Riordan’s listening tour comes to South Park

We had the city manager and the Mayor come to South Park tonight as part of their budget presentation/listening tour. On my way in Dean Lovelace called to me from a car- and asked where the meeting was- I pointed him to our parking lot and helped him walk in.

Tim Riordan is a finance guy- and numbers are his bailiwick. The slides showed the increases in costs- much pegged to “inflation” and the drops in revenue- mostly pegged to the exodus of jobs from the city.

And when he showed Dayton compared to Ohio’s other cities- we were at the bottom of the heap with the biggest gaps between “inflation” and revenue. Columbus and Cincinnati are both still OK- Akron and Cleveland only started having problems in ’08, but Dayton has been in a slide since 1996 with a bigger and bigger gap between expenses and income.

Riordan says he believes that he has to keep investing for tomorrow- which means continued paving, equipment replacement schedules etc. He shows a chart on how many positions the city has abolished, and talks about all the investments that have been made recently- almost all from government with the exception of the Kroc Center.

While  he asks to cut services, investments or raise taxes to balance the budget- it’s almost a forgone conclusion that his only option is to raise taxes or fees. He has slides about what raising property taxes or income taxes would mean – and how big the increases would have to be to solve the budget shortfalls.

Then has asks for ideas – sharing the e-mail [email protected] and opens questions to the floor.

While he tries to respond to every question- sometimes, answers aren’t really answers. The best thing to do is to listen, ask more questions- and thank people for their input. Often times, the answers sounded more like excuses- or thanks, but we already tried that.

The problem is- we’re still trying to play by rules that were set when the game was different: property values didn’t decrease rapidly, we had a middle class, corporate welfare wasn’t required for every single company move or threat to move. At no point were big picture ideas accepted as solutions- even though he agreed fully with the following two issues that were raised:

  • Investment by the Federal and State Governments that heavily subsidize developments like Austin Road – where companies can relocate, with subsidies from County government, to an area where income tax isn’t collected hurt our established core cities. A solution of a single income tax rate for the entire region- to be divided up per-capita was an idea he supported, but was answered with it won’t happen until hell freezes over.
  • With the only growth in the region being Meds, Eds and Feds- all of which escape paying property taxes- when the suggestion was made that if they can pay people over a million a year- they should be able to pay for property taxes, he liked, but didn’t think it possible. When a suggestion was made to pass a special higher income tax rate on any income earned over a million a year by an entity that pays no property tax- he admitted that it was an interesting idea- and that they hadn’t looked into it either.

The ideas like easing zoning requirements to encourage adaptive reuse by small entrepreneurial businesses was handled with denial- even trying to foist the problem onto the County. There were more than a few people in the audience who suggested he really hadn’t a clue on what the experience with “Inspector Gotcha” is like.

When asked about liquidating real estate owned by the city- he seems to believe they’ve already done that- and most of it is empty lots. He claimed only 72 or so buildings. When asked if the city could provide an inventory with descriptions- the answer was to go do a search of the Treasurer’s records: http://www.mctreas.org/searchparcel_action.cfm?streetnbr=&streetname=&own1=City%20of%20Dayton&parid=&taxyr=2009

Too bad the response on the site says “Query Results are limited to 100 Rows ..Please narrow your search criteria.”

The Mayor spoke briefly about giving neighbors permission to clean up others’ messes and his plan to start identifying the 20 strong neighborhoods out of the 65 and to start to focus on those. How this is going to solve the budget crisis is questionable – unless we’re talking about cutting services to marginal communities.

One suggestion that did get a positive response was the idea of cross training workers to identify problems- like trash collectors and street sweepers calling in probable abandoned cars, or maybe meter readers reporting back on dangerous housing violations. Of course, there may be people who think that this may put some city employees at risk- and others who may just resist doing more, but, the ultimate cross training- that Oakwood has with “public safety officers” being cops, firemen and medics isn’t even on the table in Dayton.

Suggestions like Segways to replace cars for meter readers- much like the Greene- were laughed off, “what would you do in winter” from the Mayor- and “get rid of parking meters” from a n00b in the audience- but this is what happens when we try to do everything by committee, instead of hiring the professional and then demanding performance.

Do I think Riordan could solve the budget crisis- if he really had the kind of power a City Manager is supposed to have? Probably. But, getting all the elected chiefs to realize that they aren’t the smart ones is a problem that is bigger than the financial problems we’re facing.

Riordan’s best move would be to identify and groom his replacement, so that he can do the dirty work- then leave when the fan hits the brown stuff- and then let the replacement come in and take us where we need to be.

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14 Responses

  1. Hall June 23, 2010 / 12:05 pm
    Do you have more details on “The Mayor spoke briefly about giving neighbors permission to clean up others’ messes” ??
    Many in my neighborhood call the housing dept about empty houses to complain about tall grass. Luckily, that’s our biggest “problem”, heh ! Their response is they’ll try and contact the homeowner. Yeah, good luck with that. My idea was, have the mayor or a couple of council members have a small, simple meeting and basically “ask” us (the neighbors) to do things like mow, weed, etc at these empty properties. That would also help deal with the “inspectors” from some banks who consider it *trespassing* when people do this without permission !! Yes, that’s been told to someone !
  2. Robert Vigh June 23, 2010 / 2:10 pm
    Where is the current city budget posted at?
  3. Civil Servants Are People, Too June 23, 2010 / 5:35 pm
    @Robert  –   http://cityofdayton.org/cmo/Pages/listeningtour.aspx

    @ Hall – It is considered trespassing if you enter another’s property.   The correct response from city leaders (any city) should be: if you choose to maintain another proeprty, that’s great, but enter at your risk.   No city can give individuals the right to enter another’s property, beyond normal police powers.

    @Esrati – I completely agree that the Manager has an opportunity to make a bold move.    The idea of a listening tour is good, but it seems that someone will need to pick a solution eventually.   Personally, I think the tax increase is a red herring to help people understand the reality of the other 2 choices – cut services or raise fees.

    However, I disagree that Med/Fed/ED is the only growth.   While it might be true on an industry level, there are businesses in every industry doing well.   The key to the region’s future is to find and assist those individual firms that are successful.   

  4. Ice Bandit June 23, 2010 / 10:14 pm
    The key to the region’s future is to find and assist those individual firms that are successful.  (Civil Servants Are People, Too)

      Yeah, CSAPT, that was what the government thought it was doing when it slapped 7o  grand into the hands of Samuel Pierpont Langley. The race to develop the airplane was on, and who else but Langley could develop this invention the government reasoned? On the faculty of Harvard, a department chair at Annapolis and the director of the Smithsonian, Langley held the type of degrees and experience that would guarantee success, and that 70k was going to stoke Langley’s creative juices.  At the same time, on the near west side of town, two high school dropouts were pursuing the same goal as Langley, without Uncle Sam’s bucks. For that 70 grand, what the government got was two highly publicized and ostracized failures, with one attempt almost drowning the test pilot in the Potomac River. For less than $1.000, Orville and Wilbur made their historic Kitty Hawk flight and changed history. And what was the governments reaction to the brothers Wright? Why the government lied (creating a fiction that Langley was the invention’s creator) and basically tried to cheat the Wrights out their patent. So if history is a guide, CSAPT, perhaps we would be all better served if the government were to get out of the business’ way and leave them alone…

  5. Civil Servants Are People, Too June 23, 2010 / 11:58 pm
    So the best guide for today’s policy is to consider an isolated failure from 100 years ago?
     
    That’s like the IBM exec who believed he could sell 5 or 6 computers, at the most (true story).
     
    Nobody gets it right all the time.
     
    Can Ohio (or Dayton) afford to sit back and do nothing?
     
  6. David Lauri June 24, 2010 / 8:22 am
    So if history is a guide, CSAPT, perhaps we would be all better served if the government were to get out of the business’ way and leave them alone…

    Yes, Ice, that was what the government thought when it figured businesses such as meat packers could be responsible on their own for the way they did business.  Plenty of people ate meat, the government reasoned, and no one was complaining, so what the meat packer were doing must be okay.  Then along came Upton Sinclair to write The Jungle, an expose of the meat packing industry, telling of accidents involving workers falling and being ground up along with the animals.  Sinclair’s book, along with a report made by a subsequent presidential commission, resulted in enough public outcry that the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 were passed.  So if history is a guide, Ice, perhaps we would all be better served if we recognized that there are some legitimate functions for government, such as helping to bring transparency and good practices to industries which, if left alone, might not have motivation enough solely from market forces to do what the public thinks right.
  7. joe_mamma June 24, 2010 / 8:53 am
    David Lauri…to be fair I don’t think the old Bandito was talking about regulating business.  He was talking about using the power of government to pick winners through monetary assistance.  CSPT was specifically advocating government picking winners by giving them a competitive advantage.  Maybe CSPT just poorly stated his position.  To which El Bandito’s example is perfectly on target.
  8. David Esrati June 24, 2010 / 8:58 am

    @ICe Bandit- EXACTLY. If government officials were good at picking winners and losers- they wouldn’t be politicians- they’d be investment bankers. Hell- if they were good at picking winners and losers- they wouldn’t have to raise so much money to put lipstick on their pig faces and make their snouts look like cute little button noses.

    I’m in advertising- and full well agree with Guy Kawasaki: “Advertising is the plastic surgery of business. It makes the old and ugly look beautiful.”

    And- just to remind people- back in Orville and Wilbuts Day- $70k was a like a million today- or maybe even closer to a billion (they didn’t know what one of those was yet).

    @David Lauri- regulation isn’t the same as “investment”- don’t confuse the two.

    The thing about corporate welfare- or crony capitalism- that screws the pooch is that they are playing with our money. That money is supposed to provide and pay to maintain the infrastructure we need to do business efficiently in global markets. They are supposed to regulate to make sure that the people don’t get taken advantage of when it comes to basic needs- like water, sewer, roads and- really should include gas, electricity, internet access, trains, airports- infrastructure….

    But- it’s not the politicians money- and they need lots of cash to get elected, so they help those who help them get elected.

    And that’s why we’re in the pickle we’re in.

  9. David Lauri June 24, 2010 / 8:59 am
    @joe_mamma: fair enough, but Ice didn’t stop at saying government shouldn’t be involved in picking winners through monetary assistance.  No, what he said was, “we would be all better served if the government were to get out of the business’ way and leave them alone.”  Perhaps he’d like to clarify that statement and concede that businesses shouldn’t be left completely alone, or perhaps he’d like instead to defend his statement.
  10. Hall June 24, 2010 / 9:04 am
    CSAPT: Can you explain how the city is exempt in cases when they do (finally) come to a property and mow it themselves ?
  11. djw June 24, 2010 / 1:46 pm
    And- just to remind people- back in Orville and Wilbuts Day- $70k was a like a million today-
    70K in 1898 = 1.78 million in 2009.
    (Thanks to westegg.com/inflation, a site that I primarily use for better context on financial discussions in old movies)
  12. Robert Vigh June 24, 2010 / 6:05 pm
    @DL: I do not think it is necessary for Ice to defend his statement. Somehow I feel that a meat packing plant serving Human in a can labeled meat is committing fraud, cannibalism, selling corpses for profit and  breaking the law in numerous ways. So, Ice did not say, we need a lawless country. The jungle served as the witness to a company breaking the law.

    @DE: I disagree with you immensely, wholeheartedly, fanatically with: “and- really should include gas, electricity, internet access, trains, airports- infrastructure….”    Why not add housing too? And farms & food, because that worked so well for Stalin. Food is basic need correct?

    Back to topic. Reviewing the budget, it gives a nice overview but lacks in some areas. Are we to accept Riordans basic premise that investment into Development, Infrastructure, Capital Equipment, Tech and Neighborhood opportunities is the smartest move with city’s funds? His budget shortfalls are greatly self inflected in the future years with large increases in each of these projected categories and serves to trump up the current shortfall in my opinion.

    Where the report is lacking is there is no historical data. We have continuously lost jobs over the past 10 years, did we invest in any of his opportunistic categories over that time span and did it work?

    Contracts and personnel are listed, but it is hard to talk about efficiency in those categories without more knowledge. Cutting into these categories %4.5 and halting his increases in spending would balance the budget now and in future years. I would start with job comparison to the private market and determining if we have overpaid positions, making sure to include the 7500 in average health benefit a city employee receives.

    Easing zoning and selling off city held assets would serve to lessen maintenance costs and allow citizenry to constructively recreate Dayton. The idea is holding your current tax rate and letting the city re-create itself hopefully serves to create new business, employment and income tax. As opposed to raising that tax rate and making Cincinnati and Columbus more attractive to large companies and burdening the small companies just ever so slightly more. Small companies like mine already consider moves to burbs with lower tax rates.

    There is no “magical” answered to be heard from his listening tour. Someone has to tear into the nuts and bolts and make it happen, or levy more against the freedom of citizens and hope that what you yield right now does not damage future population growth.

    Thats my 2 cents.

  13. jstults June 24, 2010 / 11:06 pm
    Robert Vigh (emphasis added):

    Reviewing the budget, it gives a nice overview but lacks in some areas. Are we to accept Riordans basic premise… [here are your three options, pick one]

    Which kind of supports CSAPTs claims about herrings.  Unless folks can take a good look under the hood and get down in to the details, it’s impossible to make informed, constructive suggestions.  Perhaps I’m too cynical, but this seems a whole lot like a circus designed to mollify a certain class of plebe so they’ll be happy when the solution “eventually” rolls down.  You’re right Robert, there’s no magic, just misdirection.

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