February 12, 2016

Despite spending cut promises, council taxes and spends

The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
Two governing body members, Mayor Chris Morrow and Councilman Steve Shute, very deliberately campaigned that Gardner tax reserves are too high.
The city’s current reserve rates will be about 38 percent of annual expenditures by the end of 2014. Barring a major catastrophe like an asteroid hitting city hall, the reserves are more than sufficient. Best practices indicate that Gardner’s reserves should be no less than 16.6 percent.
Despite the city’s dramatic savings account, err, slush fund, Larry Fotovich was the only council member advocating for lower taxes.
Council members spent the first minutes of the budget discussion explaining a decision to take money from the Electric Utility Board overcharged the city about $219,000 for electric rates over a 2-year period.
The EUB’s board members are appointed by the city council and have a budget separate from the city’s. The EUB operates as a business and revenue comes primarily from ratepayers; city staff prepare bills and the council believes the EUB should refund overcharges.
Council members said that the EUB, with reserves of 21 percent of annual operating expenses, could afford to refund the city for overcharges. According to best utility practices, the utility should carry a reserve balance of at least 11.5 percent of operating expenses.
Meanwhile the city of Gardner is holding reserves far beyond exceeded best practices. This year’s ending balance will hold 38 percent in city reserves – 20 above and beyond the minimum established by consultants and experts.
The citizens of Gardner were obviously overcharged. Where’s our refund?
But despite the campaign rhetoric, at the Aug. 5 meeting all but Fotovich agreed that taxes could not be lowered. One said it would create instability to lower taxes one year and raise them the next. Another said the budget process was too short to have time to consider a tax decrease.
We don’t remember a time the council ever lowered taxes, so we’re not sure what the claim of “instability” is based on. And the budget is due every single year at the same time. This process, while slightly different from previous years, did not come as a surprise.
We imagine most residents would enjoy a brief respite from high taxes, if offered the opportunity.
Clearly the city council is not seriously looking at cutting taxes or reigning in expenses, even in light of high reserves and an increased property valuation of about 1 percent, which also provides additional revenue for city coffers.
Also confusing in the meeting was Shute’s statement that taxes can’t be lowered until the city’s tax base is broadened, while in the next breathe saying he is not in favor of tax abatements.
The city rarely turns down an opportunity to offer an abatement or tax incentives to large developers. The reserves are likely to be sacrificed on the altar of growth.
If you read the city’s abatement policy you’ll see incentive loopholes providing for much more than a 50 percent abatement, and nowhere do we find any clawback provisions if developers don’t employ local people at a quality wage.
Having that money sitting aside is too big of a temptation. It will be spent, and probably on a number of things that are more wants than needs. That’s not hyperbole. That’s human nature.
When was the last time the citizens received a tax decrease? Better yet, when was the last time anyone anywhere received a tax decrease that comes near the rate of increase Gardner received in 2011, of approximately 30 percent?
The answer is never. It doesn’t happen. Governments are a black hole with an endless need for more of your dollars.
Our biggest disappointment is that we believed the campaign promises to cut spending and lower taxes. Next year’s budget increases spending – some of it with one-time, necessary infrastructure projects – and much of it – with  permanent, ongoing expenditures like adding 10 new employees.
Not once did anyone say existing staff was overworked. Instead the additions are to staffup for anticipated future growth, despite the budget repeatedly indicating Gardner isn’t growing. Why do we need 10 new employees?
Wouldn’t the additional revenue be better used in a one-time expenditures to do delayed infrastructure maintenance such as paving roads and updating sewer lines, and permanent tax breaks for citizens and businesses? Some maintenance projects have been delayed since 2005, and taxes has been too high for even longer.
The council needs to quit searching for the pot of gold at the end of the “growth rainbow” and focus on maintaining Gardner’s existing infrastructure and quality of life, while operating in an efficient and financially conservative manner.
To do other wise is disgraceful.


  1. Judith Rogers says:

    The citizens have truly picked their poison with 4 rubber stampers for Council members, a worthless Mayor and City Mgr. and Gourley continues her Ponzi financial management wherein the money is transferred from one pot to another as needed to cover for the City Hall House of Cards………citizens have no one but themselves to blame for their expensive city and school district entities and it is even worse when you realize citizens will continue digging their own graves while living in a hellhole. And the Chamber of Commerce, the Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Corp. and others get all of the funds from the guest tax (hold-up tax) collected in the city of Gardner – those business entities sure know they can count on City Hall taking care of their rearends and the citizens can’t even get a stop light installed when they need it but hey, they enable and support all of this conniving and manipulation – the Citizens for the Future of Gardner really are seeing the adverse affects from their activities and they deserve them in my opinion. They have made their expensive bed and they are going to have to sleep in it. I just know the thieves continue to smile on their way to the bank right along with the politicians and bureaucrats and they will be the first ones to tell YOU how much you need them and what a great job they do for you so consequently they want more raises, millionaire pension planS and other benefits that never quit and neither do the taxpayer dollars needed to pay for their comfort and financial security. I know how the Zimmer deal vote will be going………the rubber stamping will continue just like the citizens want it to occur and they won’t mind at all when some thieves transfer their tax burden once again to the taxpayers along with many other costs………just like the Citizens for the Future of Gardner like it.

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