Author Archives: Scott Tillman

County Authority Upheld in Missouri

Municipalities are creations of your state government. If you search your states governing documents (state constitution, statutes, acts, compiled laws) you’ll find sections dealing with the establishment of local governments. Each state is different and most have multiple types of cities and counties.

Recently in Missouri a circuit judge upheld a county-wide voter approved county charter amendment proposed by initiative to restrict the use of red light cameras. The initiative was popular, it passed with over 72% support. Several cities and a couple taxpayers (who also happen to be elected officials in some of the cities) challenged the ability of the county to stop cities from using red light cameras. The court sided with citizens, you can read the judgment at the link below.

mo-countycharter

 

Red Light Cameras Survey

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Municipal Spending Caps

How to structure a municipal spending cap.

What are tax and expenditure caps?

Tax and expenditure limits (TELs) restrict the level or growth of government revenues or spending to a fixed numerical target or to increases in an index such as population, inflation, personal income, or some combination of these measures.

These limits are common on state governments. They are less common in city government.
Here are two examples:

Nashua, NH

  • 56-c. Limitation on budget increases

Recognizing that final tax rates for the City of Nashua are set by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration pursuant to RSA 21-J:35(1), the mayor, the board of aldermen, and all departments in the City of Nashua including the mayor’s office, aldermanic office, legal department, administrative services division, community services division, community development division, school department, public works division, fire department, police department, public libraries, parking garages and cemeteries shall prepare their annual budget proposals and the Board of Aldermen shall act upon such proposals in accordance with the mandates in this paragraph.

In establishing a combined annual municipal budget for the next fiscal year, the mayor and the board of aldermen shall consider total expenditures not to exceed an amount equal to the combined annual budget of the current fiscal year, increased by a factor equal to the average of the changes in the Consumer Price Index-Urban (CPI-U) of the three (3) calendar years immediately preceding budget adoption as published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This provision shall not prevent the mayor and the board of aldermen from establishing a combined annual municipal budget below this limit.

This provision shall not prevent the mayor and the board of aldermen from appropriately funding any programs or accounts mandated to be paid from municipal funds by state and federal law.

 

  • 56-d. Exception to budget limitation

The total or any part of principal and interest payments of any municipal bond, whether established for school or municipal purposes, may be exempted from the limitation defined in paragraph 56-c upon an affirmative vote of at least ten (10) aldermen. This decision shall be made annually.

In addition, capital expenditures deemed necessary by the mayor and the board of aldermen, subject to recommendation by the capital improvements committee (ref. Paragraph 77-a of the City Charter) may similarly be exempted from this limitation upon an affirmative vote of at least ten (10) aldermen.

 

  • 56-e. Reserve fund

In the event actual property tax collections and/or revenues exceed the budget allocation prescribed in paragraph 56-c, plus additional expenditure authorized pursuant to paragraph 56-d, such excess funds shall be deposited in a reserve account specifically established for the purpose.

These funds shall be drawn upon as a contingent revenue source n succeeding fiscal years, to offset a part of the budget estimated otherwise having to be funded by property taxes, or for any other municipal budget purposes, or to meet federal and state mandates, or for unanticipated emergency expenses, or as a property tax credit, upon an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of the board of aldermen.

 

  • 56-f. Deficit budget control

The actual annual municipal budget shall not incur a deficit, wherein total spending excess total income during the fiscal year. If the total actual and projected income from all sources, including property taxes, municipal, county, state, and federal revenues, and funds transferred from the reserve fund established pursuant to paragraph 56-e during a fiscal year fails to meet actual and projected expenditures for the remaining part of that fiscal year, an automatic, equal and immediate across-the-board percentile cut shall be instituted in the annual budget of every city department cited in paragraph 56-c. The city comptroller (ref. Paragraph 50-b of the City Charter) shall determine the status of actual and projected income vs. expenditures for this purpose, in coordination with the city treasurer (ref. Paragraph 42 of the City Charter) and determine the requisite numeric percentile cut. The board of aldermen, upon notification by the city comptroller and the city treasurer, shall then order the cut.

This cut may be exempted or adjusted upon an affirmative vote of three-fourths of the members of the Board of Aldermen.

This provision shall not prevent the mayor and the board of aldermen from appropriately funding any programs or accounts mandated to be paid from municipal funds by state and federal law.

Marco Island, FL

Section 1.04. – Expenditure Limitations.

Notwithstanding Section 1.03 above, operating expenditures shall be limited to an increase from the prior year’s expenditures of three percent (3%) plus the then-current Federal C.O.L.A. (Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics, Consumer Price Index) per annum; except that this shall not apply to: emergencies; capital expenditures as provided in Section 6.01; expenditures relating to projects or programs funded by grants, gifts, or impact fees; and expenditures, including debt service payments, relating to utility or other enterprise funds which are intended to be self-supporting for governmental accounting purposes; expenditures related to extension of the City’s wastewater utility system to serve unsewered areas provided such expenditures are funded by general obligation bonds or other obligations, including loans, approved by referendum of the electors of the City; and debt service payments related to such obligations.

(Ord. No. 09-15, § 2, 11-9-2009, referendum 1-26-2010)

Section 6.01. – Initiative and Referendum.

(1)        Ten percent (10%) of the qualified electors of the City shall have the power to petition the Council to propose an ordinance or to require reconsideration of an adopted ordinance, provided that such power shall not extend to the budget or capital program or to any ordinances relating to appropriations of money, levy of taxes, or salaries of City officers or employees, but shall extend to an ordinance providing any single capital expenditure in excess of $250,000. If the Council fails to adopt such ordinance so proposed, or to repeal such adopted ordinance, without any change in substance, the Council shall place the proposed ordinance, or the repeal of the adopted ordinance, on the ballot at the next general election, or, in Council’s discretion, at a special election.

(2)        A minimum of five (5) electors may commence initiative or referendum proceedings by filing with the City Manager or other designated official, an affidavit stating they will constitute the petitioners’ committee and be responsible for circulating the petition and filing it in proper form, stating their names and addresses and specifying the address to which all notices to the committee are to be sent, and setting out in full the proposed initiative ordinance or citing the ordinance sought to be reconsidered. Promptly after the affidavit of the petitioner’s committee is filed, the City Manager or other official designated by the Council shall, at the committee’s request, issue appropriate blank petitions to the petitioner’s committee at the committee’s expense.

(Ord. No. 09-15, § 2, 11-9-2009, referendum 1-26-2010)

 

Municipal Spending Cap Survey

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Survey: Liberty In My City

Liberty In Your City

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Civil Asset Forfeiture Model Language

Model language for a municipal charter amendment to address civil asset forfeiture. This language has been tailored to Michigan cities.

New Section ____ of the Charter of the City of ­­____, Michigan

Section ____. Property Seizure and Forfeiture.

As used in this section, “property” shall be liberally construed to include assets and possessions; “employee” includes anyone acting under the authority of the city. A conviction of a criminal offense is a prerequisite to forfeiture and the transfer to the City of _____ of title to property directly used in or derived from that offense. All revenues from forfeited property, including revenue derived from sharing proceeds of forfeited property from cooperation with other federal, state, or local agencies, shall be placed in a separate fund, used only to pay costs directly related to local street repair, and shall not be earmarked or allocated to law enforcement or code enforcement. At any time, a property owner may ask the City or a court to return property that was wrongly seized or because there is no reason for the City to continue to hold the property. No bond shall be required on any property seized under authority of the city. If property is wrongfully seized, the City has no reason to continue to hold the property, or the property owner is not convicted of a criminal offense that has a forfeiture provision, the city shall return, replace, or provide full compensation for any property damaged, defaced, or devalued as a result of seizure by city employees. Records of all property seizures shall be indexed by date, department, name of owner, property type, and seizure value, and include details of the conviction. These records shall be published monthly on the city’s publicly-accessible website consistent with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act 442 of 1976.

 

Let’s break it down:

 

The language is a proposed charter amendment. The first line identifies this as a new law, gives the section of the charter, and the city name. If the language is approved this will not appear in the charter.

New Section ____ of the Charter of the City of ­­____, Michigan

 

Section title. This will appear in the charter. Not everyone is familiar with the phrase “civil asset forfeiture.” In this model “Property Seizure” was used to clarify the issue.

Section ____. Property Seizure and Forfeiture.

 

It is common to provide definitions for terms in the amendment.

                As used in this section, “property” shall be liberally construed to include assets and possessions; “employee” includes anyone acting under the authority of the city.

 

This is the meat and potatoes. Don’t take property unless a law has been broken, and then only take the property involved in the crime or gained because of the crime.

A conviction of a criminal offense is a prerequisite to forfeiture and the transfer to the City of _____ of title to property directly used in or derived from that offense.

 

This line is for cases of forfeiture with a conviction and to address revenue sharing with a state or federal agencies. Law enforcement should not be policing for profit. Proceeds from the sale of property should not go to those taking the property. In this model, the money is used for street repair. Check state statutes, forfeiture proceeds may be required to go into a specific fund. This model attempts to address the problem of local law enforcement teaming up with federal or state agencies to avoid state or local prohibitions on civil asset forfeiture.

All revenues from forfeited property, including revenue derived from sharing proceeds of forfeited property from cooperation with other federal, state, or local agencies, shall be placed in a separate fund, used only to pay costs directly related to local street repair, and shall not be earmarked or allocated to law enforcement or code enforcement.

 

Property owners should not be deprived of their assets indefinitely.

At any time, a property owner may ask the City or a court to return property that was wrongly seized or because there is no reason for the City to continue to hold the property.

 

Many states require a property owner to pay a bond before they are allowed to challenge a seizure.

No bond shall be required on any property seized under authority of the city.

 

If the items seized are perishable or have been damaged, the government should replace or fix the property. It’s important innocent owners not be penalized.

If property is wrongfully seized, the City has no reason to continue to hold the property, or the property owner is not convicted of a criminal offense that has a forfeiture provision, the city shall return, replace, or provide full compensation for any property damaged, defaced, or devalued as a result of seizure by city employees.

 

Transparency is needed to ensure the city complies with the law. This model includes the statutes dealing with government transparency in Michigan.

Records of all property seizures shall be indexed by date, department, name of owner, property type, and seizure value, and include details of the conviction. These records shall be published monthly on the city’s publicly-accessible website consistent with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act 442 of 1976.

 

 

Civil Asset Forfeiture

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Filed under asset forfeiture, Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Criminal Justice Reform, Initiative, Model Langauge, transparency

An Easy Fix?

Tacoma, WA

Alex Hays recently submitted signatures for a ballot measure which will change the city government. The ballot measure proposes a strong mayor form of government. But he made a mistake.

But there was one mistake. In an effort to redraft the city charter, there was mix up and Hays accidentally removed a section of the charter that gives people the power to create initiatives and referendums. If passed, this initiative would take that power away from people in Tacoma.

“We reacted to the city’s request that we put together a different version. They wanted the entire charter reproduced. That made it a little harder to get right and unfortunately that created a chance for this mistake to occur,” said Hays.

Now the city is claiming nothing can be done.

Citizens signed this petition and the measure should appear as signed by citizens. However, if the city council sincerely wants to retain the initiative and referendum portion of the charter (and offer that choice to voters,) they can craft a ballot question that will do the same changes as the petition submitted by Hays, but include the initiative section of the charter. Then the ballot title should make clear what each charter amendment includes:

  • Strong mayor, tighter term limits, and no initiative and referendum.
  • Strong mayor, tighter term limits, and keep initiative and referendum.

The issue getting the highest number of votes would be approved, unless neither ballot question gets over 50% and no changes would be made. I hope the city council acts quickly to ensure voters have this option.

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum, Term limits

Choosing Priorities in Government Spending

my-favorite

Cleveland Heights, OH

The city council wants more money. They decided to pay a research group to do a survey. You can see the survey at the end of the article in this link.

The survey provides some great insights into how voters perceive city spending. One section in particular where respondents gave their opinion of what cuts they would be more willing to see.

If the tax increase fails, the City will have to cut its budget by about another two and a half million dollars or six percent. Please tell me if you would favor or oppose a six percent cut in each of the following city services. The first one is … Do you favor or oppose a six percent cut in that?

  • Fire protection and EMS service  Favor 10%/82% Oppose
  • Police protection Favor 15%/77% Oppose
  • Trash collection and recycling  Favor 15%/77% Oppose
  • Street repair  Favor 16%/76% Oppose
  •  Snow Plowing  Favor 17%/75% Oppose
  •  Parks and recreation  Favor 25%/64% Oppose

I took the liberty of placing these in the order of importance to the respondents. It may be that voters in Cleveland Heights have have great roads and their EMS service is lacking, but I think it’s more likely these are typical priorities for residents. Voters see some government spending as more important than other government spending. Police and Firefighters showing up when you need help is more important than a city park you may or may not use.

Ranking services and prioritizing spending is not something we hear about when cities want to increase taxes. Instead we hear about cutting schools, roads, or police and fire. This poll shows voters have priorities, city councils should also.

Instead of asking for a tax increase to fund roads or schools elected officials should increase transparency and ask voters for tax increases to fund the city services that are the least important to taxpayers.

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Two Years Later Wyoming Supreme Court Rules For Petitioners

The Casper clerk rejected signatures that should have counted.

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Gaining The Initiative

Citizens in Sammamish, WA are expected to gain the ability to initiate legislation this fall.

Earlier this year activists circulated petitions to call for an advisory vote to gauge local support of the initiative process. Voters approved the advisory measure 55% to 45%.

The Sammamish City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to move forward with a resolution that states its intent to adopt citizen-enacted initiative and referendum powers, with Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay and Councilmember Tom Odell voting against.

The limited powers allow residents to create or repeal laws within the city by way of petition. The council decided to put the matter up to the public in the April special election. That nonbinding advisory vote passed with 55 percent approval with a 24 percent voter turnout.

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Safeway Drops Legal Challenge To Initiative Signature Gathering

PRESS RELEASE
SAFEWAY DROPS LEGAL CHALLENGE TO INITIATIVE SIGNATURE GATHERING
Citizen Solutions is pleased to announce that Safeway has dropped its legal challenge to initiative signature gathering at its stores throughout Washington state.
Safeway had sued Citizen Solutions and Progressive Campaigns for their activities in gathering signatures on I-1366, a Tax Reform Act, and I-1401, an initiative to protect endangered animals.  Safeway initially sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, but dropped that request just hours after Citizens Solutions responded with substantial evidence showing that Safeway stores across the state are modern town centers – in Safeway’s own words.  Two weeks later, just hours after Citizens Solutions formally responded to  all of Safeway’s claims by asserting the rights of initiative sponsors under Washington’s constitutional protection for the initiative process, Safeway threw in the towel and asked simply to drop its law suit.
Safeway’s action to file its lawsuit followed similar claims by other stores, including Fred Meyer.  Safeway’s quick turnabout was an acknowledgement that the Washington Supreme Court decision in the Alderwood Mall case from 1981 firmly protects the right of the people to gather initiative and referendum signatures at malls and other locations that are town centers.  Safeway’s lawsuit was dismissed on July 17, 2015.
Fred Diamondstone
Attorney
1218 Third Ave., Suite 1000
Seattle, WA 98101

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Spending Priorities

When it comes to spending priorities, citizens are often entirely dependent on the stewardship of elected officials and public employees. Most people agree things like roads, fire departments, law enforcement, and schools are core functions of government. And most people are willing to pay taxes to support these services. Yet these are the first things threatened with cuts when politicians would like a tax increase. Politicians threaten to reduce library services rather than sell the city golf course (which consistently loses money. This is why initiative and referendum are often used by citizens when they don’t like the priorities of politicians.

 

Maine:

Stavros Mendros has filed paperwork to begin the referendum process and call for a people’s vote.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of concerned Mainers, including three Republican lawmakers, has launched a petition drive for a people’s veto of a controversial bill that extends General Assistance benefits to some immigrants for up to two years.

Mendros is not opposed to immigration but sees the need for prioritizing spending.

“I’m disappointed in the Legislature to come up with $300 million and not take people off of wait-lists. Waiting for nursing homes, our nursing homes are closing down waiting to be properly reimbursed,” Mendros said.

 

 

Milwaukee:

Petitioners want voters to have a say on a new city streetcar project.

If successful, the city would be required to hold a binding referendum before spending $10 million or more to expand or alter the streetcar plan approved by the Common Council in February.

 

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