Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama wants to BANKRUPT the Coal Industry.

Don't take my word for it listen to what he says.


Doug Burlison - Statement on City Priorities-Public Safety

Look for Doug to be our guest before week's end!

Since the selection of our new City Manager Greg Burris, we have had some meetings where the Council has discussed our views on what priorities we should pursue as a city. In reality, each Council-member, out of respect to the others, may not have had enough time in these settings to fully elaborate opinions which deal with very important and complicated matters. With this in mind, I personally feel the need to provide more detail from this one councilman's perspective.
First off, the highest priority is to fix once and for all our under-funded Fire and Police pension system. This pension program is one that the voters of Springfield approved, and in my mind, are promises that must be kept. With hindsight being 20/20, we now realize that the pension fund was not sustainable under it's original design. We have already taken steps to improve it's health, such as moving new hires into the state-level LAGERS system, supplementing contribution rates, altering investment strategies, etc. Some of the basic shortcomings have already been addressed, but we still have more work to do. It is becoming apparent that a sales tax is the only way to raise the funds necessary to make the required financial repair in a quick enough time-frame to be effective.
Our challenge at this point, is to provide the tools and incentives to make the duration of this tax as short as possible. I believe that this is what it will take, to win the approval of a majority of Springfield citizens, and to minimize the negative economic effect that higher taxation causes. Taxpayers want to see in the ballot language that this money will exclusively go to fix the pension fund only, and completely. We will also want to see assurances on the ballot of real efforts by our city government to do everything possible to supplement this repair with non-tax revenue. We should designate 100% of available funds from any pending court awards coming to this city for deposit into the pension fund. We should also continue to explore the liquidation of any non-essential municipal assets to supplement this fund. Current legal complications that prevent this from happening may, in some cases, be overcome by specific ballot measures with voter approval. The assets that potentially fall into this category should be discussed and identified for liquidation. In addition, in light of the current economic conditions, we should again look at our pension fund investment protfolio, and consider the possibility of adding high performing precious metals to our investment strategies.
To sweeten this tax request, I would propose a couple of ideas that would make some real promises to the taxpayer. One, is the idea of a tax shadow, a period of time where no new municipal tax measures could be proposed, both during and for some time after the sunset of this tax. We as a city, should determine an appropriate time-frame with which we could guarantee an absence of new requests for revenue from the citizen. To provide incentives to identify the most non-tax revenue that could supplement the pension fund, assuring the shortest tax-duration possible, I propose tying this request to a witholding of 50% of our city government's upper management bonuses during the life of the added sales tax. This would give the city's management team, the people most able to identify non-essential funds/assets, a vested interest in doing so. These bonuses, referred to as deferred compensation bonuses for non-classified personnel, can be altered by Council action, without having to obtain voter approval.
On another front, once we are well on the road to pension repair, we need to examine the current pay structures of our public safety personnel. As a city, we are working on realistically updating the list of other cities which are very similar to us in most areas, to provide an accurate way to benchmark the level of compensation we provide our Police and Fire employees. I believe we need to do this in order to maximize our training dollars, reduce police and fire employee turnover, and ensure the highest level of public safety in Springfield. Providing a decent retirement is one thing, but paying someone to stay to continue doing a good job is also essential. My recommendation would be to identify a compensation level that is close to, if not equal to the same benchmark level that our City Management personnel are at. I realize that in order to afford this, budgetary changes may need to be made, but as we are designing this road to recovery, we need to keep theses adjacent issues in mind. It may mean stretching out lump sum pension payments over a few years, it could mean consolidating some city and county functions, but it is important that the discussion starts.
Make no mistake, the rest of our city's employees deserve to be included in this benchmark re-evaluation, as well. I personally feel that not all departments in our city government should be treated equal, and that Public Safety personnel should be compensated for the extraordinary real dangers that they have a duty to deal with daily. Our other employees, however, are also very important to the functioning of our city, and we need to make sure that we are not neglecting any of them in the big picture of Springfield's future.
In closing, I would mention some options that would be counter-productive and unacceptable. One is a sales tax without some guarantees to the taxpayer. Second, is any kind of legislation that prevents citizens from providing for their own safety. Another is any kind of job-killing earnings tax in this city. I also believe that measures that would require the closing of any fire station to be very unwise. Finally, leaving this economic/public safety problem unresolved is definitely unacceptable. Years from now, I'd like to be able to point out to the time in our city's history when we dealt with our looming issues, instead of passing them on to the next generation. I pray the buck stops here.