Audit needed, not Tumlin’s pie-in-sky plan for Franklin
by Larry Wills
April 09, 2013 12:36 AM | 1283 views | 13 13 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On March 28, the Marietta City Council held their committee meetings. Bob Lewis, the general manager of the Board of Lights and Water, presented numbers showing Marietta’s publicly owned utility will go broke unless rate increases continue well into the future. These increases are in addition to ones already scheduled.

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.
Comments
(13)
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C. Smith
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April 17, 2013
@Pat H: Consider the person you are defending posting an article in a different publication comparing Smyrna with "Bell, Georgia" TWO YEARS AGO that we are supposed to respect the opinion of? Say Wha? Quote: "Smyrna is very similar to Bell, Ga. Just read up on it, have a moment of clarity!" Then retracted this to say Bell is in California. Keep the stupids coming. It wins votes. From one self-proclaimed "activist" (hater?) to another (not hater, difference in opinion). This is totally relevant to this article that the most ardent hater of Cobb County, Marietta, and Smyrna doesn't know the difference between Bell, Georgia and Bell, California. And you missed the boat about school taxes.
anonymous
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April 16, 2013
@Nettie Helen Stemm: Perhaps your eyeglasses failed you. Read article again. "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." Your specs are failing you.
anonymous
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April 16, 2013
Pat H.: Some individuals have to be called out, not because this is a state controlled media. Quite the contrary. I post sometimes ridiculous things out here. It is the habitual misuse of this newspaper to spew out hatred without giving facts to back up accusations. And the person you are speaking of has been accused of being able to dish it out by the bowlfuls, and not being able to take it by the spoonful when people finally get fed up. And repeating the same old, same old, same old "digs" over and over and over again, regardless of the subject matter. There are some in this community that just hate the community. And need to move in order to get happy; remember money does not buy happiness. Maybe a shack in Milton or Decatur, etc. is happier than a nice house in Cobb County to some people and that is where they should go then. This is not about the MDJ; there are other publications that have faced the same in the past several years. This is my opinion and I have no ties to this newspaper. I am glad a friendly warning was given to stop repeating yesterday's news for five years and counting. If this gets printed, it is off topic but it is in rebuttal to your post. Now give it up and please contribute intelligent comments to make this community better for all of us. If you don't like who is in office and how they run things, please use that energy to campaign next go round.
belle faunt
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April 10, 2013
The problem with Larry and others like him, is that he's a short term thinker.
John Bowles
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April 09, 2013
My parents also have chosen to keep supporting the school district in Marietta City. I had to take a job out of state, but hope to move back some day. My parents keep me informed on what's happening back home. I tell you one thing - they are happy that something is being done about Franklin Road. That road had tons of crime back when I was home. Over 10 years ago. Love the website BTW.
retired tax payer
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April 09, 2013
Since when you care about our school system's financial status? You don't even pay school taxes, Larry. Let the very competent school board worry about that. As far as I can see, they seem to be doing a pretty darn good job. I'm over 62 and still choose to pay the Marietta City School taxes. If you have better ideas, run for council on November. Then you'll likely make someone mad and they will take pot shots at you from the sidelines. You are an old bore who needs a hobby.
hahahahah
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April 09, 2013
You said it gramps! WORD!
Nettie Helen Stemm
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April 09, 2013
@retired taxpayer.

Nice rant there, buster! The problem is that none of this has anything to do with the school board or school taxes.
Pat H
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April 09, 2013
This is a column about Marietta P&L rate increases, elected officials speculating on energy purchases, bonds to float SPLOST projects, and a plan to purchase private property along Franklin Road by the city for redevelopment. Money has also been transferred from the electric utility to city coffers, raising the rates of electric customers, some of whom are not city residents which constitutes a tax without being able to vote for the city leaders involved.

What has the age of Mr. Wills or his school tax assessment have to do with city mismanagement of funds? I applaud your efforts to pay school taxes you state you do not have to pay, but what has that to do with anything in this column?

Since this newspaper has interfered with the free speech of some posters by stating that they are "off topic", I expect that the Friendly Web Editor shall notify you that your posts should be on topic. When a newspaper squelches the speech of some and colludes with government against those who speak out against potential fraud and abuse, we then have a state controlled media. Welcome to Pravda.
myrna sims
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April 10, 2013
Larry Wills will never run for council because everyone knows he would not win. Why do the citizens not like him?
Good Lord
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April 11, 2013
Maybe Pat H should buy some glasses-

"This project will only reduce the public utility’s revenues and the amount of tax dollars going to the school system"

a great column
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April 09, 2013
This is a great column and I agree wholeheartedly. I feel like we get not only the truth from Larry Wills, but a good dose of common sense. Keep writing, Larry, we need to hear what you have to say!
Bert Hobs
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April 09, 2013
Hmm- the last time I checked, fewer kids in the school system- the fewer teachers needed. I've been told the amount of City revenue brought in from Franklin Road is BEANS, compaired to what a redeveloped Frankin Road would bring in. It's one of the most undervalued roads in the State.
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