Clarksville, TN – This is the third installment on topics and issues concerning the proposed FY 2014 city budget. Department directors have been working to gather information to questions we posed during the two budget work sessions.
Proposed New Park – Ward 10: Those that have followed my efforts on the council know that one of the items on my long “to do” list was to establish a city park in the ward. If you look at the location of city parks in Clarksville, you will see they are clustered to the western side of the city, with many of those located in or around the old city center.Over the past 20 years the surge in residential growth has been along the eastern half of the city and recreational facilities have not kept up in number or location to correlate with the population expansion.
Finding suitable land, at a reasonable price, in an area you need, is hard to do, especially when the city is known to be the buyer. Also, when an opportunity to buy land that would meet various recreational needs becomes available, the city is usually unprepared to make a decision and move quickly.
Here is a case in point. As you will recall, the city spent $25,000 to study park land opportunities in the current budget. I questioned Mayor McMillan last year on this expense to see if the city would be prepared to commit and act quickly to purchase land the study approved, if it were available for sale. Her answer was no.
There was about 150-acre piece of land connected to Ward 10 that was for sale at the time of those park/budget study discussions. It seemed suitable to a number of recreational opportunities such as soccer, walking/bike trails and a blue water entry/exit point.
I actually had been after this land for park consideration since coming to the council six years ago and now it was for sale. City park officials and I looked at the property and believed there was very good potential with the property. However, as the city was not prepared to take advantage of that opportunity, the land was lost to another buyer(s).
Although rare, opportunity has knocked again and fate has smiled upon Ward 10 with another chance. I was very pleased to have been contacted this spring by a party that had connections to another potential land sale right next to our Ward. I have seen and walked the land, talked with the Clarksville Parks and Recreation folks about support and the property purchase has been listed in this proposed budget. The cost is $340,000 for roughly 90 acres.
The land is located next to the Deertrail neighborhood near Exit 11, off of Hwy76/MLK. The property runs along the Red River and Passenger Creek, behind the properties along Drum Lane, Buckhorn Drive and Arrow Lane. The land extends to an access off of Little Hope Church Road. TVA power lines cross an edge of the property. The property will be conducive to hiking/walking trails, some picnic areas, mountain bike trails, fishing and a blue water entry/exit point for canoes and kayaks.
Clarksville Montgomery County School System – Mayor McMillan Budget Donation Request
It is interesting to note the number of citizens that believe it is the city’s responsibility to fund or assist in funding the school system. The city and county school systems were unified back around 1964. As part of that agreement the city transferred 100% of its portion of the first 1% of the local sales tax option rate to help fund the unified system.
By law the city and county split sales tax proceeds equally within the city limits. The total local option sales tax rate today totals 2.5%. The state sales tax is 7% resulting in the combined sales tax rate of 9.5% that you pay for purchases. In 2009 alone (the year the last review was done) the amount of funding resulting from that 1964 city agreement equated to $8.8 million for the school system. That agreement is never ending.
In 1968 the local sales tax option was increased by .5%. The county government, citing poor economic health, requested the city give up a portion of its new tax receipts resulting from this increase to help it out with the schools again. The city did so, but that agreement has ended. In 2009 the city’s full share of its portion of that sales tax increase equated to $4.4 million.
In 1977 the city and county raised the local sales tax option by .75%. The county came hat-in-hand, again claiming poor economic health, requesting that the city provide 20% of its new tax share to the county to help provide instructional salaries for the schools. The city rolled and provided it. The problem here is the city still provides this and there is no contract between the city and county to keep doing this agreement.
In 2009 the amount leaving city coffers to the county for the school system was $1.4 million in that year alone. The lack of a contract has been a sore point for the city. I believe it’s time to take action on this one and sort the legal ramifications involved with no contract. The city still provides that percentage.
The good news for the city is that agreement ends in 2015. In 1995 the city found the county holding back on surplus collections of that tax increase. The issue was brought before the Tennessee Attorney General to settle the case, which stated the county needed to give back some money.
In recent years the county suggested raising the local sales tax option rate again. As usual they were hoping “Uncle Sugar” (the city) would go along and provide them a portion of that increase. We decided not to go along with the county on that one. In 2009 sales tax collections the city provided $10.7 million as financial aid to the county and, in turn, the school system.
It was an excellent move back in the 60’s to unify the school system and giving up the city’s portion of that first 1% was a good financial gesture to seal the deal. I believe we have an outstanding school system today because of the forward thinking action taken back at that time.
However, subsequent agreements were not good business decisions from the city standpoint. The county government has taxing authority OVER ALL of Montgomery County. The county collects money from you via sales taxes and property taxes as major revenue generators. The city also collects sales and property taxes as its major revenue generator. The problem is as a city resident you pay both city and county taxes.
Historically, there seemed to be a concept that if the city and county shared or split costs/payments for the operation of some service, that was fair for everyone. In reality, the city resident paid more for the same service than the county (non-city) resident. We have had functions where costs were split 50-50.
As a city taxpayer you provided the money to the city that allowed it to pay its 50%. As you are also a county taxpayer, you provided the money to the county that allowed it to pay its 50%. If you lived outside the city limits, you paid just the county for its 50%.
Did city taxpayers get twice the good or double the return for paying twice? NO! In reality, as a city taxpayer you could have paid for 2/3s to 3/4s of the total cost bill on that 50-50 split. The county has all the people and properties of Montgomery County to spread the costs across while the city has only those within the city limits.
About six or seven years ago the city and county finally agreed to stop most of the 50-50 cost sharing as it was unfair. Although the city and county still fund the airport through a 50-50 agreement, so the city taxpayer is still funding the greater share of that operation.
Even if you discount the original agreement on the first 1% in sales tax, the city has been generous in providing financial aid money it is legally entitled to keep. In 2009 dollars that was about $2 million a year.
Now think about all the years and amounts of revenue (based on those additional sales tax option agreements after the 1964 unification tax agreement) that could have come to the city coffers, the reduced increases on city property tax rates and improvements that could have been made within the city if the financial responsibility for school funding had been redirected to the county government…where it belonged.
At issue here is the city, by providing the sales tax money and the other services it does to the county and schools system, must collect money elsewhere to make up for that loss in direct revenue and expense. To do that, the most direct way is to raise your property taxes.
Consider this for a moment. The $2 million in sales taxes that was diverted to the county and school system in 2009 equated to approximately ten cents in the city property tax rate to make up for that amount. Now you may say the county would have to raise its property tax to make up for that revenue loss. Yes, it would; however, it would be spread across all the taxpayers and properties within the county and it would be less than the ten cents extra you pay in the city.
As a city taxpayer you have provided the county and, in turn, the school system a great financial contribution that is seldom recognized. In essence you are again paying more than your share of any 50-50 split. So it is disconcerting that Mayor McMillan wants to give the school system another $16,000 of your tax money.
Her rationale is based on the tragic events of Newtown Connecticut shootings. Because of that event the school system and county wanted to provide law enforcement officers to patrol elementary schools. The county did not have the officers to provide the coverage they desired and hired off-duty city officers to fill-in.
I fully support the school system and county hiring the city officers for the added protection of our children. However, it is the responsibility of the county to ensure the proper funding of school needs. The school system and county appear to be finishing their FY 2013 budgets in good shape and seem to have their projected FY 2014 budgets within hand.
Wanting to donate the money to the school system makes for good “PR” or “sound byte” opportunities for the city administration. However, it reverses the proper financial leadership responsibility that the city has developed in recent years in having each local government be responsible for its own financial affairs. Regrettably, this reversal is also apparent in the manipulation of job descriptions to provide pay raises to the favored few after spending a couple of years and money to correct years of bad leadership/management practices.
I do not support having the city taxpayer pay again for something that was paid for through either their city sales tax contributions to the county or their county property taxes. While $16,000 will not break the city bank, it is back stepping into a financial management philosophy that we had taken great strides to get away from and it shows a lack of concern of programs that need funding within the city budget.
That $16,000 can help support new police officer positions, which are needed due to the mayor ignoring yet another minimal standard the city had finally achieved during my last term on the council.
Needless to say, I will not support the mayor’s financial giveaway to the school system while she ignores the documented security needs of the city. More details on that in the next budget report.