COUNCIL BRIEFS September 13, 2016
APPROVED THE FY2016-17 BUDGET/SET THE TAX RATE AT $0.560472, A 2 CENT REDUCTION FROM THE CURRENT RATE.
The budget passed, bringing to a close many, many meetings and countless hours of fascinating study, interesting and educational debate and ultimately, some important and difficult decision-making. Despite all our hard work, the mayor again politicized the process, making a last-minute attempt to undermine some of the decisions we had already made, and ultimately voting against Addison’s budget.
On the very day of the budget vote, the mayor proposed lowering the tax rate by a penny, funding that reduction by revisiting decisions we had already made about employee compensation. We had discussed these issues at length all during the summer budget meetings, reached a consensus and provided direction to the staff. Revisiting the already-decided issue of employee compensation on the very day of the budget vote was nothing more than playing politics, plain and simple. It’s time for Addison to move on to a more responsible budget process, and hopefully we sent that message on Tuesday.
I AM PROUD THAT THE BUDGET ADDISON’S COUNCIL ADOPTED BEGINS THE PROCESS OF MAKING ADDISON’S EMPLOYEE COMPENSATION COMPETITIVE AGAIN.
A highlight of this budget is an average 4% MERIT PAY INCREASE for staff as well as funding for certification pay as staff earns professional certifications pursuant to their jobs. I feel very strongly that this is a positive step for Addison. Our employee compensation package has not been competitive for a number of years. During that time, this mayor has all but declared war on the staff, and they have responded by voting with their feet. We have lost almost every department head, in addition to many staff and safety personnel. These losses come with a price! We have been training police and fire personnel at a significant cost, only to lose them after two or three years to more lucrative compensation packages offered by our neighbors in the Metroplex. We have spent THOUSANDS of dollars searching for new management and staff, sometimes paying a premium for interim employees. The price of the mayor’s war demonstrates that his is a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach. And that’s before you get to the human side. We have a staff that has been demoralized by this mayor’s tactics, and it is time for Addison to turn the corner and begin the rebuilding process.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of competitive salaries and certification pay for police and fire personnel as we work to stabilize our staff. For example, just this year, Farmers Branch granted their Public Safety officers a 5% pay increase, effective September 1, 2016. Farmers Branch also dedicated an additional 5% raise, effective October 1, 2016. This move puts their pay ABOVE the median in our area. In contrast to Farmers Branch’s approach, Addison’s mayor wanted to fund his proposed last-minute one-cent reduction in the tax rate on the backs of our employees. Instead of an average 4% merit pay increase effective October 1, 2016, his proposal would have reduced it to an average 3% MERIT RAISE, AND WOULD HAVE DELAYED THE EFFECTIVE DATE UNTIL JANUARY 1, 2017. So, not only would the raise we agreed upon be reduced, it would also be limited to three-fourths of the year.
All of this magnifies a great divide between my views and the Mayor’s views regarding staff. I am committed to staff and their well-being, including because it is in Addison’s best interest. It is my desire to encourage them to maintain the high level of customer service we all have come to enjoy and to recognize them for their professional development. It costs the Town approximately $90,000 to train a Public Safety officer and we can’t afford to be an entry point to the profession, only to lose them to neighboring cities with a significantly richer pay and benefit package. So, the next time you hear the mayor talk about employee compensation, remember what I’ve said about a penny-wise pound-foolish approach.
I believe that fellow council members viewed the mayor’s motion as being very divisive, since the council and staff spent more than 18 hours over the last month carefully discussing and dissecting each line item, including matters relating to employee compensation. Dale Wilcox was the only council member voting for the Mayor’s ill-conceived motion, which failed 2-5.
LEAVING THE HARD DECISIONS TO OTHERS IS THIS MAYOR’S EASY WAY OUT.
I guess the mayor’s tactics shouldn’t have been a surprise. The proposal to reduce and delay employee raises was the same tactic the mayor used last year. And, he played the same game about a last-minute proposal to reduce the tax rate three years ago, also after months of budget meetings and discussions. In both years, the mayor voted against the budget, leaving others to build consensus and have the courage to make the hard decisions. The pattern is the same: when “consensus” is not what this mayor wants, he plays politics. Here, he puts on a show about his last-minute tax rate proposal, knowing that the entire budget had been discussed at length, and a consensus had been built. In the end, this mayor left others to stand fast and make the tough decisions that are in Addison’s best interest. And we did just that.
Employee compensation is a hard issue. No doubt about it. But continuing to point at previous dollar increases in employee salaries – a favorite tactic of the mayor – is misleading and misses the point. The fact is that ADDISON’S COMPENSATION PACKAGE HAS NOT BEEN COMPETITIVE FOR A LONG TIME, and it is has been a huge mistake to ignore that reality. The issue has never been whether money was previously budgeted for raises, the issue has always been whether the employee compensation problem has been SOLVED. And for this mayor, SOLVING the problem just hasn’t been a priority. I think that’s been a huge mistake. With this budget, we have taken an important step forward toward SOLVING the problem.
VOTED TO INCLUDE THE COLA IN THIS YEAR’S BUDGET ON AN AD HOC, NON-RECURRING BASIS.
The cost-of-living adjustment is another component in our effort to regain our competitive posture relative to other communities who vie for quality staff. Last year’s denial sent the wrong message, particularly given that virtually all of our competitive cities provide a cost-of-living-allowance to their retirees. Our retirees have served us well over the course of their careers and have always expected this benefit to be there for them.
Also, please be assured that Addison’s TMRS pension plan is in great financial shape as compared to other cities. All cities are underfunded these days, particularly given the low interest rates we are currently experiencing. The percentage of Addison’s underfunding is very small, including as compared to other cities. In fact, we are at the top of most of the other cities on this issue. So I find the mayor’s efforts to focus attention on “underfunding” to be misleading. You have to view the issue in context and again, we have to remain competitive. In any event COLA is a big issue, and I expect that it will be a topic for discussion in the upcoming legislative session.
ANOTHER OF THE ILL-CONCIEVED IDEAS OF THE MAYOR WAS TO GIVE $100,000 OF TAXPAYER MONEY TO THE ADDISON LEGACY FOUNDATION TO EXPLORE A DECK PARK.
It’s amazing to me that the mayor would propose to once again refuse to deal with employee compensation, but then try to obtain $100,000 for his Legacy Foundation to study (in some unspecified way) the idea of a deck park over the Tollway. This concept has been reviewed a number of times over the years, at significant expense to Addison. It has always has been found to be too expensive and impractical for the Town to pursue. Despite hours of presentations and advocacy by the mayor, only he and Dale Wilcox supported the mayor’s proposal to give away taxpayer money to this pie-in-the-sky never-going-to-happen idea. But, in typical fashion, the mayor continued his efforts to fund this apparently pet project of his. He was ultimately told that he had a conflict of interest regarding his efforts to gain money for his Legacy entity. But, he then voted with the majority in a 4-3 vote (myself, Angell and Duffy against) to spend $70,000 for city staff to manage a feasibility study process with a $30,000 contribution from the Addison Legacy Foundation.
Given the lack of transparency in Addison Legacy Foundation’s financial reporting, the obvious conflicts of interest of council members serving on its advisory board, and their limited successful fundraising and project management to date, I could not support either of these proposals. But at least we were able to prevent the mayor’s plan to give away $100,000 of taxpayer money to this issue.
THE PRIOR COUNCIL’S DECISION TO PROVIDE A $6,500,000 INCENTIVE PACKAGE TO ADDISON GROVES (FORMER SAM’S SITE) SIGNIFICANTLY HANDCUFFED US WHEN TRYING TO DEAL WITH THE CURRENT BUDGET.
The budget we just passed escrowed $1,000,000 from various funds on the operations side, in anticipation of having to make our payments. It’s important to understand that this incentive package transferred the obligation from the debt service side of the budget to the annual, operations side. THAT MEANS DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR, THAT LESS MONEY IS AVAILABLE TO FUND MANY NEEDED PROJECTS.
Before my election, I opposed the Addison Groves project. Prior to its controversial package, the public was provided with NO INFORMATION about the magnitude of the financial incentives the prior council intended to provide. In turn, that meant that the public was given no financial analysis of the project, or how long it would take Addison to receive a return on its investment. We now know that the figure was $6.5 million, and it will take more than TWO DECADES to receive a return on investment, assuming a full build out. I continue to believe that it was a poor decision.
We’re now living the ramifications of the prior council’s decision. And, we will face this same situation for the next 2 budget years, as we continue to escrow millions of dollars from Addison’s operational budget. Many legitimate operations projects have been and will continue to be mothballed as a direct result of these significant expenditures. The structure of the deal also places the burden of the costs squarely on current residents, whereas the benefits will be reaped by future residents. It is a frustrating reality, particularly when viewed in light of so many frivolous and ill-advised expenditures that we have all witnessed during the past 5 years.
Sorry, I couldn’t keep these budget decisions to my usual “brief” format. But, I’m anticipating the usual flood of misinformation from the mayor and his supporters, so I wanted to provide a bit of background on the process.