Sunday, February 20, 2011

Advisory Boards

It has been almost a year since Council agreed it would be a nifty idea to exercise some oversight as to the 20-plus advisory Boards/committees/commissions we have here. As I recall, we were going to start with Civic Events and move forward about one per month.

The idea was that each Board would be reviewed at least once every two years or so (surprisingly co-incidental with Council terms) for: let's short-circuit this; What have you Done for Us Lately.

I have served on one Committee, testified before several. I applaud the theory of opening access, I am all for Open Government / Open Records. San Angelo is ahead of the pack there. Nonetheless, comes a time we need to look back and see what is or is not actually working. We have Boards which routinely post cancellations due to lack of business; we have boards with overlapping areas of interest; (how many Downtown/Hysterical District Boards do we have: 6-8, a dozen?)

It is not a huge budget item. No Board member is paid; some meetings provide maybe pizza or finger sandwiches for a mid-day meet, BUT as to city staff support, someone has to open the door, record the minutes, provide staff advice and lock up after the puppies get done meeting. Not a huge item per meeting, but we have mid-twenties, 12 times a year times a few bucks per? Doesn't take long to move into 6 figures. Not saying Staff is overpaid, but they get paid more to supervise than I miss in pay when I show up.

I am a patient man, but a persistent one. I'm not going anywhere, when do we start Board Review?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts on Startups

During the City Council meeting this week, while they were discussing garage sales I came to an important realization. With the zoning restrictions we have in place, and the restrictions they want to place on garage sales, none of the top 3 computer companies in the world could start today in San Angelo. Apple, HP, and Dell all started by doing business out of a garage at home.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine's Day Message

My latest missive had to do with a Street Maintenence Tax. This year Valentine's Day coincides with another important date: Initial filing to run for City Council. Anyone running has to be doing it for love, it sure isn't the princely sum of $45 a month

All the even numbered seats and Mayor are up for challenge. Four out of seven, there is potential for change here. I do not play the endorsement game, and my SMD is not up in any case. I'm not even suggesting any particular Council member is in need of being replaced. A lot of people got a chuckle out of the accusation I was a "lap-dog" for Council, seriuosly, we have a good Council now, better than most in my opinion, BUT...

Any job is well served by competition. Wal-Mart's prices might be higher if Target weren't right around the corner and breathing down their neck.

We are fortunate we don't "get what we pay for" on Council. At $45/ month, it costs Councilmembers to serve. SAISD, we are even luckier, we have not had an election for SAISD in three cycles, nothing corrupt, but no competition.

Hey guys, May will bring on a few changes. Algore's global warming might finally kick in. Side bet: we will see a 100 degree day before May 15.

Oh yeah, back to politics, May will bring a new Council, new issues, who knows, possibly a new New. No offense Mayor, that was too good to pass up.

I would love to see contested elections all around; even if all incumbents win, they will be better for having had a challenge.

If you are bothering to read this obscure Blog, you are interested. I literally can't afford it, and my boss can't really afford to give me two Tuesdays a month off. Maybe retired, maybe independent owner, maybe you can afford this volunteer post, because God's honest, that is what it is.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Street Maintenence Tax

This Thursday my article in favor of a Street Maintenence Tax was published in the Standard-Times. I won't reprint it here, it is available at

I do want to expand on the topic and cover some issues that came up in comments at gosanangelo.

I was promoting a diversion of one-eigth cent of the existing half-cent tax to streets. As is our current half cent tax, this is regulated by state statute. Actually, it could be twice that, but has to move in eigth-cent increments. It cannot increase our total tax, we are capped there by state law.

It can only be put in effect with voter approval. Council can decide to give us the option, but only if voters approve can this happen. As I mentioned in the article, unlike the 4B we now pay, a street tax HAS to "sunset" or come up for reapproval by voters again, every four years.

Legislature has provided for the street tax in a capped city to take place in one ballot proposition. In other words, we cannot find ourselves in the absurd position of approving a street tax but not approving the reallocation of the 4b tax.

The sales tax eigth-cent has to be accounted for. It cannot be used for new streets. It cannot be used for sidewalks along streets. It can only be used for "maintenece of existing streets". Sealcoat, potholes, total resurface if needed, yes.

I mentioned in the article; an eigth of anything sounds small, but here, depending on the economy and total sales tax receipts that is at least $1 million, $1.5 million
in a good year, and we've seen a bit better than that. Now we are talking eigth-cent that could replace the general fund money we now spend on streets.

Here we come to why this is a winner. While the limits on using Street Maintenence sales tax revenue are strict, the use of the general fund money freed up is limited only to what a home rule city can do now. Money is fungible. If we decide to spend that $1.5 money doubling up on street expenditures; if we decide to spend it on employee benefits; if we decide to use it for (Heaven forfend) tax reduction: we can do any of the above or any mix of the above. I would hope for some reasonable mix.

Look at it this way, if you had any involvement in last year's budget process, wouldn't you have absolutely loved a buck-and-a-half wiggle room?

The down side, if one wants to call it that is this. The 4b tax we just extended without a sunset had certain specific projects in it that are now locked in from coliseum/fairgrounds improvements to river improvements to sports facilities. Let us not forget the "water" issues, but those, being on ballot, are inviolable, they will be done. Uh, no, it won't pay for all the Hickory costs, sorry about the voters who thought that, but no one ever quite said that, best case 4b will pay about $30 million out of $150 million.

No the down side is if we approve a Street Maintenence Tax, the City of San Angelo Development Corporation will have less money to spend on what I rudely call "corporate bribery". I cannot buy the idea of government picking winners and losers and doing it better than the market. Governments love to brag on it when "economic incentives" work and hope voters will forget the ones that don't. Anybody remember Taylor Publishing? If you know someone who can use a nice empty building east of town, we have one; CHEAP!

Me, I have a job, might like better pay, but I'll get that on my own before the city gets it for me. I'd be happy with good streets to get to and from work on.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

They keep on giving

The elections have been over for three months now and we will soon be seeing the impacts. In just a few days the smoking ban will go into effect, and we will finally see the impact this ban will have on local businesses. I hope the small neighborhood bars can weather this storm.

We also had a hint of the impact the Hickory water project will have on the local economy. They finally admitted in the last city council meeting that city water bills will have to go up by an average of $10 to $20 just to pay for the construction of the project. That is before they actually throw the switch and start pumping Hickory water. When that happens, if the city estimates are close, another $10 to $20 will have to be added to our water bills to pay for the utilities, people to operate the system, and everything else it takes to operate and maintain this project for the next 30 years. This doesn't take into account the fact that we're likely going to be draining the aquifer faster than it can recharge. We will probably have to fight lawsuits from the people who live over the aquifer whose wells are going dry. We might actually still have water there when we pay off the loan.

I'm sure some of you want to know who made this all possible, and the simple answer would be to check the campaign finance reports. They are on the city website under the city clerk's election section. All of Speak Out San Angelo's reports are there. Unfortunately both Smoke Free San Angelo and Citizens for San Angelo's Future are late with their required January 15 semi-annual filing. Hopefully, they will correct that ASAP. Once you check those reports, I'm sure you will know the appropriate way to thank everyone involved.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Cradle of Civilization

I typically write about local issues, but events in Egypt have distracted me (and the White House and the State Dept and anyone else not living in a cave).

This morning's news shows ABC lead. Somehow Chritianna Amanpour got personal interviews with both President Mubarak and his new and controverial VP. Fox news gave up and did its entire show talking about the Superbowl, live from the stadium. You don't think that might have had something to do with Fox having the broadcast rights tonight?

The one item that caught my ear; a "Man-on-the-street" interview with an Egyptian protester: In perfect English he said "We need a book, something like your Constitution. If we get that, we get tired of a President, we don't have to do this, we just don't re-elect him".

This unnamed Egyptian showed more understanding of our representative democracy than most of our own voters have! We have the immense luxury of not having to risk our lives and shut down the whole economy, we have these fabulous things called elections!

At this point, nobody, least of all me, can safely predict how Egypt will shake out. A lot of the experts were unsure about a "domino effect", possibly moving to Lebanon, maybe even Syria, and while it hasn't uttered a mumbling word, the House of Saud has to be scared silly.

Let us hope for the best, that is really all we can do. Let us also take a moment to remember that anonymous Egyptian "man-on-the-street". We HAVE what his people are risking lives for. Turn out on election days and help keep it

Just for fun, I'm not calling the game, I hope for a good game, a close one, but my money is straight over. OK, 27/21 and I ain't saying who.