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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

It has been 17 years and 96 days since the city’s pledge to build the West Branch Library.

On March 25, 2015 the Glendale Star ran a story on the elimination of the city’s General Fund debt payable to the city’s Enterprise Funds (water, sewer, sanitation and landfill). Here is the link:  http://www.glendalestar.com/news/article_4fd7f4dc-d181-11e4-b56b-93c81bbb5cc5.html .

In an effort to buy additional time to secure a buyer for the NHL Coyotes who would pledge to keep the team at Glendale’s Gila River Arena, a previous city council approved borrowing $15 million from the city’s water and sewer funds, $40 million from its landfill fund and $5 million from its sanitation fund. The revenue was used to pay the NHL to manage the arena for two years while the process of finding a team buyer continued. At the time council also approved a repayment plan, using General Fund revenue to pay the Enterprise Funds back with interest. It was a solemn pledge and a commitment that the previous council never anticipated future councils would renege upon. The unthinkable is about to occur. At a recent workshop following the recommendation of Tom Duensing, Glendale’s Finance Director, a majority of council plans to do exactly that.

When Councilmember Tolmachoff asked what would be the consequences of such an action, Duensing replied, “You could do it a number of ways: you could do rate increases, you could defer maintenance, you could cut your operating costs.”

There were questions unasked that still demand answers:

  • While this action might make the general fund balance sheet look better, what impact does it have on the balance sheets of water and sewer, the landfill, and sanitation?
  • By recording the former “loan” to a fund transfer, doesn’t it reduce the assets on the balance sheets of those funds?
  • How does the reduction in financial assets impact the bond ratings of the water and sewer fund and the landfill fund?  While the proposed action may assist in the General Fund bond rating, doesn’t the converse action harm the Enterprise Funds ratings?
  • Doesn’t this action reduce the funds available to water and sewer for maintaining and upgrading the water and sewer systems? Duensing in his answer to Tolmachoff implies that it does.
  • If the Council approves this action, doesn’t that mean that a water and sewer rate increase will be necessary and supported by the Council? If a rate increase occurs, it looks like we can lay the evaporation of a pledge to repay the Enterprise Funds at the feet of retaining the hockey team as an anchor tenant at the city owned arena.

Duensing’s proposal is moving the pea underneath a different shell. It’s a magical, accounting trick designed to satisfy the rating agencies. The problem is that it sets precedent. Who, whether it’s a developer, a citizen or a company doing business with the city, will trust in the city’s word if it is willing to renege on paying a debt? If a water, sewer or landfill rate increase is proposed and adopted by this city council citizens will have every right to be angry for it will be driven by a broken promise to reimburse the Enterprise Funds. Glendale rate payers of the water, sewer, landfill and sanitation services will have every right to assume that any proposed rate increase is driven by money borrowed from these funds and paid to the NHL to run the arena for two years.

Duensing appears obsessed on building up the city’s reserve funds (contingency). While building the city’s reserve back up is necessary and critical his solutions are to keep the sales tax increase permanent and now, to raise Glendale’s property tax rate by 2%. He appears to have only two tricks in his bag.

Sterling Fluharty of the Glendale Star in writing an article entitled City decides not to cut taxes, in its online edition of April 6, 2015, reports, Glendale City Council had few objections two weeks ago when the acting city manager and financial director announced they were abandoning plans to lower the sales tax rate and making preparations for raising property taxes. Here is the link: http://www.glendalestar.com/news/article_b6c5e5e6-dc99-11e4-8961-4fb07a583a64.html#.VSNVhK1dGb8.twitter .

Last December Duensing was still pitching lowering the sales tax rate. Fluharty in his article states,  Duensing published a five-year financial forecast that month (December, 2014) that assumed the council would approve annual reductions, making the sales tax rate 2.85 percent in 2015-16, 2.825 percent in 2016-17, 2.8 percent in 2017-18 and 2.775 percent in 2019-20.” What information does senior management and the council have (not shared publicly) to cause them to not only reject a reduction in the sales tax rate but now to increase the property tax rate?

Since the new council was seated in January, 2012, adopting Duensing’s recommendations it has:

  • Made the increase of 2.9% as a temporary sales tax increase permanent
  • Approved a management agreement paying IceArizona $15 million a year
  • Will approve construction of a parking garage at Westgate for $46 million + over 3 years
  • Will approve a 2% increase in property taxes

Where is the council commitment to cut expenses and to live within the city’s means? It seems their only solutions to solving the city’s ongoing financial problems is to keep the increased sales tax rate and now to raise the property tax rate.

Over the next 3 years the General Fund will have to absorb an additional $46 million plus as brand new debt. That figure does not include the ongoing debt for the baseball park, the Westgate Media Center and is parking garage, the Westgate Convention Center, the annual $15 million payment to IceArizona and the construction debt on the arena and the Public Safety Training Facility…as well as other debt I have failed to include.

During council’s discussion of a property tax increse while the sales tax increase does not diminish Mayor Weiers said, “At least we’re giving our citizens something, certainly in the right direction, anyway.” What exactly are the Mayor and council giving to its citizens? A screwing? It appears the right direction for Mayor Weiers and this city council is to raise yet another tax.

©Joyce Clark, 2015

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The Glendale City Council Workshop of May 6, 2014 had 4 items: the 2035 General Plan Update; the West Phoenix/Central Glendale Light Rail Update; discussion of adding electronic voting to council meetings; and the ever present FY14-15 budget follow up.

The 2035 General Plan Update discussion was led by Jon Froke, Glendale’s Executive Director of Planning, joined by Celeste Werner and Rick Rust, VPs of the Matrix Group. The Matrix Group is the consultant hired by the city to conduct the 2035 General Plan Update at an unbudgeted cost of $110,000 to be paid over two years: $31,000+ the first year; and $78,000+ the second year (FY2014-2015). Here is the link to their presentation: http://www.glendaleaz.com/Clerk/agendasandminutes/documents/01A-Glendale2035GeneralPlanUpdatePowerPoint.pdf .

The city has put up a website for the General Plan Update at www.glendale2035.com. It’s in its infancy right now and there isn’t much to see when you visit the site. At some point there will also be Facebook and Twitter links. Perhaps the greatest take away from the presentation was the continual emphasis upon the Citizen Steering Committee’s role in the process which is advisory only. It was made clear that the final approval rests with council before it goes to the voters in a General Election on November 8, 2016.

As citizens what can you do? Get involved…learn as much as you can…voice your opinion, your vision for Glendale’s future… and concerns, if you have any. There is a natural tension between property owners of vacant land and citizens and their neighborhoods. Make no mistake. Property owners will work hard to maximize the designated zoning for their vacant property because when it is sold a more intense zoning designation means more money for them. Sometimes what they may want will be in direct conflict with what is compatible with your neighborhood. Be vigilant. Check what’s vacant around you and then find out what kind of zoning designation may be placed on that land. Make sure it works to the betterment of your neighborhood. As an example, a property owner may want a multi family (apartment) zoning designation. Your neighborhood might be made up of large or medium sized lot homes. Apartment zoning on vacant land adjacent to your neighborhood will inevitably create future problems and could lower your property value.

Next up was the West Phoenix/Central Glendale Light Rail Update. Cathy Colbath, Glendale’s Interim Executive Director of Transportation Services, introduced Stephen Banta and Benjamin Limmer of Valley Metro. Both men made an excellent presentation. Here is the link: http://www.glendaleaz.com/Clerk/agendasandminutes/documents/02B-LightRailUpdate-PPT.pdf .

Funding for mass transit will be generally along the lines of: 50% from the federal government; a large percentage from voter approved Proposition 400 administered by Valley Metro; an undetermined percentage by the cities in which the mass transit is sited.

Take aways were, in terms of cost per mile: light rail, as most expensive, at $60 to $90 million per mile; a modern streetcar system at $40-$60 million a mile; and bus rapid transit at between $2 to $20 million a mile.

Valley Metro is still in the initial planning stages identifying which of the 3 modes of service would work the best and identifying a corridor extension from 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road, Phoenix into Glendale. The study area is from Northern Avenue to Camelback Road, including the use of Grand Avenue. Based upon their findings Valley Metro has excluded Northern Avenue, Bethany Home Road and Grand Avenue. It appears the final corridor will be either the Glendale Avenue or Camelback Road. Mass transit is becoming more and more of a necessity in the Valley as resources shrink and the costs of purchasing fuel continue to rise. Did you know that for every billion dollars invested in mass transit in the valley there was a return of $7 billion in economic development along the light rail lines?

Valley Metro will host a public meeting and present their latest information on the study and will offer the public a chance to comment and ask questions. The meeting will be on Thursday, May 22, 2014 from 6 PM to 8 PM at Glendale City Hall, Council Chambers. It’s worth it to attend and to share your opinion on what kind and where mass transit should be sited in Glendale.

Economic redevelopment is critical along all of Glendale Avenue. Redevelopment of Glendale Avenue has been planned to death for at least 20 years with no discernible results to date. I was on the Miracle Mile Committee years ago as a private citizen and was a councilmember when the latest plan, Centerline, was approved. I can’t even remember all of the iterations of planned redevelopment that occurred in between those two efforts. Glendale Avenue is our namesake street. All of it, from 43rd Avenue on the east to Sarival Road on the west, deserves special recognition in terms of development and redevelopment planning. Centerline, the current name for Glendale Avenue redevelopment, only targets 43rd Avenue to 67th Avenue. If I may be so bold as to suggest, a broader, long term vision is required for all of Glendale Avenue and perhaps it should be considered as a whole but in phases. Phase I could be the current 43rd to 67th Avenues. Phase II could be 67th to 105th Avenue (location of our airport and public safety training facility). Phase III could be 105th Avenue to Sarival Road. We should cherish this entire corridor and plan for its future now.

Most of council was receptive to the Glendale Avenue corridor with the exception of Vice Mayor Knaack. Her reservations are understandable. After all she owns property at 55th and Glendale Avenues. However, she is being short-sighted. She is thinking in terms of short-lived financial pain, in the form of relocation or construction, creating financial hardships for business owners such as herself. The long-term gain of finally securing a tool for the economic development /redevelopment of Glendale Avenue between 43rd and 67th Avenues is too important to Glendale’s future viability.

The third agenda item just boggles the mind. Vice Mayor Knaack, under Council Items of Special Interest, brought up the subject of electronic voting at council meetings. Someone on staff may have slipped her the suggestion. Chuck Murphy, Glendale’s Executive Director of Technology & Innovation, and Diana Bundschuh, Deputy Chief Information Technology Officer introduced Chris Voorhees and Thao Hill of Granicus, Inc. Granicus is the provider of the current system used at council meetings.

Two questions should have decided the fate of this idea in short order. Is it critical to the current operation of council meetings and what does it cost? Now, I’m a technology nerd. I love new technology but in the light of Glendale’s current financial crisis electronic voting is not a necessity…now, at this very moment. Yes, it’s sexy and new. Yes, some other cities already have the technology but we can do without it for now. It is not critical to the process of council meetings. What about the cost? Well, Glendale can have the new, sexy technology for a mere upfront cost of $23,000 and an annual cost of approximately $18,000. And that doesn’t include the cost of replacing hardware such as tablets on a periodic basis – perhaps every 3 to 4 years. Hardware is expensive and is used by all personnel including council. Of course this is all unbudgeted. Of course Glendale has no money for a Cadillac right now.

It didn’t faze a majority of council for one single minute. It didn’t bother Councilmembers Knaack, Martinez, Sherwood and Chavira who constituted a majority giving direction to move forward with the new system. Mayor Weiers was decidedly uncomfortable and observed that the cost equates to one position within the city. What was the point of Councilmembers Martinez and Knaack urging all councilmembers to give back a portion of their council budgets if they are all too willing to be imprudent about Glendale’s unbudgeted expenditures such as this one. It’s ridiculous. If they cannot control their spending on relatively small items, God help us on the really, really big ones.

The last agenda item was Fiscal Year 14-15 Budget Follow-Up Items presented by Tom Duensing, Glendale’s Executive Director of Financial Services. By the way, I keep waiting for City Manager Fischer to live up to her pledge to get rid of all of these Executive Director titles…still hasn’t happened…wonder if it ever will? Here is the link: http://www.glendaleaz.com/Clerk/agendasandminutes/documents/04-POWERPOINT-FiscalYear2014-15Follow-UpItems.pdf .

Following Glendale’s budget this year is like trying to find your way through the smoke and mirrors.  It’s the same pot of money no matter what new names are used. Now we have General Fund Sub-Funds, a Permanent Fund and an Internal Service Fund. Go figure. When you watch senior management discuss the budget this year you end up feeling confused,  down right befuddled and just as if you had been sold a bottle of snake oil.

The take aways are that your Primary Property Tax Rate will increase by 2%, the Temporary Sales Tax increase will become permanent and there’s a new strategy called Alternative Service Delivery. The least offensive of the two increases is the increase in the primary property tax rate. Glendale’s portion of your property tax bill is relatively small. Hence the increase in real dollar terms is also proportionately small.

What should be of concern is making the temporary sales tax increase permanent and eliminating the sunset provision that was to occur in 2017. In an attempt to avoid painful cuts to the budget council took the easy way out. It’s a promise broken. Instead senior staff ratified by this council continues to overextend Glendale’s finances and to spend more than is in the budget.

Alternative Service Delivery is the new buzz word for privatization of services Glendale residents receive. The problem is, that while senior staff implements this strategy, no one and most certainly the public or even council for that matter, have been told exactly what they are doing. Then again, it’s another refusal on the part of senior staff to share information. If you were to ask any councilmember about Alternative Service Delivery they would parrot the explanation they heard at this workshop meeting. That is, positions when vacant are being evaluated. If you asked what specific evaluation criterion is used and what jobs have been privatized, they would not be able to answer. After this article, they probably will.

Tentative budget adoption is scheduled for the May 27, 2014 meeting of council with final budget adoption scheduled for June 10, 2014. At the June 24, 2014 council meeting the increased property tax rate and the permanent sales tax increase will be adopted.  Glendale’s voters got what they wanted…a tax and spend city council.

© Joyce Clark, 2014

FAIR USE NOTICE

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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