In Lake Woebegovernment, All Salaries Are Above Average

In Springfield, the head of the city’s HR department has told the city council that city salaries are too low:

Springfield is at best average — and more often significantly worse — when it comes to the pay offered to most city employees, according to a salary survey City Council discussed Tuesday.

The survey, completed earlier this year, compared the maximum pay for 61 city positions to the salaries offered for the same work in 11 of Springfield’s benchmark cities.

“All in all, 64 percent of our salary survey positions are in the lower third,” said Sheila Maerz, the city’s director of human resources. “Our goal is to be in the middle third.”

You know what citizens should call this? A bargain.

The article does mention that Springfield has the lowest cost of living among the cities sampled for this information. The city also says that its cost of attaining new workers, which would seem to indicate that they’re not having trouble filling the jobs they post. So, what’s the problem?

It’s hard for me to imagine an HR director at a private company going to the corporate management and saying “We need to boost salaries just because.” If Springfield’s city salaries go up, its benefits costs go up, and its ability to meet its future obligations go up drastically. Let’s take a look at the cities Springfield compared itself to:

  • Abilene, Texas (Dyess Air Force Base)
  • Amarillo, Texas
  • Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • Columbia, S.C. (Fort Jackson)
  • Fort Wayne, Ind.
  • Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Huntsville, Ala. (U.S. Army Redstone Center, NASA)
  • Knoxville, Tenn. (U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge)
  • Salt Lake City, Utah (State Capital)
  • Savannah, Ga. (Hunter Army Air Field)
  • Wichita Falls, Texas (Sheppard Air Force Base)

Look at all the government jobs available in those positions. Of the other eleven benchmark cities, at least six of them have military bases or other federal installations in them and one of them is the state capital. As such, they are automatically going to have competition for government workers and would have to pay better to keep the city workers from becoming state or Federal employees or contractors.

I wonder if the presentation covered the possibility that the job competition might have had an impact.

The Lessons of a Blooming Public-Private Partnership

In Nixa, the city fathers are considering whether to turn part of their community center over to the YMCA:

Since the first of the year, City Council, together with the Parks Advisory & Stormwater committees, has searched for solutions to help fund the city’s parks and stormwater operations and maintenance. Discussions involved a possible stormwater/parks sales tax initiative and the privatization of the Community Center’s second floor as a fitness facility.

A request for proposal (RFP) advertising the availability of the second floor enticed the Ozarks Regional YMCA to submit a partnership proposal for Council’s consideration. The public is invited to share their opinions on the YMCA proposal that transfers responsibilities of Nixa Parks recreational programs to the YMCA at two public meetings held on July 5 and July 9.

If your city is looking for ways to get out from under the onerous burdens of the programs and facilities it created in flush times and/or in response to peer pressure from other regional governments (Ozark has a community center! We should, too!) and wants to turn them over to private, nonprofit or for-profit enterprises, your city has extended itself beyond basic services into things best accommodated by the private sector.

Lesson learned? Probably not.

Full disclosure: I am a member at the YMCA, and I have been off and on for fifteen years, and the last three have been at the Ozarks Regional YMCA.

For other local YMCA follies, see how the city of Ozark considered turning its rec center over to the YMCA (it didn’t) or how the Springfield Parks Board wanted to replicate the YMCA’s services with a new expensive rec center (Of course, they went ahead on it.)

To Some, It Would Be Something To Brag About

The elected city council of the city of Springfield are unpaid, and the mayor draws a token salary. Of course, this needs to change:

No Springfield City Council member has drawn a public paycheck for more than half a century, but one current member thinks the topic is due for a discussion.

“What I want to do with it is open up that discussion, is that something we need to consider? We are one of the largest cities in the country that doesn’t have a paid (council).”

At Bieker’s request, tonight’s City Council agenda includes an action item referring the issue to council’s Plans and Policies Committee for review.

The City Charter adopted by voters in 1953 grants the mayor a $200 monthly salary and up to $100 a month for expenses.

The charter specifically forbids a salary for council members, although it does allow them to be “reimbursed for any necessary specific expenses incurred in connection with their duties …”

Of course, they’re going to compare the council and mayor to other cities of the size. Cities whose fiscal house might be in terrible shape, but that’s neither here nor there.

Personally, I prefer a community where the leadership is unpaid and therefore doesn’t feel the need to put in a full forty hours a week in making and enforcing an ever-growing set of constricting laws and ordinances.

But Springfield wants to be a big city, dammit! So it’s ladling out tax incentives to big corporations and developers and everything else.

Greene County Makes Instapundit

A KY3 story about a defending his property with a firearm merited a mention on Instapundit yesterday. The story:

An elderly cattle rancher recently came face-to-face with three thieves on his property, and he took the matter into his own hands. The thieves might have been arrested if Vance West had been able to get someone to help him.

Instapundit notes:

I love how the sheriff uses this as an excuse to ask for a tax increase.

If Springfield Spends $40 Million, Springfield Will Surely Spend $40 Million

A consultant says that Springfield can turn $40 million tax dollars into a cool $1 billion:

A consultant’s report estimates that a $90 million investment in the Springfield Expo Center and adjoining facilities could increase local spending over the next 25 years by more than $1 billion.

Chicago-based consultant Rob Hunden, who will present the financial impact analysis to city staff and others Thursday, estimates that public money would need to cover about $40 million of the development costs. But the taxpayers’ investment would be paid back with increased tax revenue within 25 years.

“The groups that get the tax money aren’t necessarily the groups that would invest the tax money,” Hunden said, cautioning that the estimate includes revenue to all the taxing jurisdictions in Greene County.

So, while the city would not recoup the entire $40 million investment directly, Hunden expects the combined tax revenue of the city, county, local school districts and others to increase by about $43 million overall.

Spending $40 million dollars to develop a convention center when the convention industry is in steep decline and conventioneers, those that remain, will find the opportunity to get bargain rates in larger cities as they struggle to populate their tax-funded convention centers.

I’m not sure Bernie Madoff promised this sort of return to his investors. In the 21st century, people are quite right to think that “con man” is short for “consultant man.”

The Costs of Essential Government Service

The Springfield News-Leader today breaks down some of the amounts the various government entities spend during a simple 1″ snowfall, including:

Smith estimated that by the end of the storm, the county [Greene] would spend between $40,000 and $50,000 on highway salt alone.

John Drury, superintendent of streets at Springfield Public Works, said the city could spend $20,000 to salt primary and secondary routes in a 12-hour period. During that shift, labor would cost about $12,000 and the cost of operating vehicles and equipment, about $24,000.

That calculates to roughly $56,000 per shift.

Drury said this storm would require two shifts, possibly a third.

The Springfield school district spent an estimated $4,000 in salt for sidewalks and portions of parking lots Monday.

This is the cost of essential government service. Officials admit that this year has not broken the budget, with the unseasonably warm temperatures and precipitation falling as rain instead of snow or ice. But this is what government should spend money on. Not on distressed buildings it wants to spruce up for an urban renaissance, not on diversity co-ordinators and public-private partnership mavens or educational outreach programs or clever advertising for government initiatives. Or clever government initiatives, for that matter.

A Tale of Two Elections

In Springfield, the voters have voted the wrong way:

As the votes were being counted, a group of opponents of the controversial E-Verify ordinance waited anxiously at a downtown bar.

Marla Marantz, an organizer with Citizens for a United Springfield, watched the results trickle in on a laptop computer on a table near the east wall of Ophelia’s Tapas & Wine Bar.

Mayor Jim O’Neal, who on Friday called the initiative “misguided,” checked his iPhone periodically for the latest results as he mingled with others gathered for the watch party.

And:

Marantz acknowledged she was emotional about the results.

“I care deeply about it,” she said. “I think people were misled about what the ordinance is really about.”

O’Neal acknowledged disappointment.

“How close this vote was demonstrates a great division in the community.”

“But the people have spoken,” he said.

O’Neal said he and city council are now in a “precarious position” – mandated to defend inevitable legal challenges.

O’Neal said taxpayers could now have to pay for “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to defend the measure in court. He cited parts of the ordinance believed to be problematic.

The measure would require employers in city of Springfield to check employee eligibility with a Federal program:

A petition-based ordinance requiring local employers to screen employees using the online E-Verify program passed by a narrow margin Tuesday, although how and when it will be enforced remains unclear.

“We’re pleased that the citizens of Springfield heard our message and agreed with us, but we temper the celebration with the knowledge that this is a contentious issue and people of good conscience can disagree,” said Jerry Wilson, a spokesman for the Ozarks Minutemen.

He said the group hopes both sides now will “put aside their differences and support the rule of law.”

“This has always been about one thing,” Wilson said. “You’re either eligible to work in the United States or you are not.”

Opponents conceded the loss Tuesday but said the fight against the ordinance isn’t over.

The 221 vote difference — less than 1.4 percent of the vote — is outside the 1 percent threshold for a recount. But Mayor Jim O’Neal, who came out strongly against the measure in the days before the election, said he expects the ordinance to be challenged in court.

Not so that you could tell in the radio advertisements that Citizens for United Springfield were running on election day, where the nature of the question was not discussed, but only the impact of the check on local businesses leading to fewer jobs in Springfield.

The election was close:

                                             VOTES PERCENT

City of Springfield Question 1
 YES  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     8,247   50.68
 NO.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     8,026   49.32

How different that was from an election a year ago:

                                             VOTES PERCENT

City of Springfield Question 2
 YES  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    11,201   53.35
 NO.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     9,795   46.65

Where was the mayor lamenting the lawsuits then? The concerns by the right-thinking crowd about the adverse impact on business? Not here:

Clean air won out over living free Tuesday in an election battle that had been defined as a showdown between public health and business rights.

Springfield voters approved a sweeping indoor smoking ban by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent, setting the stage for all businesses in Springfield to be smoke-free by June 6.

“We’re glad to see people decided in favor of the health of the community,” said Carrie Reynolds, spokeswoman for the group, Clean Air Springfield, that had lobbied on behalf of the ordinance.

Opponents, meanwhile, said they intend to support businesses impacted by the ban and remain active through an inevitable legal challenge.

“We’ll basically be a lobbying group for them,” said Live Free Springfield Chairman David Myers.

In both cases, a tiny fraction of voters won a ballot-initiated election, but the reactions from the members of the city government itself are very different.

TIFs Ad Absurdum Achieved

Here at Missouri Insight, we come down very hard on the concepts of TIFs because they favor one business over another. In Illinois, the Collinsville Gateway Center takes it to the logical conclusion, asking not only for the government to collect taxes to build infrastructure for the independent business, but to help pay its bills:

Declining revenue has prompted the Gateway Center to ask the city of Collinsville to allow it to keep the city’s portions of tax increment financing funds to cover the center’s operating costs.

Under a 2006 agreement between Gateway and the city, the convention center is allowed to use TIF funds collected in the hospitality district to satisfy shortages on its bond debt. The remainder of the funds collected are to be distributed equally between the center and the city. Gateway keeps 50 percent to cover maintenance and improvement costs and the city keeps 50 percent for future development.

Earlier this month, during a City Council strategic planning meeting, Gateway Center Director Cindy Warke asked the council to allow Gateway to retain the entire amount, which averages to about $250,000 a year, according to the city’s Community Development Director Paul Mann.

To sum up: because the business cannot generate business enough to cover its bills, it’s asking the city to give it money collected as taxes.

Why is this business more special than the hotel across the highway? Because government officials have said so, and will again.

In other convention center news, Springfield, Missouri, has a convention center that it feels is underperforming:

Inadequate facilities and the lack of a connecting hotel have been cited as reasons Springfield’s Expo Center isn’t doing more business.

In a report distributed to City Council on Tuesday, city staff said John Q. Hammons Hotels’ management of the center has fallen short of expectations, as well.

“Staff does not believe the Exposition Center has been marketed or used to its maximum potential,” the report says, noting Hammons Hotels has failed to submit required reports on a regular basis.

The memo, drafted in response to questions posed by Councilman Tom Bieker, said the problems likely fall short of justifying termination of the Hammons’ management contract, which runs through at least 2028 and could be extended a decade past that.

As a result, it might seek to terminate its designated private half of the public/private partnership that is floundering and to find, undoubtedly, another private half to rain public funds on to chase the dwindling convention and conference market. And when the new management underperforms, what then? More of the same, one might expect.

Home Improvement Chain Understands Risks of Community Improvement Districts

Springfield has recently become as district-crazy as the larger cities in the state, creating improvement districts to benefit Hy-Vee and other retail developments. Through the improvement districts, the city pays for improvements to make an area hospitable to a private development and then levies an additional sales tax on purchases made at the development to recapture those outlays.

Personally, I’m against helping some developers out at the expense of other development types. The government should not pay favorites in this way. If a private citizen is to build a house or whatnot, he has to pay to hook it up to the infrastructure. But if the private citizen is a development corporation with enough clout and promises of jobs and sales–regardless of whether those sales are merely moving sales from another retailer in the area to the new one with the additional sales tax levy–then the districts happen.

But a Wisconsin-based home improvement center wants no part of the CID where it wants to open:

Menards, however, does not want to be included in a 1 percent sales tax Community Improvement District the council previously approved for the Hickory Hills Marketplace.

The CID tax would pay for certain infrastructure improvements as tax revenues roll in over time.

According to a council bill explanation, “One of the conditions of Menards locating at the development is that their site not be included in the CID.”

Having a CID tax in place potentially could make Menards products more expensive.

“They do a lot of business on a large scale, like prefabricated home kits,” said Mayor Jim O’Neal. “That extra percent is probably not something they really want. I think the necessary improvements can be made without them.”

It’s quite obvious when you’re a contractor spending thousands of dollars per purchase the difference between buying it at Menards or buying it at Meeks.

On smaller purchases, like groceries and department store items, it’s easier to lose sight of that 1% extra you’re paying. It’s only an extra dollar per $100 trip, but if you’re cumulatively spending thousands of dollars a year, you’re cheating yourself of those dollars if you shop at a store in a CID.

Good for Menards for opting out, although they’re doing it for the principle of being competitive and making profit, not the principle that special favors for esteemed land developers are morally wrong.