Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How We Got Here...

Last night I brought up the fact that it is important to discuss how it is the police and fire pension fund got to where it is right now.

As I still believe it is important, I do want to recognize that in one night more insight and reason was given to that question than has been given in such a public manner since this issue has become 'the issue'.

Councilwoman Rushefsky and Mayor O'Neal - in their remarks concerning the tax initiative - discussed the problem in the formation of the fund to begin with, as well as the several times the city has procrastinated in addressing the problem over the decades.

In my mind, that is a much better answer than "it was the markets and the $10 million that we didn't contribute over the past decade".

I hope that discussion continues.

Pension Tax Proposal Notes

Notes from the pension tax proposals discussed August 25th....

As I sat down this past week to write my notes on these two bills, a lot of thoughts came to mind about the past two years in this community.

When I decided to run for City Council two years ago, there were several reasons why that decision was made, but there was one reason that rose above the rest. That reason was one that gave constant philosophical questions for me to ponder:
  • How can any city council expect the employees they oversee to perform in an effective and efficient manner if the general morale and welfare of those employees is not a constant consideration? They can't.
  • How can we as a community expect our homes, our children, and our livelihoods to be kept safe when those we rely on to do so have no other choice but to have a nagging issue on their minds at all times? At home, responding to a fire, responding to a priority 1 emergency... it is on their minds. We can't.
  • From day one of my adult life I was taught that under no circumstances do you leave anybody on the battlefield. How can I, as an individual, begin to do so now? I can't.

With that, and in unison with what we all have come to accept as the way of life right now in the Springfield community, there are a few concrete facts:

  • Our infrastructure is on hold until this issue is solved.
  • Our Health Department is on hold until this issue is solved.
  • Our community's safety is on hold until this issue is solved.
  • Our CITY is on hold until this issue is solved.

So, as I look at this bill and the next, I have no doubt that the citizens will be deciding, once again, whether or not we believe a tax increase is appropriate for this issue.

Because this city is under new leadership who I believe truly desires a better direction for this city as a whole, I have no doubt that the atmosphere that surrounds this debate is going to be quite different than the one the surrounded the February debate.

As a new council, the priority should be fixing the problem, not passing a tax. There are a lot of people in this community who are watching close, and who are extremely hesitant about a tax increase in general, and especially at a time when our economy is in such a fragile state. Quite frankly, I'm one of those people; and I'm one of those people that has yet to be sold on this idea.

While I understand a tax increase may be eminent, how serious are all involved in this mess in convincing the community that this is more than just a tax...?

  • Are we all serious enough to look into situations such as disability payouts to employees who leave Springfield, collect benefits, and go to the next community over to perform the same job?
  • Is this City Council serious enough to look at the idea of at least reducing - if not eliminating - other taxes on the books to lessen the impact of a pension sales tax?
  • Is this City Council serious enough to discuss how we got here? Nobody is looking for a 'smoking gun' or a 'head on a platter'; what they're looking for is the admission that a fixed future doesn't come from an ignored past.
  • And are the police and fire serious enough to sit down and discuss measures that can be put in place to prevent this council and community from being left stranded in the cold, again, down the road? **I want to be clear: I'm not talking about reducing benefits; a promise made is a promise kept. What I am talking about is having a rational, logical, and objective discussion about this issue without having threats shoved down the Council's and the community's throat.

Now, considering the discussion of whether we go with a 5/8% or a 3/4%....

I'll be up front and say that tonight I am voting for the 5/8% increase and against the 3/4% increase for three reasons:

  1. Going back to the fragile state of the economy... there are many people in this community right now struggling with the costs they have; to burden them any more than absolutely necessary should be out of the question.
  2. There are a lot of cost of living increases that are coming at the community right now: utility rate increases; school bond issues; now a tax increase. Added to this, there are many people that are out of jobs right now and many others that have suffered pay reductions. If this is going to go to the voters, it should be done with a little sympathy and empathy.
  3. In studying the 30% city contribution with the lower rate of return, after the first five years there is less than a 5% difference in funding levels. That minimal difference still allows for a 20% gain in the overall funding level.

This is a doable amount.

In that five years, we have the opportunity to prove to the community that we are serious about fixing this, and at the same time do it in a manner that shows that a tax increase is only PART of the solution, not THE solution.

If in five years the next council sees that 5/8% is not enough, they or we - whoever it is - can go back to the discussion board with the community.

This problem is not going to go away without in depth solutions. If this government body expects to 'sell' this tax, it's going to have to be but only one part of a bigger package.

That bigger package is owed to our police and fire.

That bigger package is owed to our community.

That is because a lot of votes are going to hinge on that bigger package, including mine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

CID Map Online

I took part in a speaking event this weekend with the 7th District Missouri Republican Assembly. The end of my presentation involved a Q&A, and one of the questions asked was if the city had an online map of the active CIDs in town. There is, and you can find it here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Transparency in Taxation Initiative

Since the new council has taken office, the media has regularly reported on the CID debate that has come about several times during Council sessions. Additionally, Councilman Burlison and I have discussed the pros and cons of requiring businesses to post sales tax rates. Whether it is through requiring only CIDs or the entire city to post what the citizens are paying in tax, transparency is the goal.

With that, the following was submitted to City Staff this morning, taking the first step in bringing this topic to the table as a debate in and of itself, rather than a side conversation while dealing with other topics as the basis of conversation.



Mr. Burris, Mr. Wichmer, and other appropriate City Staff:

Since the new Council has taken office in April, a consistent and contentious discussion has been that of Capital Improvements Districts (CIDs). While the philosophical value may vary from council member to council member as to the appropriateness of CIDs, the consistency of much of the discussion has been regarding the transparency to the customers (citizens) paying the additional tax.

While we understand that The Mayor and Council will have to charge the appropriate committee to review a request for an ordinance and the ordinance itself, this letter is a formal request to begin the process of bringing two different proposals to Council:

-The first request is one that would require any business that sells goods or services at the retail level, is part of a CID, and charges sales tax to display signage that notifies the consumer of such goods and services in an adequate manner that they are shopping in a CID and how much the CID tax amount is.

-The second request is one that would require any business inside the city limits of Springfield that sells goods or services at the retail level and charges tax to its consumers to display signage that notifies the customer of the amount of tax being paid as a patron.

As public servants, we believe that the number one duty in preserving trust with the people we serve is to offer transparency.

As a City with nearly a dozen CIDs either in place or in the works to be put into place, offering the citizens notice whether or not they are shopping or receiving services in a CID is not only about transparency, but also about honesty. Whether it comes to fruition by way of CID-only signage or city-wide signage, to offer these two proposals to the citizens of this community for discussion and debate is the appropriate step to take at this time.

We look forward to working with Council and City Staff on this issue, and are available for questions, comments, or concerns at any time.

Respectfully Submitted,
Nicholas Ibarra, Zone 1 City Councilman
Doug Burlison, General C City Councilman

Friday, May 22, 2009

Remember the Reason

Every year, when Memorial Day comes around, thoughts come from the days of past. While I’m glad to see my family every evening, I miss the brotherhood that has an indescribable bond. While I enjoy the warm meals and cool evenings, I miss the pride in dealing with neither knowing it was for a greater cause. While I still – to this day – enjoy putting my arm out of the window while driving the 65 and 44, my heart still aches for the families whose loved one will never do so again; the soldier who will never hold his child again, and in some cases for the first time; the Marine who will never hold his wife’s hand again; the Sailor who will never say “I love you” to his parents one more time; the Airman who will never see the snow fall or the sun rise one last time.

While we enjoy our BBQ, family time, and time away from work on this long weekend, may we also remember the purpose of this day.

The following is a writing that is authored by me, and written during my last days in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2005.

God Bless you, God Bless our service men and women, and God Bless this great nation.

"For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."


The Marine
From the Lexington Green to Fallujah,
Patriots have stood by one another,
In defense of our nations liberty,
Fighting with each man as a brother.

Now it is my turn to go,
And to stand for what I believe,
I will do my part to defend my nation,
And won't quit my post until properly relieved.

The sand makes the sun a little more bright,
And beads of sweat roll down my face,
It is my first time outside of "the wire",
This feeling I will forever embrace.

Time has passed, missions have gone,
Repetitive motion has taught me to stay calm;
Thoughts often revert to the wife and kids,
And also to the 91st Psalm.

But I have to remain ready,
For when it happens, it happens fast;
And there is nothing I want less,
Than for any of us to become a memory of the past.

Now time is getting short,
Though my posture remains erect,
And looking back on time,
I begin to reflect.

I have received the command "Lock and Load",
A total of 94 times,
I wouldn't choose to do it again for a million dollars,
But wouldn't trade the memory for that 10 times.

I've witnessed the wounded and carried the dead,
Helpless on the stretchers they straddle,
I've been close enough to being one myself,
To make my ears ring and my brain rattle.

In time I will look to these days,
A time when I kept my honor clean;
It will always make me stand taller,
Not only because I'm an American, but a United States Marine.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Community Gardens

I plan to post on this issue later, but here is a recommended reading.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Intersection Development and Stimulus Funds

Last night there was a detailed discussion about what type of liability(ies) the City puts itself in each and every time it accepts stimulus monies.

While philosophically I have an issue with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, stimulus), over the past week there have been several issues that have come to the front lines of the media that have given me even greater concern about accepting these funds.

The first is the fact that the US Treasury's auto industry task force is now dictating the marketing budget of Chrysler, which has filed bankruptcy and accepted stimulus money in an effort to stay afloat. While I understand the purpose of doing this, I must disagree with the idea that the federal government should have the ability to dictate the marketing and business decisions of a company simply because they have taken stimulus monies. Even if they are to increase regulation, the government should be mindful that a company such as this one greatly relies on marketing to succeed.

The second story that has caught my eye involves the state of California. After the state trimmed $74 million from its budget, the federal government made it clear that if the cuts aren't revoked the state will be denied $6.8 billion in stimulus. Using my logic, this action defies everything the tenth amendment of the US Constitution is supposed to represent. I'm not sure that the best remedy for a frail budget is to have individuals on the other side of the nation deciding what cuts will and will not be made.

These two examples, along with the fact that our biggest creditor, China, is 'terrified' that our nation will default on our debt, and have recently slowed their purchases of US debt, has brought great concern.

At this time, I believe that accepting any stimulus funds will be a detriment to our sovereignty as a city, and puts us in a situation in which we don't know what the rules will be from day to day. It is not a wise business decision, and at this point I will not be a part of it.