Mayor Steve Tumlin also unveiled a $36 million bond proposal to buy up “blighted” and “crime ridden” apartment complexes along Franklin Road. If implemented, this action will aggravate the financial plight of the public utility.
Lewis’ charts and tables showed the decline in electricity demand and the increases in money taken from the utility each year to cover shortfalls in the City’s budget. According to the utility, the total amount is about $18 million.
City Manager Bill Bruton objected to the figures presented and tried to justify the sums taken for non-utility related costs. The City’s Finance Department failed to provide Lewis with actual FY12-13 numbers before the meeting. Bruton, Tumlin and Finance Director Sam Lady never showed up at the BLW budget committee meeting March 19 to present and discuss these expenditures. Their failure to appear was an insult to the BLW board and a signal that the board does not matter.
The City has not produced a year-end audit, 10 months after closing out the books. Speculation is the City’s new accounting firm has uncovered financial irregularities. Officials apparently plan to develop the FY13-14 budget without an audit.
Lewis’ presentation confirmed the City’s overall economic decline and revealed the excessive amount of money city officials take from the public utility, amounting to a backdoor tax. For BLW customers outside the city limits, this equals taxation without elected representation. It also counters Bruton’s statement the city weathered the recession without tax increases and means city officials are responsible for much of the utility’s financial plight.
An argument between Lewis and Councilman Goldstein erupted when Goldstein tried to justify the purchase of more electricity than the utility needed. This risky policy failed and is now costing the utility millions of dollars. Electricity cannot be stored and the unused excess must be paid for. Low natural gas prices and the recession made the utility’s expensive coal-produced electricity worthless on the wholesale market.
Goldstein has the mindset of many elected officials I label “Elected Tycoons.” These politicians invest tax dollars in risky, non-government activities like energy speculation, land speculation/development, private residential financing and rehab and things like Mayor Tumlin’s $36 million renewal project. Tumlin joins a long list of elected tycoons who stuck Marietta’s citizens with failed investments in fiber optics, the hospitality industry, Tax Allocation Districts, energy speculation and the $50 million money pit along two miles of Roswell Street. All have been resounding failures or so costly that tax payers will never see a return on their investment.
The tycoons now want to risk tax dollars in redeveloping Franklin Road instead of letting the free market system work. If Tumlin believes his pigs-can-fly investment will be successful, he should invest his own money like tycoons of old did. This project will only reduce the public utility’s revenues and the amount of tax dollars going to the school system, by doing away with more consumers and taking $36 million worth of real estate off the tax digest.
Higher rates and taxes will continue to run businesses out of town and make single family housing hard to sell. Before we support another rate hike, tax increase, SPLOST, or capital/revenue bonds the citizens need some answers. The way this will happen is:
1. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigates the strange ways the city has spent previous bond funds, especially the $8 million bond to accelerate SPLOST projects and use of a capital projects bond to pay off the debt on the hotel.
2. A grand jury investigates the existing financial relationship between the City Council and the BLW to determine if the public utility’s owners/customers are being gouged and non-city residents are being taxed without elected representation.
3. A forensic audit is performed to determine the true financial condition of the city, if a utility-funded slush fund exists and dedicated dollars are being properly spent.
4. The Carl Vinson Institute evaluates Marietta’s form of governance to make it less dysfunctional and wasteful of tax dollars.
Marietta citizens are nuts if they give the tycoons more pie-in-the-sky money until we know how our utility’s revenues and City tax dollars are really being spent.
Larry Wills is a retired recycling consultant in Marietta.