Entries Tagged 'Citizens for Reponsible Sales Tax' ↓

The city of Sioux Falls (kinda) admits that our petition drive was legal all along

As I discussed in the past, the state has said all along that our petition drive was legal as long as the petitions were in a 6-month time frame. The city refused to give us an answer on the topic, but if you watch this Charter Revision meeting, the answer is pretty clear, there is no filing deadline and the city attorney’s office is attempting to get a deadline (because no rule exists now), even though it may be unconstitutional. Funny how they couldn’t give us an answer BUT now they are attempting to change the rules. How can you change a rule that you are unsure exists to begin with? Can you say Weasels? That’s right, the city feels it can pass any ordinances they want with no regard to the state constitution and it seems like they welcome the challenge, that is if citizens can afford to challenge the constitutionality of their petition drive.

What this mean? It means politicians are attempting to further tie the hands of citizens when it comes to petition drives for initiatives and referendums. In other words, they don’t like their decisions being overturned even if those decisions are wrong and the citizens are right.

Thanks Judge Admunson for nothing. You truly have no clue who you work for.

Miscalculations? Recession? or lies?

When the city council decided to raise our taxes last Semptember they promised two things. 1) That the extra revenue of .08% would go into a special fund that would only be spent on arterial roads 2) That the developers would be paying 50% of that tab through platting fees. Even with the economy down and the city not being able to raise $10 million for the roads doesn’t mean that developers should be off the hook for their half of the bargain. But it seems like they think they are, and the city isn’t doing a damn thing about it.

In my interview yesterday I reiterated that the night of the increase vote that we told councilors a recession was coming, they didn’t care. It was pretty obvious that night as it is today that the four councilors who voted for the increase, Knudson, Brown, Jamison, Litz and Mayor Munson, were bought and paid for through campaign donations by the developers, one of which I busted cracking jokes about citizens testifying against the increase in the bathroom that night. The same guy who was crying and blaming the recession and the economy last night on the boob tube. Pretty funny now, isn’t it?

Here’s some highlights in the story that seem to prove they knew all along that the developers were not going to pony up;

“There’s a good supply of land platted and until that land becomes to be matured, meaning there is rooftops on it, additional land does not need to be platted,” Cotter said.

So, then, why did we need to increase taxes in 2009 to build roads we may not need until 2010 or 2011?

We have a million dollars more in the fund today than we would have had before. We can always take the negative approach to everything and it really wouldn’t matter in the long term. We don’t build our company and I don’t think Sioux Falls builds their city, and I don’t think any bona fide business person is going to say, ‘Well, I build my company one year at a time,’” Craig Lloyd of Lloyd Companies said.

Craig’s comment is very revealing. 1) He is right, we have a million in the fund, money we, the citizens, put in the kitty, you know, the same people you belittled that September night while taking a leak. Where is your share? I agree, a city doesn’t build itself one year at a time, but when the city and developers tell us there will be a 50/50 partnership, you better hold up your end of deal, and if you don’t, why should we?

But let’s just look at the figures;

$1,000,0000 – What the city has raised so far

$78,000 – What developers have put in so far ($70,000 was added in June to the fund)

Now lets scenario the economy turns around and those numbers triple by the end of the year;

$3,000,000 – City

$234,000 – Develop

$3,234,000 – Total December 31, 2009

But this is where it gets interesting and the city gets caught up in their lies. The CIP has $5.4 million budgeted for arterial streets next year. Where is that additional money coming from? Most likely us.

$2,166,000 shortfall (that will have to be taken out of the regular CIP fund)

That would mean while taxpayers will have to pony up $5,166,000 for arterial streets next year, developers will only be putting a fraction of that aproximately $234,000, unless of course they win the lottery.

Does that sound like a 50/50 partnership to you? Kind of sounds a bad restroom joke to me.

The Retail Tax increase ruse is finally revealed

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Last year when the Sioux Falls city council voted to raise our retail taxes they said it was for new arterial roads. They argued the extra .08% would raise $5 million for new roads and platting fees paid by developers would pay the other $5 million. A 50/50 partnership, so to speak. In recent months, I assume to downplay our tax petition, the city started to say it was going to be a 40/60 partnership instead, with the developers paying the 60%.

Well the numbers are in, and they ain’t even close to what the city is claiming. Since the tax increase took effect January 1, 2009, the extra .08% in retail taxes has collected about $1 Million dollars. In five months. Obviously it will have to pick up a bit to reach the $4 million dollar goal by the end of the year. But the alarming number is how much the developers have put in the kitty since January 1st. Let’s just say I rewinded the audio three times when finance director Eugene ‘Montgomery Burns’ Rowenhorst mumbled the amount at yesterday’s informational meeting; $8,000 dollars! Nope, you heard right, not $800,000 dollars, $8,000 in five months!  I think the Boy Scouts could raise more than that in just one week selling popcorn.

I said this tax increase was a ruse from the beginning to max out our taxes, it had nothing to do with building those roads. And if the developers are going to chip in 60% to build arterial roads, they better turn it up a notch, because at that rate, they won’t have enough money to build one block let alone several streets.

As usual, Sioux Falls taxpayers will have to pony up 90% of the money for the roads. And as usual, Munson’s administration misled and lied to the public to raise our taxes.

Shameful.

ANOTHER THING THAT WAS BROUGHT UP, in the meeting by Rowenhorst was how much of our Capital Improvement fund goes toward debt service (paying interest and principal on bonds); 22%. Just imagine all the roads we could fix if we weren’t throwing those millions away on interest payments? By rough estimates I’m guessing we pay about $25 million in interest/principal payments a year, just on our CIP projects. Ironically, Eugene bragged that 22% was a good number, he said the city’s credit rating could allow us to be paying 44% out in debt service.

Where do they get these clowns anyway? Oh that’s right Rowenhorst and Munson worked for Citibank, that explains it all.

I guess councilor Vernon BrownKnows is writing Voices columns for Executives at Sanford now. How nice of him.

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You would think with being a full-time marketing guru, a part-time dad and councilor he wouldn’t have time to help out others in the community;

Mark Johnston’s (an executive with Sanford – The Argus edited that out of the letter) My Voice column in the May 10 Argus Leader concerning the information sheet I’d written on behalf of Citizens for a Responsible Sales Tax is an encouraging sign. In a vital society, citizens speak out on important issues.

 

The column reflects almost point for point an April 28 e-mail response I received from Sioux Falls City Councilor Vernon Brown. Johnston evidently also contacted Brown for information – another good sign of citizen and government interaction.

I guess I have been mistaken. It seems our councilors and city have the special interests on a leash, not the other way around. Wonder how big of a check Mr. Johnston will be cutting Vernon for his mayor campaign? A small price to pay to have someone write a letter to the editor for you I guess. Maybe Johnston could help these people instead;

Forty percent of the students in our public schools in 2008-09 were eligible for free or reduced-rate meals. The number of families in Sioux Falls at or below 180 percent of poverty is growing – not a good sign that taxes should be raised.

Of course they have to raise taxes on the rest of us so we can feed these kids. Wait. You mean they didn’t raise our taxes to help the less fortunate? I guess the kids will just have to learn how to eat off of those new roads on the edge of Tea, SD we are building with the tax increase. Too bad really, I think roadkill tastes better in the Fall, but what do I know, I’m just a blogger.

Kathy ends her letter with a little truth to power that our city officials seem to be incredibly ignorant about;

Financial irresponsibility has landed our nation in its current morass of staggering debt and unemployment and its growing numbers of families at or near poverty. One of the most important duties citizens have is keeping a watch on their own communities’ financial accountability.

The Chief Misleader

Rocky Balboa film

So I’m reading the Gargoyle Leader’s story today about the Credit Union closing down at Sanford that Angry Guy posted about today, and I come across a name I heard before, Mark Johnston. Then it clicks, he was the guy that wrote that our tax petition drive was misleading.  Ironically when he had the letter published in his BIO he vaguely said he worked for the healthcare industry. I found it strange that he couldn’t say what he did or who he worked for? I see he is a Vice President at Sanford. Maybe he didn’t  say because he wanted people to think he was a regular Joe.

Cass on dvd

Turner & Hooch dvd

Santa and Pete dvd

Yeah, and we are the misleaders. Yeah Right.

Funny how the AG knows who butters his bread but our city attorney does not

I have to admit I was a little surprised when one of my long time friends called me last week and told me she was considering a petition drive of her own (nothing to do with taxes) in Sioux Falls and has been in correspondance with the city about election laws, etc. She said she saw all the troubles my petition was having and she wanted the city to clear some stuff up before she even considered the petition. I’ll be honest with you, I had no idea she was doing any of this until she shared the final information with me. I’m sure the city was suspicious she was involved with us because the city attorney gave his normal response how he doesn’t work for tax payers, etc., etc. But what is telling is the difference between the Attorney General’s response and the City attorney’s response. They are both similiar in that they do not give out opinions, but the AG didn’t seem to have a problem with attaching the laws so my friend could review them on her own or with a private attorney. Must have been too hard for the city attorney to ask his secretary to print out a couple pages of ordinances, yeah right.

Below is a copy of the correspondance and the different responses. (I cropped and transformed the images for space reasons).

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She basically was trying to get the ’6 month question’ answered. Does state law apply if the city doesn’t have an ordinance that addresses it? Admundson’s response;

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Notice Robert goes on a rant about who he works for. Also notice that taxpayer’s are not included in that list. He calls the city his ‘client’ not his ‘employer’. So does Robert collect a FEE for your services and pay rent on his City Hall office? Or does he collect a PAYCHECK? I think we know the answer. While I do admit, he has no obligation to submit an opinion, he does however have an obligation to show my friend all the ordinances that apply to petitions, like the AG does below.

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Not only did the AG attach a copy of the laws that apply, he did it a day faster then our City Attorney. He also said he could not share his opinion.

So my question is? Why can our State AG provide us with election laws but our City Attorney cannot? I’ll have to agree with the Argus Leader Editorial Board on this one, it’s appalling.

Who is doing the misleading?

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I often shake my head when ‘normal citizens’ defend bureaucracies. Especially defending them when it comes to wasteful spending and overtaxing to benefit special interests. But of course you have to consider the source, someone who works for one the most broken bureaucracy in our country, the healthcare industry. Like our city, when hospitals want a new building or hire another overpaid doctor, they simply raise rates. So it should be no surprise that Mark Johnson is defending our city. But this is just the icing on the cake. His letter was so full of inaccuracies, I don’t know where to begin, so let’s start at the beginning of the manure trail;

The group is criticizing the sales tax on food and at the same time is attacking the second-penny city sales tax for capital improvement projects.

SOME of us are criticizing the sales tax on food. But that is not why I joined the group. I joined this group because I think the city OVERSPENDS and even though some of us think funding government through taxing food is regressive, unethical, immoral and downright stupid, I think we are all in agreement that our tax money is being spent foolishly on special interest projects.

The group is trying to reverse a vote taken by the Sioux Falls City Council in 2008 that raised the second-penny sales tax and increased our overall city and state sales taxes from 5.92 percent to 6 percent, which, if I am not mistaken, equates to eight pennies for every $100 purchase.

It was a tie vote with the Mayor breaking the tie. Ultimately giving the power to raise our taxes to ONE man, which in my opinion, is very, very undemocratic. Secondly, those 8 pennies add up to $5 million dollars taken out of taxpayer’s pockets, but it ultimately is taking $5 million out of business’ pockets that would have been spent on goods and services. Instead we hand it all over to a handful of wealthy developers.

In addition to petitions, the anti-growth and anti-development group is circulating information that highlights some capital improvement projects in our city. The information is misleading and inaccurate in several of its claims.

Not sure what burearcrat’s ass Mark pulled the statement from. But there is not one single person volunteering to our cause that is anti-growth or anti-development. We are however, against special interest money being used to influence city hall. Which is what this tax increase was about. Don’t believe me? Check for yourself. The four councilors who voted for the tax increase had all of their campaigns funded by the biggest developers in town. Just go to the city website and read their campaign financial reports. Mr. Lloyd cut a lot of checks.

Claim: $800,000 budgeted on new, historically accurate windows for the Washington Pavilion when the old ones are only 10 years old.

Fact: Capital improvements for the Pavilion are funded through the entertainment tax, and the group’s initiative would have no impact on the Pavilion. Besides, many of the windows date to the 1950s.

FALSE.

Yes, one member of our group put out a fact sheet that said the windows were 10 years old. she was working on her own and has apologized to city councilor Vernon Brown for doing so.

But Mark is flat wrong when claiming improvements to the Pavilion are funded through the entertainment tax. The entertainment tax subsidizes the operations of the Pavilion, that’s it. The building’s maintenance, because it is owned by the city, comes out of the city’s CIP fund. In essence an ‘extra’ expense to taxpayers beyond the entertainment tax. In fact, when the Pavilion was proposed to us, we were told that building it and upgrading the structure would cost us between $18 and $21 million dollars. It has cost the city almost $40 million to date.

Claim: $1.5 million for a facade at the downtown library is frivolous.

Fact: The actual cost of the design element is $680,000, and the entire downtown library update project came in $1.3 million under budget.

$680,000 for a design element is a wise use of taxpayer money? Can I get some of the green you are smoking?

Claim: $30,000 for a calendar of dates and events sent to Sioux Falls citizens.

Fact: The group’s initiative is for the second-penny sales tax for capital improvements. The calendar was paid for through the operating budget.

This one just makes me laugh. The calendar was paid for with tax money. You can spin that however you want, but at the end of the day we paid for that stupid piece of crap that most people threw in the garbage. I don’t care if it came out of the monkey crapper fund for the zoo.

Claim: $19 million on consultant fees this past year.

Fact: The city expended only $1.2 million on consultant fees such as the public transit-human services transportation plan, emergency medical services planning, public parking facilities planning, real estate title searches and sanitary landfill testing services.

The group has lumped contract services such as snow removal, lawn care, pest control, pension fund management and other services that are legally required but best done by non-city employees.

I think the words you are looking for is ‘professional services’. But hey you can call it whatever you want, at the end of the day the city spent $19 million on services that they could have provided themselves a lot cheaper using city employees. For example the city has it’s own engineers and engineering department, so why do we have to hire a private firm? Good question.

Claim: $10 million will go to the aid of developers and contractors to help pay for arterial roads of new development areas.

Fact: $4 million of the money generated will go for development of streets in growing parts of Sioux Falls. What the group doesn’t say is there is an almost $80 million backlog in development-driven streets. These are streets that need to be constructed because development already has taken place in these areas.

This is where I had to get out my 5-Buckle overboots to wade through this letter. First off the city said from the beginning, and according to their own website that the developers would pay $5 million in fees and the taxpayers would pay $5 million. If this has changed, a statement needs to come from the finance department’s office explaining the change. Otherwise it is just hearsay. Mark is right that we are backlogged OVER $80 million, but not on new development. We are behind on infrastructure maintenance. I have always felt a city must take care of what it has FIRST, then worry about buying new things. It seems the city hasn’t learned a lesson when the sewers backing up into hundreds of homes a couple of years ago because infrastructure was ignored. The second penny is supposed to be used on these kind of projects, instead the city has squandered it on new development (BTW, how can you be backlogged on something that hasn’t been built yet, like new roads? Isn’t that an oxymoron?)

We have spent more than a decade of planning and hard work to make this city a great place to live and work for all of our citizens. We benefit from having one of the lowest tax burdens per capita of any state in the country.

We have spent a decade overtaxing our citizens and visitors while borrowing too much and ignoring infrastructure upgrades. Tax burden in SD is low, for the rich. A recent study showed that the wealthy and upperclass pay out 1-2% of there income to retail taxes, while the middleclass and working poor pay about 10-16% of their income to retail taxes.

The fact remains, who benefits from the recent tax increase? You know the answer.

It's NOT about WHO filed the petition, it's about the PETITION itself, stupid

Tales of the Riverbank download

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Shocked! The Argus Leader Editorial board figured it out;

This isn’t about the merits of Citizens for a Responsible Sales Tax’s argument that Sioux Falls should lower its sales tax from 6 percent to 5.9 percent.

Government’s responsiveness to the many constituencies it serves should not be tied to whether those in the seat of power agree or disagree with a particular philosophy.

No matter how distasteful or inexpedient our public officials might find the citizens group’s anti-City Hall stance, the group has the same rights to clear and concise answers that those with a lot more money and political clout have.

Uh, we are not anti-city hall, we are against politicians that don’t represent us and put special interests first. It is blatantly obvious that the tax increase was about paying back special interest campaign contributers. Pay to play is perfectly legal in South Dakota, it’s unethical, but legal. So as citizens petitioning their government, we should be afforded the same rights.

It’s clear that signatures older than six months can’t be counted, so that seems to indicate some implied six-month deadline.

However, City Attorney Robert Amundson says he hasn’t studied the issue and indicates that he doesn’t plan to until the group files its petitions.

“I don’t represent her (Stehly). As soon as I get it done, I am ready to discuss it,” he said, referring the group’s co-chairwoman Theresa Stehly.

That’s appalling.

This is not a chess match. City officials should formulate an answer to the group’s question about the deadline and tell them that answer.

You are right BOB, you don’t represent Theresa, but you do represent citizens that support this, or at least democracy for that matter. You are trying to personalize this when you know it is simply about the law and answering an election question. You couldn’t make it more clear you are gearing up for a legal challenge.

I find it almost ridiculously comical that the Secretary of State can answer a simple question to the media and the citizens without himming and hawing, but a lowly city attorney appointed by his best friend can’t answer a simple question. Makes you wonder if BOB is playing games, or just doesn’t really know the answer – would seem kind of strange (and scary) for an ex-judge.

A City Councilor finally brings up the ‘C’ word

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As I suspected all along (even before I agreed to get on board with this) the city would consider challenging us in court. My suspicians got stronger when the City Attorney said he WOULD NOT give an opinion on the matter. Of course not, how can he challenge us if he would to publicly admit that what we are doing is OK? But finally, Councilor Costello brought it to a face;

Councilor Pat Costello said Monday there’s a “difference of opinion” about whether the group had a six-month deadline.

“When the petitions are filed, a determination will be made,” he said. “If it needs to go to court, it will go to court.

And that’s how a majority of this council and mayor treat their citizens, as the enemy. Ordinances, elections and citizenry initiatives are done to protect the interests of the citizens NOT the interests of beauracrats, that’s why this initiative scares the crap out of them, they don’t like their ill-informed decisions questioned. Yet they will shamefully use our tax money to fight their own citizens. We obviously need a housecleaning in 2010. The first thing our new mayor needs to do is replace the entire city attorney’s office.

I did find this part of the article humorous though;

City Council Chairman Bob Litz deferred comment to the city attorney’s office. Earlier this month, Litz said that Stehly and her crew had “played the game (and lost)” but had not made the deadline. Stehly responded Monday: “Tell Bob Litz the game is in overtime.”

Hey, Bob? How does that crow taste?

Petition Drive update

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At this point we are going to continue the drive. We had about 20 volunteers show up to the meeting today that was taped in it’s entirety by KELO TV news. We also had a suspicious visitor who turned out to be a lawyer with a major firm in town. He told us that he didn’t agree with the drive but said it looks like we have a legal right to move forward. He also made sure that he wasn’t in camera range.

Vernon Brown also showed up to listen, but Theresa did get him to agree ‘to look into’ the 6 month rolling date. Theresa also clarified to Vernon that she did not promise the city clerk verbally or in writing that we would be done April 10, and in fact, when Theresa filed the petition, the city clerk was not present only the assistants, so it wasn’t even physically possible to promise it verbally. I think Vernon was a little surprised by that.

Our goal is to wrap this up quickly, hopefully within a month.