Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sump pump Survey

My doorbell rang today and when I opened it, there were two men standing before me. One of the men stood off about 5 feet from the front door and the other one said he was from the City of Sioux Falls. Kind of reminded me of Halloween night when the kids are at the door and the parent is standing off observing.  The man at the door said they were here to inspect the sump hole in my house. They were polite and friendly. This is not about them.

It was 1:45 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. When I drove down my street, I saw the city public works car on another street and there were two men down at the corner of my block. I expected them to show up eventually but not in less than 10 minutes. There are over 16 houses on my block.

Now why do a door to door survey and inspection like this one in the middle of the day? My street is like a ghost town during the day.  Everyone is either at work or at school. I doubt that my street is any different than any other neighborhood street in Sioux Falls. The majority of the good folks of Sioux Falls are not home during the day. Also, why does it take two workers to walk the neighborhoods of Sioux Falls in the middle of day to take a survey and inspect a sump hole? Couldn't they cover more ground if they worked alone? Wouldn't their survey garner more information if they worked late afternoon, early evening hours when most people are at home?

As I closed my door, I thought how inefficient this public works survey/inspection process seemed to be and what a waste of man hours. Two men walking empty neighborhoods during the middle of the workweek. How many more duplicate trips are going to be made to get this survey done? How credible is the survey going to be when the majority of responses will be "no one at home."

This is not a society where people are home during the day. Businesses, clinics, daycare centers, you name it, have adjusted their operating hours to conform to a changing society that no longer operates within the confines of a Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. environment. I guess not the City of Sioux Falls.  More like thinking in the 1950's when Mom was home all day, doing the wash, baking cookies and planning supper.  Thinking out of the box?   Doesn't appear so.

Game Playing with 911 Service

The Argus Leader had an interesting article on the 911 surcharge dilemma facing governing bodies in the state. The City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County have a joint cooperative agreement which funds Metro Communications as a separate entity. Specifically, Metro Communications runs the 911 system covering the county and the city of Sioux Falls.

Funding has always been an issue for this agency which relies heavily on the surcharge. Dedicated funding for 911 service in South Dakota was enacted in 1989. It established a monthly uniform charge in an amount not to exceed 75 cents per service user line. State law requires the governing bodies to review the current charge at least once every calendar year to determine whether adjustments to the rate should be adjusted in order to cover anticipated expenditures.

The City of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County have always had to subsidize the operational cost associated with running this agency. Granted, the majority of the calls originate within the city so the majority of the cost rests with the city. It was always a long standing belief that the surcharge was not high enough and that there was reason to go to legislature to increase that surcharge.

It is kind of baffling to read the article and the associated report. The discrepancies between what the board says the figures are and what the consultant says the figures are seem to indicate a couple things - either the data collected and furnished to the consultant was incorrect or confusing or the consultant didn't know what they were doing. The result was an inaccurate report and a contract dispute. Unfortunately, this dispute creates a cloud of distrust and suspicion regarding what is the right charge per line and makes it more difficult to come to the legislature asking for relief at the municipal/county level.

It is additionally baffling to read that the State 911 Coordination Board differs in how they view their role and whether they should be the ones to go before the legislature to recommend an increase in the per line surcharge rate. Some members believe they are just a fact gathering entity.  Here is what South Dakota law says regarding this board:

SDCL 34-45-18:  “There is hereby established the South Dakota 911 Coordination Board.  The board shall set minimum standards for operation of public safety answering points, determine criteria for reimbursement for nonrecurring costs and the amount of reimbursement, and oversee the coordination of 911 services within the state.”

SDCL 34-45-20 establishes the duties of the Board and reads as follows:
The board shall:
(1) Evaluate all of the current public safety answering points and systems throughout the State of 
South Dakota for their capability to adequately and efficiently administer systems;
(2)   Develop plans for the implementation for a uniform statewide 911 system covering the entire 
state or so much as is practicable;
(3) Monitor the number and location of public safety answering points or systems and the use of 
911 emergency surcharge funds in their administrative and operational budgets;
(4) Develop criteria and minimum standards for operating and financing public safety answering 
(5) Develop criteria for the eligibility and amount of reimbursement of recurring and nonrecurring 
costs of public safety answering points or systems;

Somebody at the state level should step up to the plate and tell this board to do their job and the lead the effort for municipalities. This board set up a series of financial reporting forms for municipalities to submit in order to determine just how the 911 service in SD was being funded. So they just gather the information but don't have any responsibility to do anything other than gather the information and look at it? State law requires governing bodies to annually review the surcharge to see if it needs adjusting but there is no one to carry the ball further if a need is proven? Coordination means the harmonious functioning of parts for effective results.

The system credibility of 911 must be preserved. It affects all citizens whether they be residents, tourists and people just traveling the roads through the state to someplace else. The thought that you might not get an answer to your 911 emergency call because a municipality hasn't got enough funds to keep pace with operating costs and updated technology and equipment needs is just plain nuts.

I hate it when governmental agencies/boards whatever, shift their responsibilities and say "it is not my job." It is ridiculous for State 911 Coordination Board members to say it is not part of their responsibility to recommend what the 911 surcharge should be. This board was created to coordinate statewide 911 emergency services.  If not them leading the coordinated effort regarding an increase to the surcharge rate than who? Each individual governing body? That doesn't sound like coordination to me.

Maybe the Governor needs to step in and show a little leadership and get this board back on track because right now no one seems to be leading, much less wanting to take responsibility.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Can There Be A Successful and Profitable Event Center?

The citizens of Sioux Falls are going  to the polls on November 8th to vote whether the city should build a multipurpose Event Center and associated site improvements for a project cost not to exceed $115 million. Add another $10 million to that project cost for the bond issuance.

Stu Whitney, Argus leader sports writer, recently wrote a column regarding the attendance woes of Sioux Falls pro-sports teams. The rankings in the minor league markets have gone down. Whitney says, "If you're wondering if there's a way for Sioux Falls to regain its lofty status among the national elite, the answer is right in front of you - a new event center." 

While I agree that having pro-sports teams in Sioux Falls add to the quality of life quotient in this town, I have to wonder how building the event center will move Sioux Falls up in attendance ranking for the Fighting Pheasants who certainly are not going to play in the new event center. The last I heard the Skyforce was not going to move away from the Arena. Not sure about the Stampede or the Storm. But these pro teams do not make a successful and profitable event center on their own.

What are some things that could impact whether the Event Center will be profitable in order not be subsidized by the taxpayers? Here are a few things to consider:

  • unfavorable lease agreements/management company contracts
  • increased regional competition for concerts and special events, i.e. Sioux City, Fargo, Omaha, Minneapolis, Lincoln
  • concert promoters who use other facilities as a leverage forcing the management company to guarantee much more money for a major event
  • increased competition for consumer discretionary dollars
  • no anchor tenant(s)
  • not being able to realistically hold 120 to 175 inventory days of events in the event market
  • attendance at events that are less than what was budgeted
  • a concessions contract that doesn't give away the farm in terms of revenue to the city
  • tickets priced too high considering the economic climate or economic conditions of the city
  • a debt payment of $10 million or more each year for 22 years.
  • future sales tax revenue projections that don't come to fruition.
  • lack of private partnerships to cover the operating expenses

Maybe the city needs to codify (resolutions/ordinances adopted by the City Council)  provisions to set aside certain identified funds  to cover losses if the forecasted revenue or private partnerships don't meet the operating costs of an event center. At least then, the public would have a better handle on the "what ifs" before they go vote to build the event center. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Streets Need More Money - Go Figure!

The Argus Leader is reporting that the Street Department needs an infusion of money.  "City Officials are asking the Sioux Falls City Council for about $3 million more next year for snow removal and to accommodate higher fuel prices because money allotted for snow removal and street maintenance this year is running out." 

Well, maybe it's because the budget of this department has been cut in budget years 2011 and 2012 from previous budget years. The following information was taken from the budget books posted on the City's official website:

2009 Budget
2010 Budget
2011 Budget
2012 Budget
Other Operating
Total Budget

It is interesting to note that the 2011 figures listed in the 2011 Budget Book do not align with the 2011 Budget figures posted in the 2012 Recommended Budget Book. The new 2011 Budget figures posted in the 2012 Recommended Budget Book show the Personnel Budget cost to be $4,418,350, and $7,385,187 for other operating with a total operating budget of $11,803,537 instead of the $13,439,289 originally listed in the 2011 Budget Book. Why those 2011 budget figures for the street department are different is anyone's guess.

The point to all this is that it is no wonder the Street Department needs more money. To cut the "other operating" budget costs when you know fuel costs and other maintenance type expenditures go up, not down, does not take a rocket scientist to figure out. That's not even taking into account the snow removal cost estimates.

If this is an example of how the mayor prepares an operating budget, then it begs the question how accurate the budget forecast for an event center is going to be. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Another Vacation?

The Dow is in the toilet, the housing market is a bust, the deficit continues to grow and what does everyone want to talk about? The President's vacation. NPR put out a graph on the vacations of the current and past Presidents.

Barack Obama
90 days in first two years
Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Kailua, Hawaii
George W. Bush
1,020 in eight years
Crawford, Texas
Camp David, MD
Bill Clinton
152 in eight years
Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
The Hamptons, NY
George H.W. Bush
543 in four years
Camp David, MD
Kennebunkport, Maine
Ronald Reagan
335 in eight years
Santa Barbara, CA
Jimmy Carter
79 in four years
Plains, GA

Does a President really go on vacation and get away from it all? No. The White House travels with a President and no matter how you want to spin it, the President is in a 24/7 job. The media hypes everything these days and who is on vacation where is no different. I guess there has to be something to talk about since all those losers in Congress took off for home to take a little vacation themselves.

Talk about Obama taking a vacation all you want, but it is pretty clear who took the most vacation days while serving as President. Everybody is counting vacation days instead of counting their pennies since their dollars are disappearing as we speak. Always keeping the eye on the ball. No wonder this country is in a downward spiral. No one can keep their eye on the ball anymore. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

No Invite to the Party

Representative Kristi Noem is hosting Speaker Boehner in her home state next week. Invitation only, not open to the public. Minnehaha Country Club. $500 individual/$1000 couples for a photo reception and breakfast. $250 individual/$500 couple for breakfast only.

We all know this is how it is done. Everybody does it. But an exclusive fundraising party when everything around us is falling, brick by brick, to the ground?  Right now with the free fall of economy and Congress unable to do anything meaningful for ALL the people, this exclusive party somehow seems out of place and out of touch. Kind of like the birthday party in Chicago. The President leaves town and Congress goes on vacation when there is so much to be done and no jobs to be had for the ordinary citizen out of work or the ordinary citizen struggling to make ends meet.

As the rich in this state go to the pretty party and the rest of the state sit outside looking in, it sure seems that nothing changes and everything stays the same. If you are frivolously money rich, put your party dress or expensive suit and tie on and go have your picture taken with the pretend leaders. If you are an average South Dakotan, you will just go to work at your ordinary job and use those hard earned dollars for daily necessities and school clothes and supplies for your kids and not frivolous pictures to hang on your office wall or den and bragging rights that you got to rub shoulders with the beacon light of the rich and famous of the Republican party.

There is probably a time and place for this type of exclusive party. But do you throw your little party right after Congress almost brought this country to the brink of disaster? Right after they put together their little solution that did nothing to impact the deficit or create jobs and then patted themselves on the back for a job well done, turned the lights out and went on vacation while the S&P downgraded the bond rating of the country for the first time in history and the stock market threw up?

The timing of this little party by our representative host and House Speaker proves how out of touch they and the rest of Washington really is these days. Throw an exclusive party and eat cake while Rome burns. Noem and Boehner and yes, the President,  need to get back to Washington and do something meaningful instead vacationing and throwing exclusive parties.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How do you Define the Word "Promise"



The Argus Leader today reports on the actions taken at the City Council meeting last night regarding the Event Center. There seems to be a dispute between the Mayor and Councilor Brown regarding the word "promise."

The Argus Leader reports that Huether said the only time he used the word "promise" during his campaign was when he told voters that they would agree with him on the issues. "For Councilor Brown to state it the way that he did tonight was extremely disappointing, but a pattern has been there. And it drives me crazy. Promise is a word that I don't take lightly," Huether said.

Call it a promise, call it something else. Words that come out of your mouth stating what you are going to do is a commitment to do something. It's a declaration of something you are going to do. The dictionary defines the word promise as to claim the performance of a specified act; a reason to expect something; ground for expectation of success, improvement or excellence.

When the mayor was running for office he campaigned on "promises" regarding the event center. Did he say the word "promise." No, but a declaration of what you are going to do is a promise, pure and simple. The mayor talks a lot and he declares over and over again what he is going to do regarding fulfilling his vision for an event center. It is a promise as defined in the dictionary.

Every politician makes declarations on what they are going to do when elected to a public office. Call it what you want - but it is a promise. Just because the mayor didn't use the actual word "promise" doesn't change the fact that he made declarations of what he was going to do and he has made those declarations over and over again. Those declarations are "promises." To diffuse the issues raised by Councilor Brown by playing with the word "promise" is subterfuge. By the way that word means to conceal, evade or escape. Words out of one's mouth means something. This whole thing reminds me of the Clinton era when there was a discussion on what the word "is" means.

PROMISE MADE: Keep costs to $100 million - Source: Huether campaign ad; Argus Leader April 2010 and City Council presentation Oct. 10, 2010
PROMISE BROKEN: Cost is now $115 million

PROMISE MADE: He won't spend millions on added conference space and other frills - Source: Huether campaign ad: Argus Leader April 2010.
PROMISE BROKEN: Justification for the Arena/Convention Center location was increased flat floor space to encourage bigger, more diverse conventions.

PROMISE MADE: Primary funding: private investment, entertainment taxes and fees for users, parking and suite rental. Source: Huether campaign ad: Argus Leader April 2010.
PROMISE BROKEN: Primary funding is now to bond the entire construction cost of the project with the 2nd penny sales tax. Entertainment taxes won't be used for construction, but will now be used as a back up source of revenue for operating costs and future capital needs.

PROMISE MADE: Financing package would include a down payment of $15 million from cash reserves. Source: City Council presentation Oct. 10, 2010
PROMISE BROKEN:  No down payment

PROMISE MADE:  Construction of events center would be paid partially by the private sector in the amount of $15-24.5 million. Source: City Council presentation Oct. 10, 2010.
PROMISE BROKEN:  The entire cost of the events center - $115 million - will be borrowed and re-paid by the taxpayers.

PROMISE MADE:  Bond request would be $60-$69.5 million. Source: City Council presentation Oct. 10, 2010.
PROMISE BROKEN:  Now bond request is for $115 million

The Mayor's campaign ad and his presentations to the City Council and his comments to the press are declarations of what he will do regarding this project. Call it what you will. But the fact is that his words are just that - promises to do something.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Promises Made Promises Broken

Monday, August 8, 2011, the City Council will take action to move the Mayor's Event Center plan to a public vote of the good folks of Sioux Falls.

Building an event center in Sioux Falls is an exciting project. However, the timing of this may likely fall to the uncertain times facing the economy and fiscal uncertainty facing our country and each and every citizen. This project will rely on the workhorse of the 2nd penny sales tax and growth projects that may or may not come to fruition. Authorizing the issuance of bonds financed by a hope that people will continue to spend and even increase their spending when Congress is grappling with trillions of cuts in programs that affect the economic well beings of citizens is gutsy.

Steve Hildebrand looked at promises made and promises broken by the Mayor and it is worth repeating here. When the Mayor was running for office, he had a campaign poster that stated he was committed to building a new event center but he wouldn't tear down Howard Wood Field and he wouldn't spend millions on added conference space and other frills. His campaign poster
boasted an affordable plan, spending $100 million with primary funding coming from private investment, entertainment taxes, and fees for users, parking and suite rental. He promised to build an event center Sioux Fals would be proud of and save the taxpayers more than $100 million. The estimated construction cost is now at $115 Million.

The financing package the Mayor is asking the City Council to send to the taxpayers is far from what he originally proposed. In the beginning, he talked about a $15 million down payment and using private money to fund the construction costs. Today's plan calls for no cash down payment and a construction cost $115 million covered by bonds obligated with the second penny sales tax revenues for the next 22 years. He promises that operating expenses will be paid with revenues and private money, not subsidized with general fund money.

He said the project would be Lead Certified Silver, however, now he will not do lead certified because of cost.

He said no paying for parking if it's at the Arena/Convention Center site. Now parking fees will be hidden in ticket prices.

He first said the bond debt would be $60-69.5 million and now the new debt is projected at $115 million.

He said there would be a $15 million down payment but the current financing plan doesnt include a cas down payment and requires the first two years to be interest only payments on the debt.

He promised to build an event center, balancing progress with prudence, compromise and common sense to get it done. Compromise and common sense is debatable.

He said the project would be designed for expansion but that is no longer the case.

No doubt the City Council will adopt the necessary ordinance and resolutions to bring this
plan before the voters on a November 8th ballot. I hope someone is keeping track of the
promises being made and the promises that have been broken. I hope what has happened so far is not a predictor of the future.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Congress is the Detour to the Road of Economic Recovery

The news from Washington is so bleak these days - actually downright depressing. The debt ceiling debacle was politically created and seemed to indicate that it is all about "us" in Congress rather than "we the people." The Tea Party faction of the Republican party wore their November victory as a means to slaughter the ability to get anything meaningful done in Congress. The political posturing before the cameras was shameful and did nothing more than erode confidence of the American economy in the eyes of American citizens and countries around the world.

Politics drive government policy whether it is at the local, state and national level. It is about power and control and when power and control become the ultimate objective at any cost, no one listens, no compromise is possible and no one wins. Is it really about who wins and who loses? The media actually contributes to the winner loser mentality. After the debt ceiling crisis was averted at the last hour, the media went on their merry way talking about who won and who lost in this crisis. Congressional members heaved a sigh of resigned relief, patted themselves on the back for once again solving the "big" problem and took off for home to pander to their base.

Too bad for those 4,000 employees who work for the FAA and the airports around the country who were in the middle of a construction project to improve their infrastructure needs. It is absolutely unbelievable to read that the FAA has not had a long term funding plan since 2007. This federal agency has relied on multiple short term extensions, the last of which expired on July 22nd. How is that being fiscally responsible? Is that an example of taking care of fiscal business?

Once again, the American people are faced with media reporting on who is to blame. The Republicans say its the Senate Democrats who caused this because they wouldn't sign the bill sent to them by the House Majority Republicans. The Democrats say once again the Republicans are holding the American people hostage because the Republicans have tacked on language to the funding bill that closes smaller airports targeted in Democratic controlled locations and have added a provision that makes it harder for air and rail employees to unionize. Close your nose and sign a bill that makes you sell out your convictions or send 4,000 employees home without pay. What a choice to have to make.

Both parties are again to blame on this FAA shutdown. The "my way or the highway" mentality in Congress is cheapening democracy as we know it. What happened to working together for the common good. Instead its all about winning and taking my ball and going home if I don't get my way. Sounds like kindergarten behavior to me. When I hear the phrase, "this is what the American people want" as a justification for one's obstructionist behavior, I want to shout, "I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore."

Politics is dirty business and once again, it's all about who wins and who loses. There is no middle ground anymore, no compromise, no sense of common good for all the American people. The aftermath of this entire political theater was no change in a sluggish economy, skittish markets, no plan to encourage job growth, and a loss of confidence worldwide that our government is capable of continuing to be an economic power.

Let's keep letting the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This seems to be the new American way.