Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why it's important to embrace a 38% increase

Supporters of Ferndale's Headlee override proposal this May shouldn't run away from or deny it's an increase of 38%.  Instead they should embrace it, promote it, and use the magnitude of the remedy as a measure of how crippled the city may become without the millage's passing.

One of my favorite lines from "Clear and Present Danger" occurs when the president's advisors are discussing what to say about the discovery one of the president's close friends was laundering money for a drug cartel.

From FilmSite.Org:
The President's advisors suggested that if the news became public, they could defuse it by downplaying the President's association with Hardin. Ryan suggested the opposite - if the President were to be asked if he and Hardin were good friends, he should answer: "We're lifelong friends...There's no sense defusing a bomb after it's already gone off."
The budget bomb has gone off in Ferndale just as it has the rest of the country.  Pretending the collateral damage is a measly 11% is a whitewash of the problem and insulting to voters' intelligence.

Ferndale's operating millage is currently 14.5448 mills.  If approved, the May ballot proposal will allow council to raise that rate to 20 mills by 2013.  To keep all the deniers honest I'll show my work.
20 - 14.5448 = 5.4552 (the increase)
5.4552 / 14.5448 = 0.375061878
0.375061878 * 100 = 37.5061878% (the percentage)
round(37.5061878) = 38%
Another way we can find this number, or one very close to it, is by figuring out how big the deficit is as a percentage of the revenue Ferndale's general fund receives from property taxes.

According to the budget estimates for fiscal year ending 2012, Ferndale anticipates property tax receipts of $7,573,000.  The budget deficit is estimated in the same document to be $2.3 million.
2,300,000 / 7,573,000 = 0.303710551
0.303710551 * 100 = 30.3710551
round(30.3710551) = 30%
So, which property tax increase do you think has a better chance of covering a 30% hole; a 38% increase or an 11% increase?

Some people confuse my supporting FACT's publishing the millage is a 38% increase over the Yes to Ferndale's Future's 11% increase as evidence my support for the millage is superficial.  What it really demonstrates is my commitment to honesty and integrity, especially when lying is too easily proven by doing simple math (which I think should be a prerequisite to running for office).

Saying the increase is anything other than 38% is an attempt to make the tax increase more palatable to voters.  This is also known as spin, and is disrespectful to voters and property tax payers.

11% is wrong not just because it's unsupported by math, but because it trivializes Ferndale's desperate budget situation.  If the budget was only short 11%, then I'd advocate a NO vote and demand city council find 11% to cut.  An 11% deficit is not an emergency.  An 11% deficit does not warrant a Headlee override.

Instead, our budget deficit is an emergency.  The city can not replace over 30% of its revenue with traffic tickets or parking meter fines.  Our city's obligations to its retirees, whatever voters think of its extravagance or past-councils' approval of such rich benefits, can not be addressed with budget resolutions, wishful thinking, or understatement.

No, our city's deficit is real, it's large, and it requires appropriate and proportionate action to remediate.

There are other problems with both the Yes and No camps' literature and public statements I may address in future posts.  In February I recommended to voters what they should do in both May and November, and unless someone proves my numbers wrong I stand by my recommendations.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Oh, Farmdale is the place to be!

After reading various stories in the Ferndale 115, Ferndale Patch, and The Daily Tribune, I couldn't get this song out of my head.  So the only natural thing to do, was to share it.
(Sing to the tune of Green Acres)

Oh, Farmdale is the street for me
Coops of chickens laying eggs for free
Spreading feces on my garden plot
I'll pretend I'm a farmer and care for my neighbors not

 When I bought my house I felt lucky
Now, I'm living in Ferndale-tucky
I have a chicken coop next door
As if housing values weren't low enough before

.. Group think!
.. The stink!
.. I'll share!
.. Don't care!

 Madison Heights had 'em first
Ferndale couldn't do worse
Oh, Farmdale we are there!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Not paying our way

At Monday's council meeting I was reminded how big a debt I'm leaving behind for my kids to pay, and every voting-age adult should be ashamed.

Bluntly, if the ladder truck approved for purchase Monday night is so important to Ferndale then we ought to have paid its entire cost ourselves and not depended on a FEMA grant.

The truck's cost was $964,512.  Here's how those costs break down:

FEMA Grant$675,000
  Federal Taxes$405,000
  Federal Debt$270,000
City of Ferndale$289,512
  Matching funds$75,000
  City Funds$214,512
Total Cost$964,512
Some budget crisis, eh?  With one vote city council spent nearly a whole millage point of property tax revenue.

Ferndale Fire Chief Pat Sullivan noted the department's been without an operable ladder truck for quite a while.

So at a time when federal, state, county, and city budgets are bending under the weight of the economy, the United States of America, all its taxpayers and the world's biggest lenders chipped in nearly $675,000 dollars for a fire truck to serve a city of 19,900 where only 5% of 2009's 2277 runs were fire emergencies.

It's important to have the right equipment for the job, and that truck may be the right equipment.  But if it was that important to the council and residents of Ferndale, perhaps Ferndale residents should have paid for it themselves.

The question that needs to be answered is if we had to pay for it ourselves would we have bought it?

Certainly, if we had to pay for it ourselves there would have been more discussion and its necessity would have been more thoroughly analyzed.  We may still have purchased it, but we would have done so without depending on taxpayers from around the country and borrowing money the country's taxpayers will still be paying long after the truck is no longer in service.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What immigration giveth, emigration can taketh away

[Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2011 edition of Ferndale Friends] 

I promised Ferndale Friends’ interim managing editor I wouldn’t write anything about a specific ballot issue on May’s ballot for which the publish-date of this edition of Ferndale Friends presents an opportune time to promote my position on the subject.

Geography is against me here. The place to discuss the issue I’m not allowed to discuss is elsewhere discussed in this magazine. For this issue, at least, this column’s space has become a don’t-discuss-the-thing-you’re-not-supposed-to-else-you’re-sleeping-in-the-garage zone.

If that wasn’t hint enough, the interim managing editor is my wife, Tiffani (Hi, babe!). So for a while I can get away with admitting I think my boss is hot.

It is Lent, which means that for the 40 days leading up to Easter many Christians will either give something up or try to do something positive so they may become better Christians, or better spouses, students, or maybe just thinner. Many people will take a Mulligan on their New Year’s resolutions.

This Lent, I thought I’d try something similar and not criticize city council or even try writing something nice about each of them. But criticizing government isn’t really a vice and writing nice things about council wouldn’t fool anyone for a minute, so we’ll just see how it goes. I’ll definitely stick with my promise to Tiffani and not discuss the burning question on everybody’s mind as they head out to vote on May 3, “Do I need to bring a #2 pencil?”

The new Jamestown?

The latest census numbers show Detroit lost a quarter of its residents and Ferndale a tenth of its population.

Mayor Bing will likely both challenge Detroit’s numbers in court and go looking for uncounted Detroiters throughout the city’s 139 square miles.

It’s been said the two largest school districts in Michigan are Detroit Public Schools, and Detroit Public School students attending non-DPS school districts.

If estimations of Michigan’s second largest school district are accurate don’t be surprised to find Mayor Bing and DPS Emergency Financial Manger Robert Bobb driving through Centerline, Hazel Park, Ferndale, Oak Park, and other Detroit-bordering school districts looking for Detroiters that have falsified their addresses.

My favorite quote concerning Ferndale’s loss of 10% of its population (2205 people since 2000) came from Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter in the Ferndale Patch, “"My job is to make the city the best place I can for the people here now.”

(I’m counting that as a nice thing said about council.)

What I like about Mayor Coulter’s comment is its pragmatism. Neither nostalgia nor spin color his perspective. He doesn’t hearken back to images of Ferndale’s past when Irish Catholics bunked children one atop the other in bedrooms and closets.

Pundits, politicians, and cheer-leaders are tripping over themselves in the press, online forums, and Facebook trying to convince the remaining population that losing 10-20% of the population was expected, and that plans are being made to tie meat around south-east Michigan’s neck so Millenials will play with us.

Exactly how many Millenials does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent light bulb, replace the economic activity of 2205 residents with beer and Buffalo-wings, or repopulate our school system?
In case you’re unfamiliar with the definition of Millenials, they’re typically described as 20-somethings. But they’re not just in their 20s. Millenials are also in their teens, tweens, and many still have their baby teeth—and Ferndale lost over 1200 Millenials under the age of 18. Statistically, I’m not as confident as Craig Covey that folks in the narrow age range of 18-to-30 exist in sufficient numbers to make up the difference.

(Craig isn’t on council anymore so I don’t count that as a criticism.)

According to a focus group on the Craig Fahle show (March 28) 20-somethings are just as likely to uproot themselves from cool cities after they start families and go on the hunt for high-performing school districts as their parents’ generation did.

For a different perspective on our region’s population loss we need to back up 130 years-or-so to the late 1800s when waves of Italians arrived looking for opportunity, or the Irish before them.

If that’s too far back we can look at what put Detroit on the population map and gave it the one of the nation’s highest median incomes—the auto industry.

Between 1900 and 1930, Detroit’s population ballooned from 265,000 to 1.5 million with immigrants from other states and countries. 100 years later, people are now emigrating to opportunities elsewhere.

Can we blame them? Should we hold them back? Should we discourage our loved ones from seeking their fortunes in the southeast or southwest or anywhere else they’re lured by the century-later equivalent of $5/day?

Not if we want them paying our Social Security and other government health and retirement benefits.

We should be proud of anyone that leaves to seek their fortunes elsewhere. They’ve more in common with the people that came to Detroit 100 years ago and built the Paris of the West than they do the tour guides at The Coliseum.

Well, we’ve made it this far and I’ve kept my promises.

If you have comments or criticisms for me don’t wait for a religious holiday. Write me at tggagne@gmail.com.