Tag Archives: budget

I Get My Comments Published in the NYT, Expect Hate Mail

The problem with economics and other soft sciences is that a series of unsubstantiated pronouncements constitute an argument. We have no reason to trust any of these explanations, much less the standard liberal bromide that we need to tax money away from savers and give to spendthrifts. All of these theories are propounded by Keynesians who got the Japanese and Europeans into the pickle in the first place. My problem is that we in the USA have exactly the same trajectory and Keynesians in charge as did the Japanese and Europeans. The throwing money at the dartboard to pick a solution has failed and no one has any better ideas.
Economics, as a “science” does not have the power that would justify allowing the Fed and Congress, or any other central power to engineer the economy. Capitalistic societies have booms and busts, deflations and inflations, localized collapses and even disappearances of productive life. Visit any ghost town or recall the 1840, 1870-90, 1930 deflations, the panics, most short lived and self correcting in the history of the USA.
There may not be anything wrong with deflation. Little people who save can gain by putting money under their mattresses and won’t lose it to inflation. Investors will need to be much more careful to be sure that their projects make sense, our government will struggle and be hampered in its attempts to “help” people.
Finally, under socialism, planned economies, welfare states and the like there are no booms, only chronic busts.

Planner Counting the Chickens, Our Well Managed City Hall

A valued constituent of mine, Thomas Webb, has just called me about at least the second attempt by the city planner to enter his property to count chickens. Seems that Tom keeps a flock and sells the eggs produced. An number invented by the city planner limits Tom to 50 chickens. Chickens is a slippery term as we know from the battles over adolescence-when does a teenager become a human? And when does a chick become a chicken. The nature of things is that chickens have to be replaced so eggs incubated and hatched, chicks raised and at some point these adolescent birds have “chickenness” conferred on them. But when? Another problem has to do with sexes of the birds. Males get the ax, but male not obvious until they are adults.

In any case, our city planner appeared at Tom’s door a few weeks back stating that he’d heard that Tom’s flock was larger than his sanctioned 50 and that he needed to count the birds. Tom asked whence the information, how did a waxing and waning number of chickens bother anyone much less cause the cosmic order to unravel? He wanted to know what sort of disturbance, anxiety, or nuisance was being caused upon another resident as he would address it immediately. He quite appropriately denied our planner access to his property, and told him beyond any doubt that if he wanted to count chickens on his land, he’d need a warrant from the court. Thursday our planner contacted him again asking to count the chickens and seemed surprised when Thomas made it clear he meant it when he denied him entry because there was no warrant.

It turns out that Tom is leaving Kentwood, (an enormous loss of a vigorous, informed and concerned citizen) and moving to Columbia, SC. The flock will be liquidated within a few days. Even if a warrant is sworn (and what judge would go along with this farce?) and carried out in the usual “government time” there won’t be anything to count.

There are two considerations here. The first concerns the harassment of Mr. Webb by city hall. He had run for mayor 3 years ago and for at large city commissioner last year. Our mayor spent a fair number of taxpayer dollars sending out a letter to voters alleging that it was necessary to correct one of Tom’s campaign issues, all the while ignoring an outright lie told by Tom’s opponent. Is this chicken episode part of a scheme to use political and government resources to pester a governmental official’s opposition?

The other issue has to do with our city planning. Would I be out of line if I were to question whether the $400,000 plus budget (sixteen hundred dollars per workday charged to Kentwood taxpayers) is budgeted to judge the maturity of chickens?

City Hall Wants a Communications Officer; the Real Motives Unmasked. Castration by the Hatch Act.

The next commission meeting is this next Tuesday. On the agenda is a request to approve 78K to hire a “specialist” to communicate good news etc about Kentwood (and here I thought that I did a pretty good job.)

One of the provisions gave me a start. This employee is tasked with “Develop(ing) and execut(ing) campaigns and/or associated materials to support City millage initiatives.”

Wow.

First of all, what millage initiatives or tax increases does City Hall envision. What shortage of funds exists to justify this assault on our benighted taxpayer? And who exactly wants to raise taxes? Someone who promised not to when (s)he was elected?

I’m going to vote against this entire fraud on laws well established nationally and apparently also copied into the Michigan law. (I can’t link for some reason.)

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/wda/00-16_Hatch-Act_454709_7.pdf

Supporting this schema would be against the law and I’ll vote no.

City Commissioners Vote to Starve Poor Children and to Lower Real Estate Prices

The big roll out of the 2016-7 budget occurred last evening, six hours of it. I voted “no” twice, once on a proposal to hire a new rental property inspector and the second time against the entire budget in part because of the inspector issue.

The pitch was that the city could help control crime and shiftlessness by improving the housing in which renters lived. Therefore the city should increase the inspection of these properties so forcing correction of perceived deficiencies. The city would do well by doing good!

I differed. The sociology here is dubious and the economics is even worse.

Sociologically, there are data showing that hooligans don’t own their apartments but rent. I’d intuit that these lowlifes don’t have much money, live in shabbier and cheaper quarters and are likely beat property up more than their more civilized contemporaries. But none of this supports the notion that living in a self created fleabag causes bad behavior. Correlation is not causation. Crime, poverty and laziness are not treatable by “improving” housing. It doesn’t pass the sniff test.

The economic implications of increased inspections are actually more ominous especially here in “Rentwood.” Nearby Grand Rapids increased inspections in 2011 and drove rental costs up by about $100 per unit.  Inspections cost landlords a average of $5,000 per unit which, capitalized, might have supported a $50 dollar a month increase But landlords had to come up with lots of money rapidly, they were uncertain about what other fantasies that the GR city fathers harborred and facing risk, doubled the rent increases. The knock on effect was that fewer renters could afford the new fare, so they moved back in with parents or doubled up in existing units so the demand for rental units faltered.  Marginal landlords were forced to exit the industry, they sold or abandoned their properties and so lowered real estate prices. Decrepit areas of Grand Rapids became more threadbare, not that you’d notice.

Well, say the reformers who wanted to improve the lives of the poor by improving the housing in which they live, it only costs each renter an extra $100 dollars a month to live in housing that we approve of. True enough, except that for many a $100 dollars is  a $100 dollars and spending it for rent means that they can’t afford peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their kids, so they go hungry and, at best stare listlessly at the well fed reformers who arranged the original inspections and “improvement” of their quarters; at worst the urchins slit the throats of their oppressors.

If renters are unhappy with the cleanliness, safety or cost of their apartments they can easily move to others that they can afford that satisfy their wants. Governmental intrusion intended to make folks better by forcing them to live in more expensive housing than what they prefer comes at huge costs both socially and economically that dwarf the minor costs to the city of hiring another inspector.

Doesn’t anyone pay any attention to theory of unintended consequences anymore?

Ramming Kentwood into More Debt, Raising Taxes by the Back Door

We got the Parks and Recreation Commissioners’ minutes for the last 3 months in the latest city commission packet. We’ve been missing a lot more than just delayed reports.

The commissioners are Emily Bridson, Bob Coughlin, Brian Dickey, Mimi Madden, Dustin Moseley, Kevin Small and Chair Bob Jones. Mr. Terry Schweitzer of planning is usually present at their meetings. Mark Rambo, Deputy City Administrator was there in March, the laying on of hands by our City Hall so to speak.

It seems that there are actual plans to replace the Kent Activities Center (KAC) on 48th and to spend more money on other recreation opportunities for “new families” and “new businesses” that will be moving to Kentwood. (And the whole time I thought that we were merely serving the same old long suffering taxpayers and shopworn residents, shame on me.)

The Parks and Rec Commission has been using Federal Community Block Grants, DNR, and some of the money left over from a now expired parks millage to fund new acquisitions and upgrades, and doing just fine. The operational money comes from the city’s general fund and I’m told that we will be in surplus as we pay down our bonds.

The Parks and Recreation Commission envisions expansion of facilities although the amount land in Kentwood hasn’t changed in 5 decades and the city is thought to be 90% “built out.” It’s hard to justify expansion if the supply of park services has been adequate for 50 years; do they think that our aging population want more grassland on which to play soccer or to jog?

There is a saving grace of caution in these minutes that comes from City Hall. I have been asking for data documenting how much our parks and rec facilities are actually used since I was elected in 2013. Are they near capacity, or are they, as my personal observations seem to show, almost abandoned? The Paul Henry Bike Trail that my wife and I did on the Fourth of July was busy enough but not long enough for serious biking. (We were really put off by the traffic along 60th Street and it’s hard to see where this path could be expanded to make it more natural.) We saw a half dozen small parks along the way, all empty on the biggest summer holiday of the year.

Mark Rambo in addressing the Commissioners’ request for guidance in borrowing the money for their new projects, suggests being sure that there is a need for more recreational facility and providing documentation.  If we need to renew the Parks Millage we should know how much is needed, and for what.  The Commission needs to identify activities that are missing in the Kentwood area that the public can’t get when it flocks to Planet Fitness and MVP voting with their own money.

Our Parks and Rec department read the statistically flawed, push-poll-generated parks study from 2 or 3 years ago and apparently wants to rush us past the gritty Kentwood realities to get to some sort of promised land that might be valid in California or in the minds of academic dreamers who state that a community needs a swimming pool for every 20,000 residents. (Where do these numbers come from?)

Just as our police use crime data to focus their resources , the Parks and Rec commission need to show usage, picnic tables occupied by families on holidays, kids playing sandlot baseball on weekday afternoons and young couples watching birds and flowers in nature preserves ere we pile yet more debt and the taxes on our indebted populace to pay for this stuff.

The Silver Line, Form Based Building Codes, the Hard Pressed Taxpayer whom I Throw under the Bus.

 

I’ll start with a direct quote from Wikipedia;

“Form-Based Codes foster predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle, with a lesser focus on land use, through municipal regulations.” (I will ignore the self serving “results in a high-quality” blather in this article.)

It seems that the latest fad in city planning is “The New Urbanism” aka “Smart Cities.” Our Grand Rapids area has bought into it. The idea is that we should live in crowded conditions along linear tracks where benevolent public-private entities arrange our jobs, leisure, shopping and public transportation, all of it ‘’walkable.”

Where to begin.

The public transit is easiest; the government built the Silver Line along our western border on South Division (32 million dollars) and we’re taxed directly millions for its operating budget. It is also planned to restrict the traffic flow along this road.

The rest of this scheme envisions private investors building apartments, stores, restaurants, offices and factories along this corridor so that a population of young, technically savvy  fictive entrepreneurs would move in, start businesses, leave a low carbon footprint and eschew urban sprawl.

In the matter of building the utopia, these urban planning romantics should be embarrassed that Kentwood and most of the Grand Rapids urban area has been built over many years under rules imposed by a constantly changing cadres of academically trained urban planners. The result looks like Fort Dix, NJ-you know, vast groupings of uniform buildings all constructed by the low bidder, painted the same color, bland and aligned, used for the same purpose standing like so many soldiers at attention. A few hundred yards away stands a grouping of a different generation of boring structures representing  the fashion of the day when it was produced by government fiat.

The planning and zoning commissions needed to distance themselves from evidence of their past sins, and sought salvation by trying to copy the few interesting portions of the urban area like the west side of GR and the Hill District that had been built before planning and zoning desecrations.

They think that abandoning the zoning that forced landowners to restrict the uses of their land to do what the government wants to now forcing builders to build structures in shapes and configurations that planners favored but allowing a wider range of uses (housing, retail trade, manufacturing)  all in the same neighborhood would rebuild deteriorated areas. Thus the hallowed “form based building codes.” All new building would be forced to have the same general architecture, in this case looking like what was built during the horse and buggy era,  but would be allowed to have different uses.

Cute.

The planning commission has been studying this for years as have Grand Rapids and Wyoming. Wyoming has actually re-written some of their codes to implement this advance of civilization. Now our planning commission wants 25K to hire a consulting firm to re-write our codes. I asked why we just couldn’t rip off the Wyoming codes? The answer was that our planning commission wanted to do it again, uniquely, or some such balderdash.

I voted with everyone else to authorize the expenditure and for this I apologize. In my defense, my “nay” would have only prolonged the farce. And remember the ancient saw, “Against stupidity the gods contend in vain.”

The Parks Commission Envisions, and Politicians Out Themselves Acquiescing to a Tax Increase.

 

The Parks Commission is a favorite of Commissioner Coughlin and he arranged for that commission to address our early February meeting. Three Parks Commissioners based their presenttion on the statistically flawed and self serving Parks study which cost the taxpayers 50K three or four years ago. Ignoring its weak foundations, the Park commissioner recommended a 1 mil tax increase (about 10% of our property taxes) to fund new acquisitions and buildings proposed in that document, stuff like buying up land, putting up a new activities building and several swimming pools.

Several City Commissioners commented. Commissioner Redmond was enthusiastically supportive, noting that he’d just been elected and would not need to run for another 4 years. Commissioner Coughlin who had arranged for the presentation beamed his approval and lamented letting the previous Parks millage lapse 3 years ago. Our mayor noted that he was not in favor of building pools and that tax increase would have to go before the voters. That referendum would not be possible this year, 2017 was an election year (Did he want to run?) but that it would be great in 2018.

I noted that Grand Rapids had at least 3 pools that they could not afford to open. (I didn’t say anything, but we had also just spent over 80 K on a refurbishing the basketball court and on waterproofing the cement underlying the existing activities building after a natural spring was discovered in the middle of the very expensive new court flooring. I had asked about plans for planning a new activities center when replacing the gym floor was first proposed, and had been assured that there were no plans to replace that building. Truth telling in  City Hall is trivial.)

I only document this episode because I see that the proposed minutes of that meeting did not include much of what transpired. I’ll try to correct the record this Tuesday and expect to be rebuffed and lied to again. But this account should interest some candidates in this summer’s primary elections, and again next year when some might seek re-election.