Friday, May 2, 2014

Ridiculousness in Commerce TX

This blog is in reference to the City Council tabling the funding of a study to examine the feasibility for a new city pool. 

Be prepared this is a long blog and chalk full of facts that probably only a handful know.

Apparently the City Council cannot find $3,000 for a feasibility study for a new pool. Disappointing.

Six or seven years ago the council found $5,000 to have the city certified as a retirement community (which finally happened in 2014) and this year the council has agreed to pay a portion of a $48,000 feasibility study for a health care facility. Can't find $3,000? Really.

Let's begin...

According to the City of Commerce's website: The City at the end of fiscal year 2013 ran a surplus of $385,982. By their numbers, revenues exceed expenses in 2011 and 2012 to a total of $1,107,219. So in the last 3 years, CASH RESERVES should have increased by $1,493,201.

In the 2013-14 budget on page 25, there is a line item called Contingency Fund.  The Contingency fund is typically used to help pay for anything that was not anticipated with a "normal" budget line. At the start of the fiscal year it had $40,000 in it. (See the City Budget Here)

From what I gathered, here is the scene at the April 15th City Council Meeting. Members of the Parks Board approach the council seeking around $3,000 to have a professional survey conducted to see if there is a need for a new pool in Commerce.  After some discussion, the item was tabled.

So let's back up. The City has run a budget surplus of almost $1.5 Million over the past 3 years and has another $40,000 in a fund for this year, but you can't find $3,000 to pay for a survey? Sorry, not funding the survey just doesn't add up.

But let's dig a little deeper...

Apparently one comment at the meeting was that with Covidien closing, the City cannot afford to move forward with a possible new pool.  

This seems to be the consensus at City Hall: THE SKY IS FALLING, Covidien closed.

Let's actually look at what is happening to our tax base.  According to the Hunt County Appraisal District's 2014 Notice of Appraised Value obtained on 5/1/14, Covidien's total appraised value will be reduced by approximately $9 million. (Covidien used to be called Tyco.)

Using those figures, they will pay $74,0000 less in property taxes to the City next year. That is a big number but when compared to the entire City budget of $4.6 million that is less than 2%.  

Also keep in mind that a large portion of the future property tax revenue that we will lose is being offset  by the fact that Hydro was recently annexed into the city as they reached the end of their 10 year abatement.  This also means they will have to pay franchise tax on their use of utility services (Natural Gas and Electric) which estimated several years ago will add an additional $50,000 to revenues for the City.

For some to claim that their hands are tied because Covidien has closed is absurd and quite frankly defeatist.  Challenging times happen and one must adopt and push forward.  

Need further proof that City finances are not as dire as some would like you to believe?  Look at sales tax revenue. Since Covidien announced it was closing in 2011, sales tax revenues have gone up year after year and Commerce is already 3.5% ahead of last years collections.

Also look at Page 1 of the City Budget and notice how Fines and Forfeits has dramatically increased since 2011.  This is in direct response from City Officials putting pressure on the Police Department to write more tickets. Collected fines in 2011 = $132,000. In 2013, that total grew to $244,000.

Covidien's closing is a terrible lose to the community but the excuse that we can't do anything is a broken record that we have heard for years now.

By the City's own records, over the past 3 years they have accumulated over $1.5 million in reserves. $1.5 MILLION and you can't see fit to spend $3000? 

Face it. The City has the money but for some reason the council refuses to listen to a recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Board.  Sad you don't follow their recommendation, since the City Council appoints those members.  

But then again, the scuttle around town is that there are those at City Hall who are seeking to have members removed or not reappoint those who don't live in the city limits.  The City Manager doesn't live in town and at least one member of the EDC Board doesn't live in town. Are you going to remove them? Of course you won't. But why not? What's good for the goose is good for the gander. 

So let's put the money issue behind us. You have it. Spend it.  Pay for the survey.

NOW: What do I think the survey will show? We need more then just a pool. We need to dream bigger.  Remember the article from September 2013 in the Commerce Journal?

We need to build a "community center".  A center that will possibly include a basketball court,  pool, house the public library and has adjoined to it a skate park.

Is this crazy?

1) We know our "Friends" at the library need a new facility. 
2) Seems there are some in the community who want a new pool.
3) We also have the Skate Park Project. 
4) The Old Middle School gym is just that; OLD and OUTDATED

So why not a facility to house all?

The library building is on its last legs; roof leaks and flooding issues with a heavy rain. The pool is closed. The gym on Pecan Street is well past its useful life. The Skate Park Project has commitments for funds and this could be the only facility of its type in Hunt County.  

This could become a regional attraction.

Bring those potential players together (Parks and Rec, Friends of the Library and Skate Park Project) and get this accomplished.

Divided the chance of success is limited, but together this could happen.

This will require some give and take.  Some egos to take a back seat for what is BEST for the community as a whole.  It can happen!

Oh but wait, I can hear some detractors now: If we build such a facility, we won't have the funds to operate it. 

Not so fast. 

Per the City budget the library receives almost $67,000 per year for the operation and before it was shut down,  the City spent $60,000 per year operating the pool (maintenance, salaries of pool workers, etc.).  So if you combine the Library and a "Rec Center" into one facility you would be able to have $127,000 to help cover some of the operating costs.  User fees, skate competitions, tournaments, etc. are other ways to help with operating costs.

For me, the sad truth is that there are many in town who are perfectly happy with Commerce like it is. Unfortunately, a few of them meet the third Tuesday of every month at City Hall and control the purse strings. 

To close this out, if we don't think different, act different, how will anything change in Commerce?

Over 15 years ago the City spent, I believe close to, $100,000 for a facilities master plan study.  That plan included the Fire and Police Station, the City Hall and signage to downtown that were all built.  Included in that plan was a new recreation center.  Fifteen years later, I think the city council needs to spend the money on a study to see if a center is needed.  Your Parks and Recreation Board thinks it's worthwhile.

Is $3000 out of a $4.6 Million dollar budget to much to ask for? 

Council members are elected to represent the desires of the people, aren't they? 
Government representing the people. What a novel concept.

Oh, and the big question: How could we pay to build such a facility? A possible answer: EDC funds.  Either through a one time special election or changing Commerce to 4B. 

And we are closer than you really think to have such a facility if everyone will play nice and work together.  The Skate Park Project has already raised some funds. The City could sell the old library and use those proceeds. The Parks and Rec Board has researched a New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program that could contribute 
$800,000. Plenty of possibilities if folks will think outside the box.