Thursday, June 07, 2007

Massive Property Tax Increase for City

I feel so sorry for the city residents in Morristown, since they have been so ill-informed and aware of city government policies but on the other hand, seeking information and accountability does not seem to be a priority either. The result is that the city is about to enact the largest tax increase in the city's history. Still, with the increase, the tax rate on property will be about $1.35 per $100 of assessed value, and perhaps residents are just gladly oblivious.

Oddities abound in the revelation that the city's finances are tanking. Such as - the information was not a topic among the recent city election in May. And since only a few thousand people bothered to even vote anyway, well, it's as if the residents just shrugged and went on to putter in the yard or watch some TV rather than vote. However, since info of an impending financial nightmare was absent, who can blame them?

The budget problems seem to be rooted in pie-in-the-sky projections from the city staff. They adopted previous budget plans based on the idea that sales tax growth would be about 5% over the next 5 years -- a 25% increase in city revenues got zero response from elected officials, though that is a massive increase, essentially doubling the real revenue activity. Local press calls it "stagnant sales tax collection" instead of "normal rate of collection, which was negligently overestimated".

And conveniently for elected officials, all this was absent info until after the elections ended.

A new garbage collection tax on city residents, rising insurance costs for the city, rising costs of (also grossly under-estimated) city-wide sewer system construction, pay hikes for city employees, expanding the ranks of the police department are just some of the post-election realities now being served up to residents.

I have thought for a long time that A.) I am very glad I am a county resident and not a city one. While city actions can have an impact on the county, since I do not live in nor vote in the city affairs, then there is not much I can do or say. Also at the county level, just about all those in charge of running the county are elected and not appointed, which leads me to the next point; B.) The source of the problem in my opinion is that the elected city council and mayor positions have no, or limited, impact on city policies and operations. The city's administrator runs the show and no one votes for who has that job other than the council itself, whose knowledge of the city's affairs are all filtered through that same administrator.

Yet continuing to rely on the people who failed you in such a large way -- would that happen in the private sector? I seriously doubt it. The overall cost of taxation may be small, but the mistakes that led to the budget woes were preventable. And the burden of fixing the mess is landing on the residents rather than on those who cause the mess.


  1. Anonymous3:15 PM


    You do so much better when you're talking about yourself or horror movies. Your analysis contains a few errors. I'll take them in the approximate order you delivered them:

    1)The city council never adopts a sales tax growth assumption for more than one year. You simply dreamed up this 5 percent growth over five years. No other answer. The council did assume a 5 percent growth in sales tax this year. That didn't happen. In one recent year, sales tax grew by more than 7 percent. This year, sales tax collection was stagnant, it might even fall a little. To say that it was "negligent" to project a 5 percent growth this past fiscal year is a little heavy handed.

    2)The city's proposed budget contains no garbage collection tax. None. Zero. Zilch. The city opted for a property tax increase instead of a garbage tax. You dreamed this up.

    3)The problems with the city sewer system have been known for at least three years. To suggest that this is a "post-election reality being now being served up to the public is just wrong. Also, sewer repairs don't come from the general fund. And if anybody had been paying attention, they'd have heard that rising insurance costs and expanding the ranks of the police force have been problems for years.

    4)City budget staff only make recommendations. The budget and all the assumptions that come along with a budget are the "fault" of council members, not budget staff.

    You're not a stupid guy, but you'd probably do better to invest a couple of hours in attending a meeting before you start making crap up.

  2. carpenterjd3:34 PM

    While I don't live in Hamblen county or in Morristown and this does not affect me personally, I am a bit taken aback by an "anonymous" calling out of Joe on his facts. It is easy to hide behind anonymity. If you are taking a stand, then let everyone see you take that stand.

  3. Oh Anonymous One -

    The proposal from the administrator called for a garbage tax or increase in property taxes to offset budget projection errors, as reported in the local press.

    I'm double-checking all my sources for info offered here. If I note an error, I will gladly correct my coments. And the council always relies on projections from city staffers regarding revenues and spending - accepting those figures as basis for making decisions is indeed the responsibility of council. If the info offered by staff was error-filled, then those making the projections were indeed at fault for providing bogus info.

    Still, I am re-examining my info, and if errors were made, they will be admitted here, no doubt.

    And none of these budget issues were mentioned during the recent election, which as I said, I find rather curious.

  4. Anonymous8:37 PM

    And don't forget the surprise announcement (to me anyway) in tonights paper of the new form of tax the city will collect from its red light cameras....

    ps I am not the same anonymous from above...

  5. Anonymous9:58 PM

    impossible to 'dream up' a proposal that was presented by the city admin. and then rejected by council. no dream there.

    i attend meetings and heard that 5 percent number offered more than once. but no corrections were made in quaterly refvenue reports.

    each year for the last three the city revises just how bad the sewer system status is and residents have had constantly rising rates. a $400,000 mistake (according to the paper) was not made by council, but by the city's budget office.

  6. dang! traffic cameras invade Mo'town?? how sad.

  7. Scorpio Rising8:12 AM

    The city sewer situation has been ongoing for over 20 years, and just allowed to keep deteriorating while the city annexed further out and let the inner city rot.
    It is interesting that the media both newspaper and radio are all controlled by the same folks, thus announcements don't make timely appearances (oops, we sent it in but it wasn't printed, their fault)
    the result: public doesn't know.
    And no one is actually to blame. Hah. Letters to the Editor that never see daylight, reportings of things as if they are a done deal when there is still time to ask questions, IF the public is notified and allowed to ask. After years of this, and more, you get an indifferent public with an attitude of helplessness, and another layer of public with a feeling of entitlement to all the goodies. And those who speak out are personally attacked in a variety of ways.
    Higher taxes? Let them eat cake!

  8. paige8:17 AM

    Just wanted to toss my humble 2 cents in and agree that much of the problem lies with the City Administrator. However, he runs the show exactly how he likes it, his filters and all, and it's not a good thing. It's a really bad scene up there.

  9. Joe,

    Rising insurance costs (employee health, anyway) can be taken care of by changing the plan. It has been said that the city has a "Cadillac" plan, but that is an understatement. From what I understand, city employees pay next to nothing for insurance, and next to nothing for medical care. That leads to abuse. The city (council and admin staff) need to look at ways to reduce costs before talking about a 40-cent property tax increase. Oh, and Crumley needs to go. Why didn't the council let him go when he tried to leave? The city admin has a six-figure salary, and oversees a budget of less than $50 million, and is accountable to no one. The County Mayor has a (still good, but) much lower salary, oversees a budget in excess of $100 million, and has to face election every four years. The city has no jail and no schools, so what do they do with their money?
    A garbage tax wouldn't be a bad idea, but not in conjunction with a huge prop tax increase. When the county was going broke, they started a garbage fund. The general fund got out of the red, and garbage collections don't drain it anymore. Why don't we combine the two garbage services? The county trucks cover all of the area surrounding the city. The county picks up trash for about 44,000 residents, the city for about 12,000.

    In summation:

    The City Council can greatly improve the City's fiscal situation by doing three things.

    1) Get a reasonable health insurance plan

    2) Enact a garbage tax, or combine garbage pick-up with the county

    3) Fire Jim Crumley

    Bonus: Amend the charter to give the City Mayor's office all the responsibilities of the city administrator, and do away with the city admin position.

  10. it sure seems the Council enjoys much freedom from accoutablity by making the City Admin be the front man. of course, voters could petition to put the matter to a referendum vote, but in the past, those that were passed, such as regarding schools and industrial parks, were still ignored.

    i have to wonder if the first Anon comment here was from a city staffer or member of local media. their overall attitude that the council is always at fault and the public who 'never bothers to find out" is at the heart of Local Spin.