Friday, April 5, 2013

A Vote for Laura Maczka is a Vote for More Debt, She Says

Last night we held our spring meeting for the Cottonwood Heights NA. Both Laura Maczka and Amir Omar were there to make a pitch for themselves for mayor and to answer two questions the board members supplied them in advance.

Amir Omar spoke without referencing notes. Laura referenced he notes both during in pitch for mayor and in answering the two softball questions (softball by my measure) written by the board. Using notes always bring to question the speaker’s heart in the matter. I find it much more genuine to speak without notes.  If a person can, off the top of their head on and on the spot, provide good answers to questions, I view that they are smarter and better prepared to meet the challenges. Dom Magner was there taking note, almost word for word, like Michelle did in past elections. So if you want complete note on their comments, he can probably provide them.

About the title of this blog: Laura seemed to without reservation tell the CHNA that a vote for her will be a vote for more debt. She noted they are already discussing the next bond election. At the Terrace Heights meeting she said she was one of three heading up the 2010 Vote Yes for more bond debt. So she does have a track record for wanting more debt. She said the more debt is needed because of infrastructure needs, roads pipe and other thing are deterioration and need to be addressed. She is correct, things are crumbling.

Who let those things crumble? Who decided to eliminate the 1 penny of the tax rate being dedicated by these types of repair, back about the time they were financing the Eisemann center with debt that was not voter approved? The same people who have raised the tax rate by 43.1% since 2000. It is almost all of those former council members who now endorse her for mayor that let things crumble for years.

At The Terrace Heights NA meeting the other night, a question was asked of both Amir and Laura. The question was about funds sweeps and if it was a proper thing to do to take money out of dedicated funds and transfer it to the general fund. Amir’s answer basically was that if a dedicated fund generate more revenue than expenses, the fees for that fund should be reduced to more closely match the expenses generated, not used as a piggy bank for general overspending in other areas of government.

Laura’s answer to the question was evasive, or she didn’t understand the question. She went on about how we have a triple AAA credit rating and part of the reason for that was that we have reserve funds. She is not only on the Audit committee, she chairs it. Being in that position, she should have been able to provide a straight answer and understood the question. From my perspective, she failed. That does not inspire confidence about her understanding of finances.

An example of this question regard fund sweeps can be found in the 2012 CAFR on page 43  of the pdf. The operating expenses for personnel who make the water and sewer fund who make it work for us come to about $6.2 Million. On top of the personnel expense there is a G&A transfer out for about $3.7 million for the city management to oversee the operations. Than in itself should cover the whole city manager’s office administration expenses for the year. On top of that, there is an added fund sweep of over $2 million from the solid waste fund. Franchise fees (Payment in Lieu of Tax or PILOT, Road Rental Fees, Etc.) are also charged to the Water, Sewer and solid waste funds which total over $2.8 million. So far that is about $8.8 million worth of funds sweeps out of just the water, sewer and solid waste. That is more than enough to pay the city management’s cost for more than two years in administration fees.

There are a few more funds to look at where the problem of fund sweeps appears to be even worse. Pages 92 and 93 of the 2012 CAFR pdf listed several other dedicated funds that need to be looked at but the one that stands out the most for G&A fund sweeps is the new Drainage Fund.

The Drainage Fund brought in almost $1.8 million in fees. That is great. But the Drainage Fund only spent about $61,000 for applicable expense meaning there was a huge surplus of funds left over. The city management transferred out $910,000 for administration fees through the G&A transfer. So in essence, we paid the city manager’s office $910,000 to spend $61,158. That is not good government.

Laura is on the audit committee and the chair of the committee. So when asked about the appropriateness of the fund sweeps, Laura either did not understand the question or was evasive with her answer. In an email sent mentioning that she evaded the question she said she did not and that Amir was the one of was evasive and misleading. I happen to not see it that way.

It costs to have a government and there is no way out of these expenses. Money being spent property and responsibly is most desirable in my opinion.

Amir understood the question and gave the right answer on the fund sweep habits of the city government. If there was any question before about who understands finances more, it is answered now.    

Laura seems to already be lobbying and planning for more debt without first cleaning up the current problems, problems that residents have been complaining about for years and years. Planning for more debt without first resolving other important issues, such as the fund sweeps, is not the direction I think is in the best interests of the citizens.    



  1. Next time someone mentions the triple-A rating, my head is going to explode!

    It came from the same rating agencies that rated the subprime mortgage bonds triple-A and allow the financial fiasco to take, not the whole country, but the whole world down the tubes!

    David, I hope you can get the notes from Mr. Magner and post them here. Thanks!

  2. That sweep and administrative money is secretly going to fund Agenda 21 operations in Richardson. Watch out!

  3. I doubt the sweeps are going for anything other than regular government spending. But who knows?

  4. Would Amir not support the next bond?

  5. Anon 5:40, I think what he is saying is that Ms. aczka does not pay enough attention to details and is more of a free spending liberal than Mr. Omar. I for one would tend to agree with that assessment.

  6. That didn't answer the question. Would Amir oppose a bond election?

  7. Amir does not oppose a Bond Election but understands that to accomplish all that our city needs we must think in terms of partnering for some of the items we want in our parks, etc. We can be $ ahead if we just ajdust our source for the funding.

  8. What I've heard at the forums (and read at Steger's blog about campaign promises) and read in the candidates' printed material contradict these answers and this post.

    Amir's ideas include these:
    1) Taking over some of RISD's operating expenses like running the two natatoriums. This seem tough to do since RISD would have to somehow carve out maintenance, operations and the utilities (water, electricity, etc.) for two buildings on their campuses and write some agreement on how much time the city gets use of the facilities vs the students. And RISD already uses those two facilities to generate money by renting them out to masters classes and club teams. When would the city be able to offer public swimming? Certainly not during the day or after school. RISD would have to deal with the security issue of the general public coming and going on school campuses. But I digress, because my point was paying for these. Sounds like a budget increase for city hall - labor to run the pools, operating expenses, etc. - and not a way to save money.

    2) Start a narcotics unit in RPD. Another budget increase for city hall.

    3) Institute his pet project to give a few home buyers $10,000 to buy a house in Richardson, so the house doesn't sell to a landlord. Another budget increase for city hall.

    4) Continue with Tree the Town to get the tree count up to 50,000. Increased operating costs in water and parks staff time to use push mowers rather than riding mowers.

    5) Lowering water, sewer, garbage pickup, drainage rates

    6) Reducing the rental registration fee to $50 for "good" landlords and increasing it to $150 for "bad" landlords.

    7) Televising more meetings like audit committee meetings.

    I am not arguing the merit of these nice-to-haves, but just viewing them fiscally against their effect to the operating budget. All 7 of these have the real potential of INCREASING operating budgets.

    The only idea offered (by both candidates) to lower operating budget:
    Top to bottom department budget reviews for efficiencies. This is code for laying off current city staff / not hiring after attrition. Could we lay off enough people at city hall to ultimately pay for all of Amir's additional programs/revenue reductions AND ultimately come out with an overall net reduction in operating costs?

    Again, before the masses start picking apart the merits of each new program / idea in response to this post, I ask you to just answer the question that Laura uses when evaluating these programs and campaign promises: "How are we going to pay for it?"

    Who, again, is "staunchly fiscally conservative"?

  9. Counterpoints anon@2:49am:

    1 – Don’t know enough about this one to have an opinion

    2 – We had a narcotics unit in Richardson until a certain chief took over and eliminated it. I am sure there would be some additional cost, but as with the rest of the police work, it would work to improve the city. That is an expense that is worth the money.

    3 – A pilot program involving a total of $100,000. This seems to be much like the home improvement incentive. I don’t like either program.

    4 – We are already paying for the water for the water and only lose the rebate money for chemicals on water used for irrigation of the trees. A better option would be to change the rate structure for water to something very much like the solid waste schedule. Add up the total cost and then split the annual cost between members city and eliminate take or pay.

    5 – The water, sewer and solid waste rates should match expenses, not have such a surplus of fund that there are swept into the general fund. Mr. Amir has the right idea. According to what I have read about this, over $100 million has be taken from these and other funds and mixed with general funds for uses for reason other than intended. Each fund should support itself and the fees should be adjusted so that happens to just maintain the 30, 60 or 90 day reserve fund.

    6 – On rental registration fees, they should be eliminated. This program violates a person right to privacy. The inspections are required within 30 days of a new tenant moving in. Are renters a lower class of citizens who do not deserve the same constitutional right as do home owners? This program is an abomination. Code enforcement will take care of problems. Adding the staff for rental inspection is just another financial burden on the taxpayers.

    7 – I like the idea of televising, or at a minimum, recording all meeting dealing with various boards. It let the sun shine in on affairs that affect the public. Open government is well worth the cost. When someone is watching your actions, you actions are affected in a positive manner.

    8- Top to both reviews are offered by both candidates. That is good. But why haven’t they already been done. Ms. Maczka has been on the council for almost 2 years, and her supported on the council have been there longer. These types of things should have already been done. Add to that, during the last election cycle every candidate claimed to support a charter review and looking into direct election of the mayor. Mr. Omar was the only one to vote for discussing direct election and only Mr. Omar and Mr. Mitchell voted to move forward with charter review. So again, Ms. Maczka did not appear to want to move forward with charter review or direct election and was supported by the other council members except as note in the previous sentence.

    9 – Ms. Maczka has been the chair of the audit committee and appears to have done little to nothing. Televising or recording of those meeting might have changed my mind on that point, but there is nothing to indicate any action for the benefit of the public on this issue.

    All things considered, from my point of view, Mr. Omar seems the much better choice to take things in a more positive and financially responsible direct with the citizen’s interest at heart.

    So respectfully, anon 2:49, I will disagree with your point of view.

  10. Typical "superior" attitude. You speak for benefit of the unfortunate and uniformed "masses" who don't prefer the excesses of funds as raised and spent by management in the past whose purposes were diffused, misleading, andself-serving.

    For example, the massive sweeps through city funds that simply disappear after being swallowed by the General Fund. The management actually charges the City's water and sewer funds "utility right of way" charges - like those imposed on telephone lines, electric lines, gas lines, and cable company lines. Then there is the wide spread charges for these funds that come from "PILOT" charges. That means " Payment in Lieu of Taxes."

    The city "pretends" that if the properties were owned by private entities, which they are not, never have been, and never will be, they would owe taxes, SO THEY CHARGE THE CITY OWNED PROPERTY IMAGINARY TAXES. Would your water and sewer rates be lower without those millions of sweep dollars? Of course.

    Then there are the over 230 people in the city that have a "P" card - a charge card. There are reasons for some employees to have cards, and procure timely purchases for city uses. That doesn't count the food and restaurant charges one sees every month. Take a look at the disbursements for the city. Look at the cost of mobile phones the city pays for.

    Plano is a well run city 4 times the area and 2 1/2 the population, yet it operates very smoothly with a City Manager and two Deputy City Managers. Richardson has a City Manager, a Deputy City Manager, and THREE Assistant City Managers. Why is that? Because a long term entrenched power structure makes those excesses happen. Just like every department head makes more money than does Plano's.

    Then there was the excessive golf course management contract that city management and council supported for 25 years ignoring and dismissing every suggestion for alternatives that would provide the money the course needed to sustain itself and provide for capital improvements instead if losing more than a million dollars in operations the last four years. Finally, after pressure, the city revised the management contract, but still left the favored operator substantial personal expenses paid from golf revenues.

    Then there is the constant hiring of "consultants" for just about every activity the city undertakes, as though it's not possible for the highly paid staff to take care of it. Or the fact that the Parks Department for some reason can't make it's own grant applications. It needs to hire a former Parks employee as a "consultant" paying him over $80,000 and more a year to do it.

    Or the millions of dollars owed to the estate of a Richardson developer that we haven't paid and is collecting 7% interest or so.

    What the "masses" are beginning to see is how our money has been spent in the past, consider changing it so expenses will better benefit those who pay them - those "masses" as you condescendingly called them.

  11. What I'm reading is you believe a vot for Amir is a vote to lay off rental inspecyors and at least one assistabt city manager and the golf pro at Sherrill Park. Who else?

  12. The golf pro is a contractor who happens to make more than most any other pro in the country because of his relationship with the management. As for laying off the home inspectors, transfer to another position in the city.

    About city management, what is the more fiscal conservative thing to do. Pay too much, or the right amount?

    Plano is by far large in physical size and population. They have three on the city manager teams. Richardson has 5. Why do we need a top heavy management team? Why do we need for the citizens to pay for the excesses? This is an item that need to be looked into. The past and current councils have refused to do so, probably because of personal feels.
    Ms. Maczka, it seems, will be unlikely to do something about that. She appears to be in lock-step with the other council members who have for so long ignored this issue. That, for me, make it appear she is a RINO, not a true fiscal conservative.

  13. The taxpayers could feed a small country for life on the monthly food and entertainment costs in this city. Go check out those monthly p card charges. Some combined food costs recorded as either meals or supplies are $20-30,000 a month.

  14. Let me try this again to see my post gets censored.

    Vote Amir, the Hatchet Mayor!

    P.S. Amir has been on council twice as long as Laura and these changes have not been implemented.

  15. A vote for Laura says you condone the elitist viewpoint Richardson has held for several decades. She is singing that same song that hasn't fared effectively. She admittedly has private meetings to gain her perspective. The biggest advantage Amir has is two ears and one mouth. That's how ideas are shared.

  16. Anonymous 10:39 AM, just by the skin of your teeth. :0)

    But you do have a valid point, Amir has been there twice as long as Laura. My take on that is how many times have Laura been the 1, or 1 of 2, in a vote on council. She can be depended upon to vote with most of the other council members who want to maintain the status quo.

    But thank you for your comment.

  17. Oh contrare! I think Amir's new found message is the same message that was handily defeated in 2011 elections. Looks like Laura's message has fared pretty well with those who are happy with the city, which is the majority of May voters.

  18. >6 – On rental registration fees, they should be eliminated. This program violates a person right to privacy. The inspections are required within 30 days of a new tenant moving in. Are renters a lower class of citizens who do not deserve the same constitutional right as do home owners? This program is an abomination. Code enforcement will take care of problems. Adding the staff for rental inspection is just another financial burden on the taxpayers.<

    I'm so glad someone else believes this other than some of us landlords fighting inside and outside of court for the last 6 months!

    The program was conceived in 2003, under Keffler's initiative even though he said that the staff (smaller than now) was able to deal with 95% of the issues with existing codes! (See, the staff is bigger now and they've had to create more "issues"!!)

    In 2003 $161K was budgeted for hiring three new employees for the program. More inspectors have been hired. The program is not self-funded so the fee had to be increased from $50 to $75. (It's probably still not self-funded.)

    The current City Manager doesn't understand that under the ordinance tenants are already in the property by the time the landlord is required to schedule an inspection. (Many don't understand that some of us lease back to back with no vacancy. The property is always in the possession of a tenant.)

    He even lied by saying the prosecuted landlord didn't register his rental. He registered it in 2009 soon after he bought it and has renewed it every year since!

    >What I'm reading is you believe a vot for Amir is a vote to lay off rental inspecyors and at least one assistabt city manager (sic)

    That would be SWELL!! I hope citizens realize we're paying the rental inspector $50K/yr to find an unpainted old doggy door!!! (and accumulated dirt on the side walk!)

  19. It is pure arrogance that someone would say a sitting council member had a "superior attitude" and then in the next sentence call the voters of Richardson "the uninformed masses."

  20. Honestly, none of us know how either of these individuals will perform as an elected mayor. Being in the private sector, business people evaluate pros/cons of issues, reasonably consider viable options, discuss & debate them then make what is usually at least an informed decision.

    The CC doesn't work that way. Issues are largely prioritized by the Staff. [This list of Near Term Action Items is a joke. Ask any Council member what number 23 is.] Has anyone ever thought about why highly-ranked items rarely make the agenda or do so near the end of the 2-year term? There is no way to hold any single member accountable for anything really. And, there is no leadership at all.

    So, for me, the bottom-line is; who best exhibits some leadership skills & has displayed at least a willingness to conduct City business in a more business-like manner as described above. I believe Amir Omar is most deserving of the opportunity to see what he can do in the next 2 years.

  21. anon 2:49, I call B.S. on your assertion "taking over RISD operating expense". That's just a lie.

    What Amir is suggesting is that RISD open up the facilities for public use and charge a fee to augment revenue.

    That's fiscally responsible because it makes use of excess capacity to the benefit of the school.

    Nice attempt to twist reality.

  22. Anon at 7:11:

    Anon at 2:49 explained it exactly as Amir did at the debate. No twisting of reality... Your explanation doesn't make sense. RISD already rents their natatoriums to other groups.

    What reality? These are all empty campaign promises anyway.

  23. Can anybody tell us what Amir's business experience is? What exactly has his jobs been in "telecom"? Sales, Management?

    I can understand what Laura's job is an a non-profit's executive director, but I am unclear on what Amir has done in an executive capacity.

    Nothing implied here, just want to understand clearly. Thanks.

  24. Private sector responsibilities are to insure profit. Non-profit sector responsibilities are pretty much self explanatory. Public sector responsibilities should be good stewards of other people’s money.

  25. I disagree with your logic Mr. Lukas. I sit on the board of a non-profit and many of my friends work for non-profits. We are strongly held accountable to be good stewards of money. Motivation is that we rely on the charity of others and being bad stewards means reductions in donations and possibly closing the doors on an organization that we care deeply about.

    Laura understands this completely.

    Again, please, can someone answer what Amir's jobs have entailed? This is relevant information to be an informed voter.

  26. Non-Profits are required to have their books and records available during regular business hours for any public review. I am sure Laura knows that also. What Mr Lucas said was Public sector responsibilities should be good stewards of other people’s money.
    That is a true statement.

    How about YOU contacting Amir directly and asking him what his job entails. Maybe he will offer a dialog with his boss so you can be confident on the answer. Then get back to all on this thread so we know what you know.

    The way this is presented creates an air of doubt that can be easily resolved. That is if you really want an answer.

  27. Anon at 2:33 A.M.,

    Amir's been asked in public forums and has given vague answers. Next time I see him, I'll ask him.

    But you prove the point that no one really knows including you.

  28. Didn't say I did not know. I said if you want to know ask him.

  29. Amir was in B2B sales at Verizon and is now doing the same at AT&T.

    I asked him directly and that's what he said.

  30. His LinkedIn profile now says: Senior Strategist Fiber Sales at AT&T