget was 180-degree course change from the first meeting. While little was said at the initial vote, plenty was said last night. I know for my part, having the extra time to see the full 650-page budget document and tracking costs and rationale exposed some concerns beyond what is seen in just the FY 2013 budget.

It also seemed that way for several other council members that had been researching the finer points of the mayor’s budget. As you recall, we only received the “complete” budget the Friday night before the following Thursday’s first vote. As usual, it was the city general budget (the budget that pays for police, fire, streets, capital projects) that drew the attention and fire.

In the end, the budget passed in a final vote was 7-yes and 6-no votes. I voted no and will explain in detail later as to the concerns I had and expressed to the council. The mayor had to vote to save her budget again.

Capital Projects

The action started with the list of over $12.2 million in Capital Projects the mayor proposed. If you reference my email on the city budget, Part III, you will see the projects listed. The mayor will borrow all but $59,120 (R.J. Corman Bridge) to pay for these projects.

In past budgets a mix of borrowing (for larger projects), grant money and funds from city revenue have been used. In this budget we will borrow money amounts for projects at or under $250,000, to include a study.

Performing Arts Center & Garage

First out of the chute was the $100,000 the mayor requested for “preplanning” a Performing Arts & Garage. The mayor was asked many questions on this one.

One of the first questions was is this related to the Roxy project that had been talked about in the past (Reference my comments in the Part III email)? The final answer was yes.

Are we borrowing the money to do this study? The answer was yes, although it was suggested by a council member that the parking authority reimburse the city since the garage is a major feature. This question/issue may see the light of day again when the mayor asks for council approval to actually borrow the money.

Why are we borrowing money for a paper project with a short lifespan? The center would be a major project that qualifies so it appears the effort is to lump it in. (Note: I believe the general feeling of City Hall is we are borrowing millions so an additional $100K isn’t a problem. In addition, the project may or may not go forward although the mayor wants it very badly.)

Are we going to compete with the Roxy? No. Basically, the city will build a new performing arts center with a garage and the Roxy (under whatever heading it would operate will be a tenant within the building). The city will own it and likely contract out to an operator that would schedule what was the Roxy and other acts and events. It appears it could be somewhat of a conference/event center with rooms to meet in. The Roxy has not had a great amount of success in it fund raising efforts and it appears the mayor will step in.

I asked the mayor if it was her intention for the city to “tote the note” and build the center with taxpayer money (minus whatever we could get in grants, etc.). The answer was yes. Of course this was the first time that many of us had heard this. It was evident from the head nodding by one or two council members, that they had been made aware of the project by the mayor.

The last known concept (by the rest of us) was to use parking revenues to build a garage under the theater and the Roxy would sit on top. The Roxy is a non-profit organization and the use or near-use of taxpayer dollars to build a non-profit facility is questionable.

The mayor seemed to get defensive on this item as discussions progressed.  She claimed she had been available to answer questions on this Capital Project request and seemed unhappy that we were plowing this issue with many questions and concerns.

It would seem that if a mayor was planning to spend a large sum for a major “quality of life” project a major press conference with a public announcement and TV coverage would have been made so everyone would know about it.  Or a mayor could at least bring it up in a regular council meeting as a major project. These were the approaches Mayor Piper used in announcing his new park and marina project.

Mayor McMillan has made press releases about when the boat ramps will open, she has made a video tour of Liberty Park and posted it on the city website and has held a press conference to announce a new charter committee. To learn about a major building proposal for Clarksville, that had been costed in the $16 to $20 million range when it was just the Roxy rebuild, council members had to dig through 650 pages of a budget documents to find it on page 648. Then the title of the project was listed as “Pre-planning for Downtown Performing Arts Ctr/Parking Garage. Many of us thought this was just the garage portion of the Roxy project.

A council member or two commented we spent $34 million on the marina (they weren’t supporters of it) and seemed amazed that council members were having a problem with this project (which they do support). There are several different issues in affect here that they prefer to ignore or haven’t figured out.

First, the city owned the park when we revamped it and added a marina. Second, we don’t own the Roxy building or the property it sits on and it seems the mayor wants the city version to go where the Roxy is. Third, the Roxy is a non-profit that hasn’t been successful in raising funds for a new theater and on the surface it appears we are bailing it out under the guise of a new city owned Performing Arts Theater and garage. Also, if there have been any federal or state grants given to the Roxy in the past, its change in entity could raise questions about repayment of those grants and who is responsible.

What is this Preplanning study going to provide? The mayor said something to the affect it wasn’t a study. The follow-up question was what were we supposed to get as a final product if it wasn’t a study. I did not hear a good explanation from the mayor on that one. The assumption is it would support building a center and garage.

If this FY 2013 study shows we should do it, will the mayor start funding it in FY 2014?  The mayor would not commit.

Since there was no financial commitment for 2014, given the mayor had not provided any previous announcements on concepts or vision of this facility (other than last evening’s discussion that Clarksville needs it for improved quality-of-life) and she couldn’t explain the exact purpose of the “pre-plan” a council member made a motion to cut the $100,000. That motion failed in a 6-yes and 7-no vote (I voted yes to cut it for now). It seems the mayor has been working this approach (taxpayer funded) for some time.

My wife and I personally support the Roxy by going plays (wish we had time for more of them) and have donated for building the new facility (What becomes of that money if the city takes over and the Roxy is a tenant?). However, the initial goal was this nonprofit would build a new theater on its own and perhaps have some assistance with a parking facility through a joint effort and revenues of the parking authority (not taxpayer). This late revelation by the mayor that the city will basically take over this project (supposedly on a grander scale) was an eye-opener. The potential costs and affect on future budget years with foreseeable revenues is a worry that I will address later.

Smith-Trahern Mansion

The old mansion is falling apart. The mayor wishes to spend $150,000 on fixing the chimneys so they don’t fall in and destroy the whole building. I think the mansion should be saved, but the mayor has avoided saying the city will step up to the plate and commit to it 100%. The public fundraiser the mayor touted last year has not been a success. The projected repair of the mansion could reach $2 million by early estimates.

I asked the mayor would she spend whatever taxpayer dollars were needed to fix the mansion (including an grants, etc.). The answer was yes.

If we are spending that amount this year, will money be allocated in the FY 2014 budget to continue the restoration process?  The mayor would not commit.

The longer we wait on total repairs the greater the damage and cost to repair. The building looks terrible due to all the rot and the few patch repairs that have been done. Does the mayor have a timeline that repairs need to be accomplished? No.

The city has not sanctioned a full study to understand the full extent of damage to the mansion or the effort and true cost to repair it.  So again, we are spending money with no objective, schedule, or true cost estimates.

Fire/Police Station at Exit 1

The mayor requests $350,000 to design and buy land for such a facility in FY 2013. Would the mayor commit to funding the actual building, equipment and personnel in the FY 2014 budget? No, she will not commit.

Parks

This isn’t in the Capital Projects list, but could be affected by it. The mayor is allocating around $25,000 to study several parcels of land to build a new park in our end of town. The parcels are available for buying and the study would pick the better one. Asking price for the land areas run up to a couple of million dollars. I asked the mayor would she commit to funding the land purchase based on the study result in the FY 2014 budget. She would not commit.

I stated a concern that the study could get finished and if we did not buy the land recommended, it could be lost and we would have wasted our money. The mayor stated I could recommend adding $2 million to the budget to make sure the land was bought on time. (My Opinion:  If I thought a project was worth spending any money on at the start, and had a time sensitive schedule, I would be committed to having a plan and timetable to see it through.  I guess I mistakenly thought that was a city mayor’s job.)

Budget Impacts For 2014 based on the Budget Actions of 2013

It was somewhere about this time in the budget battle the mayor got real aggravated and said that I wasn’t going to support the budget anyway, so let’s move on….or something to the affect.  So I figured it was time to layout the numbers and concerns I had with the whole budget and its possible impact on FY 2014.  The mayor really didn’t want to hear that.

I will have to say that with all the actions to start and spend money in FY 2013 followed by all the “no” commitments to follow up those project actions FY 2014 was interesting. Some on the council, especially the mayor, stated that their concern was with the FY 2013 budget only.

Councilwoman Johnson stated there are too many variables and potential changes that could happen by 2014 to worry about it. She went further and apologized to the audience and viewers that some on the council (that would be me and others) would ask these questions at this time (at an official meeting of the council about the budget) and it was all for the purpose of political posturing (asking questions about the mayor’s plans). All of the issues/costs I brought up were related to data that could be found in the budget (if it was read) and to information I was provided by the city Finance Dept.(if one bothered to ask).

All of the talk about not worrying about the impact of this year’s budget decisions on next year’s budget is amazing and exposes the problems we have in long-term planning and budgeting.  Such statements reminded me of a movie line.  The movie was “Gone With The Wind” and Scarlett O’Hara said “I’ll worry about that tomorrow, tomorrow’s another day”.

Yes, tomorrow is another day and that is when I’ll send my next section of the council budget report.

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.


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