Archive for March, 2009

Mar 18 2009

Service cut backs at City Hall

Published by under Budget

Amazing!  The headlines of the Ann Arbor News broke the bad news today about how the losses in the AA City Retirement Pension Fund may force cuts in services over the next three years.  The worst case scenario that Mr Crawford outlined to the reporter is another example of how disingenuous City staff can be.  The fact of the matter is that the worst case scenario Mr Crawford computed was on December 31,  2008 when the Dow was at 8800.  It is not 20% below that and now and I am sure Mr Crawford hopes that he even can make the worst case scenario now!

Defined Benefit Plan

It is amazing to me that the City still offers a defined benefit retirement plan.  They cannot meet the financial obligations that they have now so why are they still oferring a form of pension that virtually no business offers any longer?   I am sure that in addition to “praying” for 7% a year in investment returns, they are also counting on the generosity of the Ann Arbor tax payers to help meet a moral obligation.  I will try to do some calculations on this in the next month but I think they will find that between the VEBA Trust that is less than 25% funded and the Pension Trust that is less than 70% funded, they would need to raise taxes by 15 to 25% to get them out of the hole.  How can the City Council continue to do business the way they are?  I have concluded that they are either in denial or they know they will not be in office when the proverbial feces hits the fan.

The pension plan has lost 50% of its value in the last 18 months.  At 7% annual return, it will take over ten years just to get to where we were 18 months ago!  The pension plan that 8 years ago was funded at 140% is now funded at less than 70%.  We should force our City Managers to stop promising defined benefit plans and take the pension plan out of the hands of well intentioned amateurs before we will all be forced to leave the City because we cannot afford our already ridiculous taxes.

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Mar 13 2009

Ann Arbor Airport Runway Extension

Published by under Ideas Bad

I felt like calling the airline pilot that wrote the column in the Other Voices Column in the Ann Arbor News (Friday, March 13). Sol Castell complained about spending money to add 800 ft to the runway.  The pilot while I am sure that he had good intentions, had no idea what he was talking about.

In the article, the 747 pilot stated that the length of the runway has no bearing on the glide slope a plane flies on approach.  While his statement is basically true,  the real problem is not the length of the runway per se,  rather where it is located.  Picture a runway up close to the foothills of the mountains.  The length of the runway (assuming it is long enough) doesn’t dictate the slope of the approach, but the mountains sure do!   That is the problem at the Ann Arbor Airport that we want to fix.  The real motivation for the construction is to move the approach end of the runway away from the nearby road. (State St) If the approach end of the runaway moves west, then planes can fly a shallower and safer approach over the vehicular traffic on State St.

He was also wrong in stating that larger aircraft will be able to use the longer runway.  Sure there may be one or two larger aircraft that will now be able to land on the longer runway, but 800 feet will not significantly change the mix of aircraft arriving and departing.  To attract bigger and noisier aircraft we would have to have at least 5000 feet of runway and a precision approach.  That is not going to happen for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the proximity of Willow Run  which is a much better airport for small business jets.

The thing that will happen is a safer operation. I wish that the pilot had called me before he put out his erroneous information that may cost a future pilot his life.  I was on the Airport Board for 7 years and a commercial pilot for 32 years. There were several very serious overruns while I was on the Board. Luckily none were fatal.   The current members of the the AA Airport Board are pretty smart folks and I can assure you they do not want to waste your money.

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Mar 08 2009

Good People or Good Equipment?

My 21 years in the the Air Force taught me that “Good People” make up for “Bad Equipment” everyday.  The advantage one achieves by having the best of equipment is always fleeting if you don’t have the best people using it, so given the choice I will always choose the best people and try to hang onto them.   

The Russians are a great example of good people making up for bad equipment.  During the cold war the Russians faced chronic shortages of every strategic material and computer available to us Westerners yet they continued to bluff us into thinking they were a superpower for 40 years.  They did it with their intellect and hard work.  Take a look at vintage 1980 Soviet aircraft.  Lacking sophisticated computers and wind tunnels  for advanced aerodynaminc modelling, the Russians just became very good at copying our basic designs and adapting them to their needs.  The results were nothing less than outstanding.  Couple adequate design and outstanding pilots and the results were a talented air force that was the envy of the world.

So if you ask me whether I would rather have a new city hall or a good police force and I am sure you will know what my answer will be.  Don’t get me wrong, we need an adequate place for our policemen and women to call home and then we need to invest in their training to insure that they are ready to protect us.  Remember, our young men and women don’t gravitate to law enforcement for the money!  They do it because of their desire to serve.  Let’s keep the best and the brightest and make our investments in “them” not the building.  We will all be safer if we do. 

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Mar 08 2009

Police Layoff

Published by under Budget

I was deeply saddened to see Judy McGovern’s column yesterday that broke the news on the proposed layoffs in the Police Department.  During my campaign I asked Police Chief Jones if he could guarantee that when the new building opened he would guarantee that there would not be any layoffs due to budget constraints.  Although that is a tough question, I was pretty certain that his answer would be “No”.   It is ironic that the layoffs are announced not when this new building opened, but now even before they officially break ground. 

I was worried about this eventuality not because my crystal ball on the economy is much clearer than others, but because I have been through more of these business cycles than most of the present council members.  My business sense usually tells me when it is the time to “press on the accelerator”, “time for caution” or “time to step on the brakes”.  For some time now I have been feeling the warning signs that this recesssion is going to get much worse before it gets better.

Municipal finance is the next big crisis we face as a community.  The promises we have made to our City workers, delays in rebuilding our infrastructure, excessive borrowing, an archaeic and punative tax system all are leading us down a path towards total collapse if we do not act soon enough.  This is a time for fundamental change in the way we do business as a City and County.    

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