Friday, December 17, 2010

The Mendoza Line

With yesterday’s decision by the Georgia Supreme Court not to reconsider its recent Nu├ži’s Space verdict, the years-long ordeal was finally laid to rest.  For the coverage of the decision in the Banner-Herald, see here and here (and for my superb complete history of the issue from last month, see here).  The online commentary to the local newspaper’s stories reveals two separate issues. 

The first issue, the one of the most concern to me, deals with the law as it is currently written.  I always thought that the legal aspects of this case were a slam dunk.  The Board of Tax Assessors lost at the level of the Board of Equalization, lost at the level of the Clarke County Superior Court, and lost at the level of the Georgia Supreme Court (twice, once by a verdict and once by a refusal to reconsider).  Its only victory came at the level of the Georgia Appeals Court.  Thus, the Unified Government went 1 for 5 in this case, thereby achieving baseball’s storied Mendoza Line for futility.

This is just the latest in long series of legal debacles for which we local taxpayers have footed the bill: the rental registration/rental regulation case; the attempted Hospital Authority takeover case; the eastside park land condemnation case; the “empty chair” property tax assessment case, the stoplight camera case; etc.  I trust that the incoming administration down at City Hall has taken note.

The second issue, the one that seems to have generated the most online commentary, is whether the law as written is a good one.  Perhaps it is and perhaps it is not.  Regardless, the proper venue for that debate is under the Gold Dome, not in the courts.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Clarke County GOP Christmas Party Wrap

Many of the local Republican faithful – and there may well be more of us that you think in the Classic City – braved the cold and gathered at the Country Inn & Suites last night for our annual Christmas Party.

Newly elected Georgia Secretary of State Brain Kemp pressed the flesh.  No surprise there; Brian is an all-around good guy who attends whatever local functions that his schedule allows.

Mayor-elect Nancy Denson made the rounds.  No surprise there, either; Denson reached out to us GOP types during her campaign (not to mention those increasingly few moderate, centrist Democrats who remain in Athens).  I chatted briefly with her.  For her part, she complemented my recent letter to the editor about the CCSD’s per pupil expenditures.  For my part, I told here that while we (and by that I meant both me individually and the local GOP generally) would agree on some issues and disagree on others, we Republicans would be happy just to have someone down at City Hall who listened to what we have to say, as that has not been the case for the past several years.

Finally, Doug McKillip of the 115th, the GOP’s newest member of the Georgia House of Representatives, was in attendance.  I had wondered if he would make an appearance, and sure enough he did.  For his part, it was a good political move if nothing else.  For my part, I welcomed him over to the Dark Side.  I wrote some pretty harsh things about McKillip’s sudden political conversion over on the Banner-Herald comment boards and still think that it is up to McKillip to prove me wrong, but we shall see.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fire Station No. 6 Update (yes, again)

Seems that yesterday's announcement of the reopening of Fire Station No. 6 may have been a bit premature.  Said the Banner-Herald's article:

Station 6 now is fully staffed, with five firefighters per shift, and Engine 26 and a tanker truck in the bay.

The A shift was the first to move into the station Friday, with the B and C shifts following on subsequent days.

I happened to drive through the intersection of Olympic and Athena Drives about noon today; there were no signs of life whatsoever at the station, no engine or tanker truck anywhere to be seen, and only two vehicles in the parking lot where one would expect on-duty firefighters to park (a sedan and a pickup truck).

But, after some twenty-one months, what is a couple of days more?

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CCSD FY 2010 Per Pupil Expenditures

Per pupil expenditure figures are now available from the Georgia Department of Education for FY 2010.*  According to those figures, the State of Georgia average for per pupil expenditures this past fiscal year was $8759.77, a decrease of 1.66% from the FY 2009 figure of $8907.82. Conversely, the corresponding FY 2010 figure for the Clarke County School District was $11,360.09, slightly more than a 0.99% increase over the FY 2009 figure of $11,248.22. Thus, our local average per pupil expenditures rose from 26.27% above the state average in FY 2009 to 29.68% above the state average in FY 2010.  And note that the per pupil expenditure figure indicated on the CCSD web site is now two full fiscal years out of date.

A look inside the FY 2010 figures reveals the following per pupil expenditures for the Clarke County School District in the seven categories tracked by the Georgia Department of Education:

Instruction $7522.51 (plus 27.27% of the state average of $5910.84)

Pupil Services $368.19 (plus 22.25% of the state average of $301.18)

Staff Services $771.83 (plus 65.77% of the state average of $465.60)

General Administration $461.18 (plus 1.72% of the state average of $453.38)

School Administration $624.40 (plus 13.18% of the state average of $551.70)

Transportation $657.63 (plus 66.71% of the state average of $394.48)

Maintenance & Operations $954.36 (plus 39.81% of the state average of $682.61)

The category of General Administration is pretty much a wash, but in every other category the CCSD outspends the state average by considerable, and in couple of cases astonishing, margins.

According to my reckoning, this high level of per pupil expenditures places the District in the 94th percentile (93.89) among school systems statewide, eleventh highest of the 180 school systems reporting, a ranking that has not varied appreciably over the last several years. Of the ten school districts that had higher per pupil spending in FY 2010, nine are much smaller districts that have to spread fixed capital and administrative costs over far fewer students, thereby driving their per pupil expenditures up due to a lack of economies of scale. As in the past, the only school district with more students that outspends Clarke County on a per pupil basis is that of the City of Atlanta.

By way of comparison, FY 2010 per pupil expenditures of the school districts that surround Clarke County were:

Barrow County $7804.32

Commerce City $8687.39

Jackson County $8878.20

Jefferson City $7169.85

Madison County $8803.75

Oconee County $8547.30 

Oglethorpe County $8555.99

So, even as our neighboring school systems, and those around the state, are managing to hold the line on spending, here in Clarke County our spending increases continue apace.  Not by much, perhaps, by any increase over the already stratospheric level of expenditures to which we are accustomed gives lie to the incessant claims of paucity made by the CCSD.

Let the dissembling begin.

*As an aside, I contacted the Financial Review folks over at the DOE in early October to ask politely when the figures for FY 2010 would be posted on their web site (a query to which I never received any response); I again contacted them in early November with the same question (another query to which I never received any response).  And so it goes.  All percentage and percentile calculations are my own.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fire Station No. 6 Update

More than twenty-one months after its closure due to damage caused by a snowstorm, Fire Station No. 6 is operational again.  Yes, it is a nice station and I am glad that it has finally reopened

However, the fact remains that the Unified Government wasted 15 months trying to get an ARRA "economic stimulus" grant so as to rebuild the station (in its entirety) to a standard comparable to its newest elaborately overbuilt "suburban" stations. In the event, the station was rebuilt with the same funds City Hall could have used 15 months earlier without the grant.

I did not support the ARRA. But for anyone who did, the denial of this grant reveals just what a scam it was; you would be hard pressed to find a more "shovel-ready" project than this one, as City Hall already had the land (the present location of Fire Station No. 6), the plans (from Fire Station No. 9), and an immediate need.

Of course, getting the grant would not have constituted "economic stimulus" in any meaningful manner - but that is an argument for another day.

Also, of course, my argument was never with the rank and file firefighters who staffed Fire Station No. 6, but with the higher-ups who determined policy.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Impertinent Observations (post election edition)

I cast an unenthusiastic vote for Nancy Denson in the mayoral runoff, having voted for Charlie Maddox in the general election.  Back when John March and I caught the Clarke County School District blatantly breaking the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, Denson buried her head in the sand – just like everyone else – and denied that any problem existed (even though she was presented with chapter and verse of how and why what the CCSD did was in obvious violation of state law and Department of Revenue regulations; it was her responsibility as tax commissioner to verify that all of the legalities were observed before signing off on the property tax digest for the year).  Even so, I found the prospect of a Denson administration preferable to that of another four years of Gwen O’Looney.  We who live in the “general services” district knew exactly what to expect from the former mayor from her two previous terms.  As an aside, Denson is the first winning candidate for mayor or commission that I have voted for in this century (and may well be the last).

Now the Athens Downtown Development Authority wants funding to come up with a “master plan” for downtown.  Apparently, the exiting planning department, zoning ordinances, (much hallowed) land use plan, and historical district regulations are insufficient to guide the development of the downtown area.  It seems that we need even more bureaucracy, regulation, and expense to get anything done.  And people wonder why businesses are reluctant to expand or locate here?

Wednesday marked twenty one full months since the closing of Fire Station No. 6, about which I have commented regularly and at great length.  Though construction appears to be finished, we residents in District 1 still have no word from the Unified Government as to when we may expect the station to be operational again.

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