Thursday, June 16, 2011

Budget Facts and Figures and Candidate Forum

Today, Thursday, June 16th, the Doraville Business Association is sponsoring our Mayoral Candidate Forum.  I want to encourage everyone to take a few hours out of their schedule and attend this critically important forum and learn about all 3 candidates and their plan for moving the city forward.

Over the last 10 days or so, it has become increasingly clear as to the financial challenges that our city is facing and why this election, moreso than any in our recent history, is important and will shape our city in the years to come.

I have said on this blog "thank you" to Councilwoman Pittman for filling in after the Mayor's unfortunate passing and I mean that.  I have also, on this blog, announced my support for Carol Gilman and her candidacy to be our next Mayor.  These last few days have only reinforced my support for Carol and depth of experience she brings to the table:  her background and expertise in business management, finance, auditing, and best practices.

I welcome Donna's voice back on council, but in my opinion, the most qualified and prepared person for the job today is Carol.
Let me summarize for you what we have learned since last Wednesday.

1. Expenses. Excluding Payroll, the city is spending about $700,000 every month.  In review of the check registry, Acting Mayor Alexander has identified dozens of "pay to's" for further review and evaluation.  I know we are all looking forward to the information that she finds and I know that she will take immediate corrective action if any have not fallen the correct proceedures with regards to procurement, bidding, etc.

2. Budget.  This past week, under the previous administrations management, council was not presented with a city budget as required by charter, but with indiviudal department budget sheets and total projected revenues.  The projected revenue was listed at $9.2 million (excluding restricted and enterprise funds) based upon 9.0 mills as the tax rate. 

When those individual department budgets were totaled up by council, we were shocked to see that we had been given a draft budget of $12.6 million.  $3.4 million over budget.  This budget process should have been started in March or April at the latest and while I would have hoped the goal to be a balanced budget had been presented, I believe council would have been willing to evaluate and work with department heads and staff as necessary to address a budget with a modest deficit, but certainly not $3.4 million.

3. Court Fines.  Last year we learned that there was a sizable amout of unpaid fines as a result of individuals failing to appear for their court dates, and little to no follow-up action being taken.  Efforts had been made by council to identify the cause of the sizable amount and establish steps to resolve that.  The root cause was identified in March of this year, "only offenses that require mandatory court appearances" were being entered into the criminal database and having bench warrants issued for their arrest if they failed to appear.  Meaning any ticket issued, that was not an arrestable offense (speeding tickets, failure to stop, QOL citations, etc.), and the offender failed to appear for their court date, became an "unpaid" fine and little was being done to follow-up and collect.

Messages had been sent to City Hall throughout the spring asking for corrective measures to be undertaken.  It was not until this past week, that significant meetings between the Chief Judge, City Solicitor, City Attorney, and Court staff occured to discuss corrective steps and put specific action items in place to fix the immediate issue and begin to address the back log of unpaid tickets.  Council received that draft plan from our Chief Judge last evening.

4. Retirement Benefits. It has been discussed for some time that our current retirement program, a Defined Benefits Program, is out of date, very costly, and unfavorable to employees. Here is the summary in a nutshell:

a. The city is contributing about 15% of total payroll into the retirement program. This is 100% tax-payer funded with zero contribution by employees. Totaling about $700,000 this coming year.

b. Employees, in order to receive benefits once retired, need to be employed with the city for 10 years before they can vest.

c. In order for an employee to take early retirement, age 55, they need to have been with the city for 25 years AND face a reduced benefit penalty for early retirement.

d. Elected officials, unlike city employees, vest instantly. I, having served on council as a part-time employee for 3+ years, am fully vested right now and when I retire, will receive, at present, about $120/month based upon council pay and years of service.  That needs to change.

e. Employees who are NOT vested and leave the city’s employment are not eligible to have those benefits transferred to another government agency.

f. Employees who are vested and leave government work to work in the private sector are not able to have those benefits transferred to another program. They don’t lose them, but they cannot move them either.

This has been a known issue for sometime and it was not until this past Monday night, that a date for a meeting with our benefits program manager was finally brought to council. 

What does all this mean?  In my opinion, it is very simple.  The city has some challenges ahead of us with regards to our finances, day-to-day management, and putting processes in place that ensure fiscal control and accountability and maximize our employees efficiency.

The city's financial house from a day-to-day management standpoint has been neglected, and we need a leader who is willing, able, and has a demonstratable record of identifying problems early and being pro-active and addressing these concerns, not waiting for them to be brought to their attention.

We need a leader who has a record of business management, a record of financial management, a record of process management, to work with our department heads and employees, and together, improve the efficiencies in our government and ensure that our tax dollars are being managed in a fiscally responsible manner and stretched as far as they can possibly be stretched.

We need a leader who has experience in presenting creative solutions for difficult problems and is willing to help train and educate but also hold individuals accountable for their actions.

For these reasons, and many others, I am supporting Carol Gilman for Mayor and I hope that you will do the same.  Remember to attend the candidates forum tonight, starting at 6:00 p.m. at the Civic Center, and hear for yourself on who is best prepared to lead our city forward. 

And be sure to vote at City Hall on Tuesday, June 21st.  Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

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