Where Oh Where Did My Tax Money Go

Where Oh Where Did My Tax Money Go?
By: Susan M. Halpern
(Addison councilmember 1992 – 99)

Where oh where did my tax money go? Where oh where could it be? Well, I know one thing: I’m never going to figure it out from anything Todd Meier writes. And, frankly, that’s appears to be how he and the Council like it.

The first shot across the bow came in our Town’s August 21, 2015 newsletter, where Meier informed residents of “$850,000 of unanticipated costs.” Huh? Unanticipated?? $850,000??? How does $850,000 sneak up on a Town?

The answer is, of course, that it doesn’t. Much of that $850,000 is found in the failed policies of the Meier regime. But, admitting that would require Meier to admit that he’s been either wrong or foolish, and that isn’t bound to happen. And, since he controls the Town’s newsletter (and news) with an iron fist, you’re not going to hear about it there either. So what about this $850,000?

The first thing Addison residents need to know is that we’re going to fund it. Once again this year our taxes are increasing.  That’s actual taxes, i.e., the dollars you actually pay (rate x value = $$$$ we pay). Meier is fond of just talking about the rate, which now increases from 56.18 to 57.19. Sounds modest until you consider the second half of the equation, which is property values that have risen by about 7%. It’s hard to see the real result when both numbers move. But if we isolate the 7% value increase in the tax rate number (just multiply 57.19 by 1.07), you can see what Meier and his group are really doing. That shows us that the effect of this budget is to increase the rate to 61.96, keep values as a constant. That number’s much bigger isn’t it? And, if you equate each penny to about $350,000 or so, you can see that property taxes have increased by about $1,750,000.

Which is 95% of the little bombshell Meier dropped on everyone in August, when he wrote about losing a $1,000,000 tax account and those pesky unexplained and allegedly “unanticipated” $850,000 in expenses.

That’s right, we’re paying the freight for Meier’s failed policies and his poor conduct towards our staff.

So, what’s in that $850,000? Who knows! Meier’s isn’t volunteering anything. It most certainly includes the without cause dismissal of Lea Dunn. I know, I know, you heard she resigned. Not really. In truth, Lea offered to resign, subject to certain conditions, most notably that she would receive her severance package. That’s not a resignation, it’s a termination without cause. Whether it was offered by Lea or demanded by the Council is immaterial; Addison’s residents are paying the freight. Don’t get me wrong, Lea should get battle pay for what she endured as Meier and his sycophants attacked her and undermined her, and were undoubtedly frustrated that Lea’s extraordinary brand of leadership overcame all that, leaving them with absolutely no cause to fire her. But, in terms of dollars, the price is simple, and certainly not unanticipated. $240,000 give or take, plus another $50,000-$60,000 to pay for the national search Meier had been demanding all along. Score: Meier’s Ego $300,000, Taxpayers – increased taxes. Again.

What are the other “unanticipated expenses?” Well, the Kanter witch hunt is now approaching what, $200,000?  It’s true, we need to button up some of our practices. But there’s a chicken/egg issue there. When you can’t attract and keep your positions filled, the remaining employees do what they have to do to get the job done. Could they have better processes? Sure. Could it have been achieved without charging the taxpayers almost $200,000? Of course it could have. But Kanter was there for other purposes, and now we have to pay for the Meier witch hunt. And, we still have a completely unresolved compensation issue, so who knows how much more this war on Addison’s staff will cost us.

What did we hear about on this issue in the co-opted Town newsletter? “Compounded raises in salary,” “aggregate compounded salary increases,” and “hypothetical employees.” Huh? And a big discussion of the sworn employees, because Meier and his merry band were forced to address that group last year, and at least bring them near the average. After all, you couldn’t have those guys unhappy with Meier up for reelection, right? But the rest of the employees were left out last year, and continue to lag behind benchmark communities.

And that is the key question: Is Addison’s employee compensation competitive with other benchmark communities or not? The answer is clearly not. Certainly, the last consultant who studied this question gave a resounding NO for an answer. So what did Meier and his group do? They rejected his recommendations. And now they propose using our tax dollars to pay for yet another consultant to study the issue. Why? What was wrong with the last, very recent study? Shopping for a different answer?

Meanwhile, the ongoing debacle of employee compensation remains completely unresolved. Oh sure, they voted to allocate some money they might give out for raises. Later. Leaving it up in the air. They’ll decide that in January, presumably when fewer people are watching. What kind of way is this to handle anything?

Don’t we deserve straight answers on this stuff from these people who proclaimed themselves to be “fiscal conservatives” and promised “transparency?”

Speaking of transparency, I hear that another $100,000 or so of the “unanticipated expenses” will fund a full time City Secretary. This new position is needed due to the flood of Open Records Act requests the Town has received. From my observations, both as a citizen and a lawyer, the Town has taken quite an unreasonable line where these requests are concerned. I assume this was an edict from the Council, but that’s all cloaked in secrecy. For those who want to try to get the facts underlying any of Meier’s numerous conclusory statements, be prepared to litigate. The Town is shutting the file cabinets and the facts continue to be hidden. Another score for the Transparency Team.

$27,000 to a failed appointment, $12,000 for Janelle Moore’s complaint against the police department. More money for lawyers to threaten suit against Addison residents for using an email list Meier is allowed to use for political reasons every damn week. It’s not hard to see how our taxpayer dollars have been wasted. And there was nothing unexpected about any of it.

What else did we hear? “Revise our policy and process for library cards.”  Amazing sleight of hand, read that: reduce access to library facilities.  But then they claim, no reduction in services?  How does that work?  Ah, but state-controlled media.  It doesn’t have to work, does it?

“Revise and update our alarm permit policy and fees.”  More sleight of hand.  One of those user fees that is essentially just another tax.  More increases.  But no one needs to know, right?  State-controlled media.  Doesn’t matter what residents are told, does it?

When I was on the Council, we addressed such issues directly.  We told residents directly what we were doing and explained ourselves.  We didn’t hide behind incomprehensible and reprehensible verbal sleight of hand.  Our philosophy was true TRANSPARENCY.  It starts with telling residents the truth, something desperately needed in Addison.

Four years under Meir brought us more than a 20% increase in taxes for the first four years, and this year the increase is even more significant. We’ve lost two City Managers, one Assistant CM, the Police Chief, the Assistant Police Chief, the Events Director, and our CFO. We have a divided community and state-controlled media.

What a sad, sad period in our history.