Math

July 26, 2014

As with our previous posts about reading and writing I suspect that this one will instigate some discussion.

To me learning multiplication tables is both a right of passage and a valuable investment of time and energy when later  dealing with choices that we all make in life.

Rather than argue the issue,  let me  post this picture that I took in a store recently:

3x5

We deserve better

Brutus

 


Another way to avoid citizen input

July 25, 2014

Our city council has voted to turn control of the street car project over to the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA).

The CRRMA is under the control of a board appointed by city council.  The governor of Texas appoints the chairman of the board. board.  The board is free to make decisions without fear of facing an election.

We will have to sit back and watch to see what they do with this project.

Questions that come to mind are whether they will change the routes and if they will still be using the PCC cars that we took out of service decades ago.  Sun Metro end up operating the new system.  Sun Metro anticipates fare revenues of about one million dollars and expenses of $2.5 million.  How will they pay for that?

City council has been told that it will have final authority over the design.  Of course when you have a blue ribbon panel of advisers it is easier to vote against what has been promised.

Of particular interest will be who they chose to award the construction contract to.

We deserve better

Brutus

 

 


Figures don’t lie, liars don’t figure

July 24, 2014

Now that the newly proposed city budget is out we can take a deeper look at one of our former chief financial officer’s whoppers.

When she went before city council to seek approval for $45 million to build a facility for the rental car companies at the airport she told us that we would see a 1% increase in the customer facility charge each year, thereby paying for the facility.

The customer facility charge is a fee that people who rent cars at the airport pay.  In addition to having the highest hotel occupancy tax that the state allows, we nick visitors with other fees too.  Economists probably would not say that those fees are conducive to attracting visitors.

Actually

The proposed city budget projects the customer facility charge revenue to fall from a 2014 budget number of $3,450,000 to $3,300,000.

That is a $150,000 drop.  According to the proposed budget that amounts to a 4.35% decline.

We deserve better

Brutus


83% discount

July 23, 2014

The other day we learned about a new city fiction to move part of the debt relating to the new rapid transportation system over to Sun Metro where it would be “self supporting”.

Let’s look.

The Sun Metro site tells us that their fares go as high as $1.50 for regular passengers, fall to $1.00 for military, retired military, spouses of either military group, students, and children aged 6 to 18.  Children 5 and under ride for free and senior citizens (65 and older) pay 30 cents.  Transfers are free to all passengers.

The numbers from the 2012 national transit database show Sun Metro’s costs to be $2.82 per un-linked passenger trip.  They use un-linked to mean every time someone boards a bus — getting on one bus and subsequently transferring to another is two un-linked trips.

Make it up in volume

Most private citizens and I venture to guess some governmental accountants can see that we lose money on each trip.

In fact the 2012 report shows that fare revenues accounted for 17% of what they spent for operating costs that year.  Local funds paid for 63% and federal assistance for 20%.

Capital expenses saw no contribution from fare revenues and 44% from local funds and 56% in federal assistance.

In fact the reports shows that local funds amounted to over $40 million dollars for that one year.

The idea that Sun Metro can “self support” debt is simply fictional.

We deserve better

Brutus

 


For the “crazies” yet again

July 22, 2014

Our former chief financial officer was a city appointee to our police and fire pension board.

The  last item on the Tuesday, July 22, 2014 city council agenda is hopefully her last gift to us.  The item allows the council to discuss and take action on the 2014 actuarial study for both the policeman’s and firemen’s pension funds.

Fire

The firemen’s fund is underfunded by $114 million.  In 2012 they were underfunded by $108 million so it looks like we are falling behind about $3 million each year.

It looks like there are 871 people being paid out of the fund at the average rate of $61,851 per year, each.

While the payout rate seems high compared for example to social security, be aware that the current contribution rate is 15.28 percent for the employees and 18.5 percent from the city.

Police

The unfunded amount in the police fund is just short of $194 million at January 1, 2014 whereas it was $174 million on the same date in 2012.  Once again we are falling behind, in this case to the tune of $10 million each year.

The annual payout for the 1,052 people receiving checks is $67,317.  Policemen pay 13.89% of their salary into the fund while the city contributes another 18.5%.

Further in the hole

Our former chief financial officer was only one of the voting members of the board.  However,  the “crazies” probably thought she had a responsibility to the taxpayers to let us know what has been happening and get the numbers in balance.

Most private employers match the roughly 7.5% that the average working person is required to put into social security.

The city’s 18.5% is more than twice what private employers are required to contribute.

Why?  Some will say that our uniformed public safety employees are underpaid on an annual basis.  Maybe they are.  Making up for it in retirement is not the answer.

Why don’t we put our new hires into the regular retirement system that most of us must participate in and pay a competitive wage to them during their working years?  What is a competitive wage?  Why not let the market decide like we do with private employers?  If private employers cannot hire the people they need at the pay rate they are willing to pay, they raise the pay rate until they can.

Wouldn’t it be better to have one retirement system for all of us?

We don’t know if our prior chief financial officer will continue to sit on this pension board.  I suspect that she will be replaced when her term expires.

Then we only have to worry about what she does or does not do at EPISD.

We deserve better

Brutus


Putting it to the “crazies” on the way out the door

July 21, 2014

The Tuesday, July 22, 2014 city council agenda has three items placed on it by our chief financial officer.

Our former chief financial officer.    Her last day was to be Thursday, July 17.

Agenda items have a “Department Head’s Summary” form and other material attached to them as they are submitted to be placed on the agenda if the rules are followed.  These three items list the former chief financial officer as the contact person.

Why would she do this?  Many of us would leave this to the new person in charge if we knew that we would no longer be in charge when council considers the item.  Is she trying to tidy up some loose ends in her reign of financial misdirection?

The three items don’t make sense to me.

Item 7.1 on the regular agenda is the first.  It proposes authorizing $72 million in certificates of obligation for the city to “fund and reimburse itself for ongoing capital project”.  Once again she wants us to go into debt.  These proposed bonds will carry a maximum interest rate of 4.85% and will mature 26 years from now in December of 2040.  We would pay $130 million back with $56 million of it being interest.  Bond counsel and underwriter fees will cost extra.

As we have seen before, the backup material does not indicate which projects have already been paid for and which ones are yet to be done.  What we do know is that some of them have already been paid for.  Why spend almost twice as much to finance something that we already own?  Is it because the money that was used was really for other city commitments and now the council really has no choice?

Item 7.2 proposes $59 million in general obligation refunding bonds.  We already issued bonds in 2005 and 2006, with the 2005 bonds being for the Plaza Theatre.  Now they want to refinance the debt at 4.15%, presumably a lower rate of interest.  The catch?  The new bonds will mature December 31, 2031, at least 26 years from now.  Bond counsel and the underwriters will get paid again.

The third item is number 7.3 on the regular agenda.  On the face of it this looked like a good move.  She wants to take $5.3 million of our new Mesa street mess created by the new rapid transit system and move the obligation to Sun Metro.  This would remove the money from “tax-supported debt” and move it “to Sun Metro self-supporting debt”  Once again bond counsel and the underwriters will be paid extra.

Baloney!

Sun Metro is not self-supporting.  Millions of dollars of our local tax money are transferred to Sun Metro every year.  Every new dollar that they have to spend will have to be subsidized by our tax money.

These items are designed to free up operating money so that the city can spend more.

The net effect of her signatures?  The new people don’t have to have their names associated with this.

We deserve better

Brutus

 


No news is not good news

July 20, 2014

The headline article in the Times the other day tells us a lot about their sad state.  Harvey Girls historical group explores El Paso Union Depot told us about a local group that works to preserve the history of some waitresses.

The Harvey Girls were an interesting part of our history.  I am glad to see someone working to preserve their history.  Evidently none of them are alive today so what we had was an article about a history club.

Extra!  Extra! Read all about it!

But the headline article?  Certainly I enjoyed reading it.  However I would have expected to see it in one of the local sections.

Evidently the Times is so hard up for reporting that articles about a chicken from San Diego and a history club have to be promoted to the front page in order to fill the page.

Over the years we have seen the size of the newspaper sheets shrink.  We now see advertising occupying a significant portion of the front page.

What we do not see is much reporting.  Neither do we see articles from the news wires that might tell us about international, national, or state news.  I guess that using articles from those sources would cost money.

On the local scene we have many issues that we might like to learn more about.  That would require the Times reporters doing research instead of printing press releases for our local institutions.

We deserve better

Brutus


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