The Flour Bluff Business Association, a task force of business leaders who promote the safety, service, and growth of the Flour Bluff community, welcomed Councilman Chad Magill as its keynote speaker at the January 6, 2016, meeting held at noon at Funtrackers in Flour Bluff. Magill focused on the new year and talked about “big ticket items” for the city.
“The EPA expects us to agree to pay $853 million on your wastewater system over the next 12 to 15 years. We can’t afford it.” Magill admitted that the system absolutely needs improvements and that the City has been discussing the issue since 2009. Magill said that part of the reason for his failure to support Destination Bayfront stemmed from the knowledge of the pending wastewater bill.
“Anytime we spend 72 million of tax dollars on anything but what we have to spend it on, you have to ask if we can afford it,” Magill said.
Magill told the audience he believed the City should be focused on reconstruction and maintenance of streets, public safety, wastewater, and water supply. He emphasized the importance of getting the fundamentals right and putting needs before wants. This led Magill to address PlanCC 2035 (now 2036). Magill said, “Your city government shouldn’t have to be the ones to create the social environment for success. We shouldn’t be the ones to pay for free swimming lessons or for free internet service across the city. We see a lot of those proposed policies in PlanCC 2035. I have some serious doubts whether that plan moves forward.” Magill added that he put a plan together based on the existing comprehensive plan and sent it to City staff in December 2015. “It takes the good from our existing plan – which actually includes public safety – and includes parts from the proposed PlanCC 2035 to create a real-world plan that keeps us focused on our needs.”
Magill talked about the new harbor bridge and what an amazing feat it was to bring together the Port of Corpus Christi, the City of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TxDot, and a number of local organizations and finally settle upon the building of a billion-dollar bridge. He praised the efforts of Representative Todd Hunter who was “a champion for the bridge.” Magill said that the new bridge should be looked at as an essential part of economic development for the area and that construction should begin as soon as 2017.
The councilman then shifted to the topic of zero-based budgeting. “You’re going to see – for our generation – the largest push for a zero-based budget in our city government ever. It’s a challenge to City staff, but City Manager Ron Olson accepted the challenge.” Magill said that some of his colleagues on council believe he may have challenged staff too much. “They have concerns. I understand that, but at the same time, these are your tax dollars.”
Magill explained that zero-based budgeting will require City departments to justify spending tax dollars by aligning the spending with the mission. “Everyone has to budget where their dollars go. You do it. My wife and I do it. Shouldn’t we expect that of our City government?” He sees it as an opportunity for the department heads to shine. “If they embrace it and do well,” Magill said he would fight for their funding and for them to be successful.
Magill then turned to the topic of Flour Bluff and spoke about his desire to get Laguna Shores Road on the 2018 bond. “Every time I’m in Flour Bluff, I drive down Laguna Shores to remind me of the need.” He went on to commend James Skrobarczyk, who was in the audience, for serving on the residential street committee and praised the ad hoc committee for accomplishing so much in a short period of time.
He explained that they had uncovered some wasteful practices and inefficiencies in the Street Preventative and Maintenance Plan (SPMP). He offered an example. “Kingsville spends about $2.50 per square foot on overlays while Corpus Christi spends $8.00 per square foot for the same work.” When asked how that could be, Magill said, “Part of it is inefficiencies of government; part of that is multiple inspection layers; part of that is – frankly – writing contracts that allow contractors to make ‘obscene amounts of profit.’ ” He told the FBBA that he would love to speak to them again in June or July to fill them in on the recommendations from the street committee and how the City will move toward zero-based budgeting.
When asked if Council member Colleen McIntyre’s proposal last year to raise property taxes by 8 cents to pay for residential street construction is the only form of funding available, Magill said, “The Caller-Times reported that 8 cents of ad valorem property taxes per year would raise $20 million, when in actuality, it would raise $13.6 million.” After texting Ron Olson that his numbers were wrong, Olson came back a couple of days later and agreed Magill was correct in his calculations.
“When they’re talking about throwing more taxpayer money at an inefficient system, how much of that money is going to be wasted? I took an unpopular stance on council, and I said, ‘No, I can’t support a property tax increase without a plan.’ “
Magill said that oftentimes a government entity will ask for a lot of money first then develop a plan around it second. “Then they do the work and go on the defense and tell you how good it was. We’ve got to change that process and ask everyone to be open to a change in that kind of thinking. The missing component is being able to put a plan together, share that with the community – which we’ll do in June or July – and ask how much of this plan would you like to invest in?”
“Multiple funding sources is the key. From re-purposing sales tax, we can pay the debt service off on Whataburger Field, and that gives you between $2 and $2.5 million a year. That’s sales tax, which is mostly a tax that is appropriate for infrastructure. In good times, you do more; in bad times, you do less. Then, you look at cutting from within the budget. We tried a 1% cut last year; that didn’t work. We held the line on increasing materials and operations costs, but effectively we didn’t save much money. That’s why we’re going the zero-based route.”
Magill explained that savings within the budget will go to two things: One is streets and the other is City employee raises. “Think about the people who are going to do the work to find those inefficiencies within their own department budgets. If we’re going to challenge them harder, we have to somehow align goals. If you tell a department head that he/she needs to save money in the department and that part of the money saved will go into giving that department a raise, then people’s goals are starting to align. Efficiency is part of good, quality government.”
“Another funding source is potentially the RTA. They could be a funding partner, and I think they’re open to that now. The key here is to go to multiple funding sources with property taxes being the last in line. If we had raised property taxes last year at 8 cents, your only guarantee is that your property taxes will go up. If we had passed Destination Bayfront, that would have also added to the cost for the taxpayer. If we’re going to focus on needs, let’s do it the right way. The residential street committee is culling the bad from the current program and keeping the good to find out the most efficient way to tackle residential streets.”
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Brent Chesney and ad hoc street committee chairman Andy Taubman have the same thought as Magill about the RTA redirecting more funds to the streets. New RTA chairman, Curtis Rock, has not officially weighed in on this possibility.
Magill answered questions from the audience on the topics of the failed Citizens’ Collection Center (Solid Waste Transfer Station). He cited the main reasons for the failure as:
- the $4.65 million price tag, which would have come in the form of a 20-year debt,
- a raise in solid waste rates, and
- a petition against the facility with 700 signatures from residents who live near the proposed site on Flour Bluff Drive.
He also discussed the positive aspects of privatization of City services and used the municipal golf courses as an example of how privatization has improved the quality of the golf courses while saving the City money.
FBBA member, Michael Morgan, encouraged fellow members to stay in contact with Chad Magill. “He is very accessible and very approachable. He’ll tell you the facts, and he won’t rose-color anything. If you have concerns or want to learn something, of course we have our District 4 representative, but Chad also represents us as an at-large council member. I just want to thank him publicly for the job he’s doing for us out here.”