There was light turnout at the Midland, Texas, City Council hearing last night to allow taxpayers to voice objection to the coming tax hike. Shouldn't surprise anyone. Last year the people reasoned, argued begged and pleaded for the council not to raise taxes. But the council members had made up their minds well in advance, and the take-away lesson was that it was folly to think a room full of taxpayers could change their minds.
I decided to go last night at the last minute and arrived 20 minutes late. But not to late to hear Jason Moore who drove over here from Odessa to help out. He even missed part of his son's birthday party for this. Midlanders are fortunate to have a good neighbor like Jason Moore.
Mr. Moore knew the council members wouldn't change their minds about raising taxes, but he made some good points, and the council listened. He has long railed against Golden Plaques -- buildings, schools, stadiums -- the expensive monuments built with taxpayer money and named after a politician. Being in the construction industry, he became fully aware of the high price the city paid for the recent construction of a school. And he pointed out that there were many areas that could save taxpayer money on the next *construction project, such as using ordinary bricks on the corners instead of expensive decorative bricks.
He asked that they seek advice from local contractors on how to keep the cost down. The council members agreed and took that opportunity to express that doing business with locals was more desirable then doing business with outsiders even if, for example, a fleet of police cars would cost more through a local dealership than one elsewhere. They neglected to explain how taxpayers benefited from that arrangement.
Another thing Jason addressed was the complicated nature of the proposed budget that was placed online. It's an 80MB monster PDF file and takes a while to load, making it, as Jason explained, very inconvenient for anyone with a slow connection. This was news to the council.
But there's another reason to bash that budget format. It's a 479 page secured, unsearchable PDF file giving the viewer three options: read it, print it, or both. Searching for something is a tedious page flipping eye tiring project. Unfortunately for users, that must be the best they'll do for us, because each year after it's approved by the council, they put it online in a user friendly format and stick a page in the front saying something like this:
"Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting
City of Midland
For its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ended September 20, 2009 ...
by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada ... whose comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFRs) achieve the highest standards in government accounting and financial reporting."
Congratulations for that certificate. However, it applies to the final report only, and they seem to want the preliminary budget to look as much like sausage as possible.
Finally, the quote of the day from Mayor Wes Perry: "You may think we're not listening. But we really, really are."
Tax hike to follow.
*The construction project Mr. Moore was referring to was the prospect of a new fire station. That is a topic for a future post, but it's striking how the concept of a new fire station has infiltrated the discussion so inconspicuously yet so thoroughly as to become accepted wisdom. But surely there is a better formula than population growth = new fire station.