I moved to Parkville in 1994. It wasn’t until after the 2004 election that I started following the city’s affairs. In 2006, Alderman Brian Atkinson and I exposed the city’s incompetence in running the Riss Lake grinder pump system. Soon thereafter, I investigated the new city hall and the related COPs, which were never discussed when the city promoted the 2004 tax levy increase. Numerous financial missteps have followed, the latest being an attempt to impose on residents a new parks sales tax.
Note: COPs (certificates of participation) are in fact debt disguised as a sale and year to year leaseback of assets through an obscure interpretation of Missouri statutes. This deceptive form of financing is used to circumvent the Missouri constitutional requirement of a 4/7 voter approval to issue debt. Anyone wondering why the rating agency analysts are screaming about the Zona Rosa COP debt only need understand that those same analysts told the buyers of that debt that there was virtually no risk of nonpayment. There is in fact a lot of risk since repayment requires an annual budget allocation to cover up the scheme.
The city claims this new park tax revenue will be $500,000 annually, which implies no increase in sales. Therefore, the first lie is that the city predicts future resident and business growth, but no sales tax growth. This same ploy was used on Platte County voters almost 20 years ago. What started as county park tax revenues of $4+ million annually grew to $9+ million. Until recently, Platte County set aside not one dime for future maintenance. There is nothing in the city’s website regarding funding future maintenance, which implies their intent to “kick the can.”
In the meantime, in looking at the master plan, something obvious is missing: adequate parking. They even eliminate some vital downtown parking. Simply brilliant!
The proposed parks tax will create another pot of money for the city to squander. Untold is that the city will have available $317,500 annually once they rid themselves of the NID debt related to The Meadows at Creekside development.
As long as the city took care of streets, police and basics, I have overlooked the minor mismanagement. But this group is now getting greedy. Those behind the scenes pushing for endless change don’t care about your taxes or your costs. The best thing the rest of us can do it to treat them like children—limit the candy.
The current sales tax rate in the city’s shopping areas ranges from 8.1% in downtown to 10.1% in Parkville Commons.
The park tax would add another .5%. (Don’t forget the county wants to add another .5%.) Mayor Nan Johnston has stated in newly disclosed emails that there is a limit to how much people are willing to pay in sales tax. If sales taxes increase to 11.1%, people may shop elsewhere. Voters should compile the taxes paid to the city on utilities, phone lines, cell phones, property, etc. It is revealing.
The city has a history of spending mismanagement. Now they give new businesses tax breaks irrespective of how it impacts long standing local businesses. My favorite hardware store, P&G, just went out of business. Who’s next?
In 2018, the city added a new 1% community improvement district (CID) tax in Parkville Commons to fund Highway 9 improvements. The parks tax would be on top of this. These CID funds are controlled by the city.
In 2017, city staff conducted a salary survey that showed staff salaries were below “averages” identified. The city raised staff salaries in 2018. Here’s a better method for managing salaries: they are too low when staff starts walking out for higher pay elsewhere. Raising salaries because some “expert” says you should is a bureaucrat’s way of bilking the public.
In 2016, the city began allocating an increasing amount of General Fund expenses to the Sewer Fund in order to siphon money into a contingency fund for the Brush Creek and Bring Meyer Road NID debt (below). The city hides behind a flawed elementary calculation created by its financial advisor.
In 2007, the city issued NID debt for Brush Creek and Brink Meyer Road (BCBM). When the economy imploded, the city kept spending and adding debt. The initial funding was $6,275,000, although there are indications the amount should have been much less, and ballooned to $9.5 million in 2014. Interest alone now exceeds $4.0 million. During this period, the city forced numerous property owners into loan default and took possession of the properties. Certain banks forfeited property. City officials, who couldn’t manage something as simple as grinder pumps, were out of control on a multimillion dollar project.
This colossal management failure has hindered the city for over a decade. For years, the city lied, denied and mislead about the BCBM debt. It put the city into technical insolvency. Former city manager Lauren Palmer foolishly defended the city’s position that this debt could be considered a contingent liability.
In 2014, panic set in as the city had no solution for the BCBM debt. They proposed selling the sewer system to pay the debt. The sewer “business” is a cost recovery system with no future profits. The net present value of all future operations is zero. The city actually believed they could sell something with zero value to pay $9 million in debt. They even paid their financial advisor $13,500 to study this.
In 2004, voters approved a 20 year tax levy to fund $2.75 million for numerous projects. Those of us around then are still waiting on two of the city’s promises: cleaning up the Mill Street corridor in downtown and quiet zone train horns. $310,000 was budgeted for Rush Creek erosion control (i.e., rocks on the banks)—the city spent $1.1 million. $1 million was budgeted for rehabbing the then city hall—the city instead spent $4.1 million to build a new city hall after issuing an additional $3.7 million of unapproved COP debt. In total, the city spent $6.4 million when voters approved only $2.75 million.
The city hall component was all a lie, but that’s how this group operates. It doesn’t take a financial genius to understand why they clamor for parks money. Further to the 2004 levy, the board has already discussed a 2024 “no tax increase” ballot item.
Instead of gouging current residents for more taxes while giving tax breaks to outsiders, the city could favorably impact both residents and visitors by installing quiet zone train horns. Downtown would likely experience a growth boom. But there is no money for this because they have squandered so much elsewhere.
Now, back to the $317,500 of contingency funds the city currently allocates from the General Fund to pay the BCBM debt on the proposed Meadows at Creekside development. Assuming this development, the city has a means for collecting assessments to pay the debt, which means $317,500 is available for parks.
The city doesn’t need more taxes; it needs discipline; and to stop lying. Remind the mayor and aldermen of the unfulfilled promises from 2004 (two of them still hold office – Sportsman and Rittman). Ask why they keep piling up non-voter approved COP debt and avoiding voters. Ask why they use faulty accounting techniques to artificially inflate sewer rates. Ask why they lied and misled the public for years about the looming BCBM NID debt disaster.
Under proper guidance and stewardship, the city will have enough revenues for parks.
Parkville should vote No on Proposition P.
–Gordon Cook, Parkville