I’m extremely disappointed in what the Mesa City Council and management did today. We received $90 million from the federal government to support people in our community who have been impacted by COVID-19. Instead of putting this money to use in our community to support things like rent/mortgage, food, and utilities for our residents we’re using accounting gimmickry to dump $50 of the $90 million of this money to balance our own budget. The CARES act direction states “Payments must be used only to cover costs that were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020.” So what the Council and Management are doing is paying for our existing public safety budget for the remainder of the year using these COVID funds to the tune of $50 million. Then the money that was allocated previously to public safety is freed up in the budget and can then be extracted back to the general fund and spent on almost anything.
We are in unprecedented times.
The unemployment rate in Arizona is now at 12.6%. This is the highest it’s been since modern record-keeping or since 1956.
The fed chair anticipates unemployment will peak as high as 25%. To put this in perspective it only reached 24% during the great depression.
In the last 9 weeks 38.6 million people have filed for unemployment
8.16% of American’s mortgages are currently in forbearance
Pre-existing home sales fell 18% in April
If COVID-19 does not subside it’s grip on our economy soon it will leave a lasting impact on our economy. There will be massive holes in balance sheets of individuals, corporations, and states. The people in our community are going to need this money more than ever to pay for shelter, food, medical expenses, and security. Now is not the time to be increasing our budget to take money from the people who desperately need it to survive.
What is the Mesa CARES Small Business Reemergence Program? The Mesa CARES Small Business Reemergence Program is a grant program made possible by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund under the CARES Act. It is designed to assist eligible Mesa businesses with up to 90 days of utilities and rent/mortgage payments and is aimed at those businesses who have experienced interruption caused by required COVID-19 business closures or limited service.
Who can apply for the Mesa CARES Small Business Reemergence Program? This program is intended to assist for-profit, Mesa-based businesses that suffered negative impacts and business interruptions due to required business closures or limited service for the purpose of stemming the spread of COVID-19 that was mandated by an Executive Order of the Arizona Governor.
Business must be an eligible for-profit business type located at a physical, commercial address in the City of Mesa. Businesses in Maricopa County islands or unincorporated areas of Mesa are not eligible.
Business has not received any CARES Act funding or COVID-19 related assistance through a federal program such as the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) Emergency Advance.
Business must have suffered negative financial impacts or business interruptions due to required business closures or limited service, mandated by the Arizona Governor’s Executive Orders regarding COVID-19.
What is the grant amount? Grant caps are undetermined at this time and applying for funding does not guarantee an applicant will receive any funding award. Once the first round of grant applications is closed and the demand analyzed, the City will determine eligibility of the applicants and award amounts for each business, then contact the applicants.
How do I apply? Businesses will be able to access and submit the application via a link on this page beginning Monday, May 11 at 8 a.m.
When is the deadline for applications? The online application submission deadline is Sunday, May 24, 2020 at 5:00PM, (MST). The application and all verification documents must be submitted to the City by that time or the application will be considered incomplete. Technological or other submission difficulties will not excuse the requirement that the application be submitted by the deadline.
I am having problems completing the form online. Can I print the form and deliver it or mail it? For health and safety reasons, the City is not accepting paper applications or documents. However, a Mesa CARES call center representative can assist you in completing your form. Please call 480-644-CARE (2273). The call center team will be available 8:00AM- 5:00PM Monday – Sunday. Please be prepared to provided call center representatives with the verification documents to be submitted with your application.
If you require special accommodations to complete your application, please call 480-644-2273.
How do I know if my business is in an unincorporated portion of Maricopa County or county island and not within City of Mesa?
Please visit the “Explore Mesa” map at: https://opengis.mesaaz.gov/pages/maps. Click “Search By Location” and type in your address. If the address you entered is in Maricopa County, the map will return a result of “Non-Mesa Location.”
I live in Mesa and am the sole proprietor of a home-based business. I don’t have a commercial address. May I apply for this program? No. At this time, the program is intended for businesses that are in a “bricks and mortar,“ commercial setting within the city of Mesa and that have been impacted by Executive Orders that mandated closure or limited service. As a home-based business owner, you may be included in a different round of funding or will likely be eligible for funding under the Mesa CARES technical assistance program and/or a future, separate relief program.
What other businesses are not eligible for the program? Specific types of businesses not eligible for program participation are:
Franchisees that are not licensed to exclusive Arizona-headquartered franchises.
Publicly held companies.
Real estate investment firms.
Firms involved in speculative activities that develop profits from fluctuations in price rather than through the normal course of trade, such as wildcatting for oil and dealing in commodities futures, when not part of the regular activities of the business.
Dealers of rare coins and stamps.
Firms involved in lending activities, such as banks, credit unions, check cashing, finance companies, factors, leasing companies, insurance companies (not agents), and any other firm whose stock in trade is money.
Pyramid sales plans, where a participant’s primary incentive is based on the sales made by an ever-increasing number of participants. Such products as cosmetics, household goods, and other soft goods lend themselves to this type of business.
Firms engaged in illegal activities, including the production, servicing, or distribution of otherwise legal products that are to be used in connection with an illegal activity, such as selling drug paraphernalia or operating a motel that permits illegal prostitution.
Gambling activities, including any business whose principal activity is gambling. While this precludes grants to racetracks, casinos, and similar enterprises, the rule does not restrict grants to otherwise eligible businesses, which obtain less than one-third of their annual gross income from either the sale of official state lottery tickets under a state license, or legal gambling activities licensed and supervised by a state authority, including businesses with an off-track betting license.
Principle or owner of the business is currently incarcerated or on parole.
Businesses engaged in the growth, harvest, storage, transport, distribution, use or otherwise providing cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, including cultivation facility, dispensary, and infusion facility.
Any business owned, in whole or part, by a City of Mesa official or employee who, in their official capacity, participates in the oversight, development or implementation of the Mesa CARES business program.This exclusion also includes any business owned by a relative of such public officer or employee. (A.R.S. § 38-502(9).)
This list of ineligible businesses may be updated by the City as the program continues.
If I am not eligible for this program, what other resources are available? The City of Mesa Office of Economic Development has launched the Mesa CARES Business Assistance Center as Mesa’s key source of information and assistance for businesses needing access to financial support programs and resources during the COVID-19 crisis. To discover other resources that may be available, please visit www.selectmesa.com/MesaCARESbusiness.
I own multiple businesses. Can I apply for assistance more than once? If you have multiple, eligible businesses that are separate legal entities in Mesa, you may submit a separate application for each business.
When will I hear if my application was successful? The application deadline is Sunday, May 24 at 5:00PM. All applications and verification documents must be submitted at that time or the application will be considered incomplete. The City anticipates that the evaluation period will run approximately 7-10 days during which time City Council will be presented with recommendations. Applicants should check the www.mesaaz.gov/MesaCARES for program updates.
How will awardees be notified? The City of Mesa will utilize email to communicate with all applicants. Be sure to check your email regularly, including spam folders. We recommend you add MesaCARESBusiness@MesaAZ.gov to your contact list to make sure you receive updates.
What if I don’t have an Employer Identification Number (EIN)/Tax ID? In Arizona, sole proprietors with no employees can use their social security numbers (SSN) as an EIN.
How do you calculate “Full-time Equivalent” Employees? The definition of full-time equivalent (FTE) is the hours worked by one employee on a full-time basis. Therefore, two part-time positions (.50 FTE) could be used to equate to 1 FTE. On an annual basis, an FTE is considered to be 2,080 hours, which is calculated as: 8 hours per day x 5 work days per week x 52 weeks per year = 2,080 hours per year
What is considered a Utility? For the purposes of this grant, a utility can be water, gas, electric, phone, cable, and internet. A bill is required documentation for each utility for which you are seeking assistance. These utilities must be utilities utilized for business operations and cannot be exclusively personal utility accounts of the business owner.
What documentation do I need to provide? Applicants must submit a W-9. If you don’t have one, you can find this simple form at the IRS website https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw9.pdf. If you are requesting commercial mortgage assistance, you must provide a bill or statement dated after March 1, 2020 evidencing your mortgage payment. If you are requesting rental assistance, you must provide a bill or invoice dated after March 1, 2020 evidencing your rental amount or a copy of your current lease. If requesting assistance for utilities, you must provide a copy of one bill dated after March 1, 2020 for each utility.
If you have not provided at least two pieces of documentation that verify your Mesa business address, you must upload additional documentation that matches the business address listed on the application. In this case, other acceptable forms of documentation include, but are not limited to, Mesa business licenses, articles of incorporation or other proof from the Arizona Corporation Commission, last submitted tax return and recent supplier invoices.
If you require special accommodations to complete your application, please call 480-644-2273
How small businesses can apply for free money from CARES act.
I’ve been studying the CARES act in the last week since it was signed into law. I wanted to link to a few resources for small businesses impacted by the Coronavirus. There are two separate loans available, the economic injury disaster loan and the payroll protection program.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan
If your business has been severely impacted and you are in need of immediate money you can apply for the economic injury disaster loan here – https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/ remember that false information provided under self-certification under penalty of perjury pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1746 for verification purposes.
I have heard from a couple of sources that if you apply for this EIDL loan then that amount is not forgivable and will have to be subtracted from the PPP loan below. If you can you may want to hold off on applying for this EIDL.
Payroll Protection Program
The payroll protection program loan if used properly is entirely forgiven by the government. They can be used to cover:
Payroll including benefits
Mortgage interest (incurred before February 15th, 2020)
Rent (agreement must have been in place prior to February 15th, 2020)
Utilities (agreement must have been in place prior to February 15th, 2020)
Loans can be used to cover expenses over the 8 weeks following the day the loan was made. You must maintain employee and compensation levels.
Payroll costs are capped at $100,000 annualized for each employee.
Payments are to be deferred for 6 months
Interest is still accrued at 1%
The loan is due in 2 years
No pre-payment penalties
No collateral is necessary for these loans
No personal guarantees are required for these loans
All of the following can apply for a loan if you have less than 500 employees
On April 10th independent contractors and self-employed can apply.
Your lender will require this application which can be downloaded by clicking here. They will also require additional documentation specific to the lender you choose. This application will be open until June 30th.
You must certify the following are true
Current economic uncertainty makes the loan necessary to support your ongoing operations.
The funds will be used to retain workers and maintain payroll or to make mortgage, lease, and utility payments.
You have not and will not receive another loan under this program.
You will provide to the lender documentation that verifies the number of full-time equivalent employees on payroll and the dollar amounts of payroll costs, covered mortgage interest payments, covered rent payments, and covered utilities for the eight weeks after getting this loan.
Loan forgiveness will be provided for the sum of documented payroll costs, covered mortgage interest payments, covered rent payments, and covered utilities. Due to likely high subscription, it is anticipated that not more than 25% of the forgiven amount may be for non-payroll costs.
All the information you provided in your application and in all supporting documents and forms is true and accurate. Knowingly making a false statement to get a loan under this program is punishable by law.
You acknowledge that the lender will calculate the eligible loan amount using the tax documents you submitted. You affirm that the tax documents are identical to those you submitted to the IRS. And you also understand, acknowledge, and agree that the lender can share the tax information with the SBA’s authorized representatives, including authorized representatives of the SBA Office of Inspector General, for the purpose of compliance with SBA Loan Program Requirements and all SBA reviews.
Applying for forgiveness
You must request through your lender that is servicing the loan once it is established. You must provide documentation to verify the requirements above. You must also certify that your statements are true. The lender will have 60 days to decide on forgiveness based on this criteria.
Last month at a Council meeting I voted against pay increases for our top city officials. Below is a chart showing pay increases for their respective positions over the last 20 years. The red line is the average for the citizens of Mesa. This chart compares the citizens of Mesa salary increases per capita to the four positions that the Council sets annually.
It is not sustainable to give our executives salary increases at this rate while the Citizens we represent are not seeing like pay increases in the economy. Further, if we can’t afford to pay the current pension liabilities how can we offer such drastic pay increases?
In addition to the unsustainability of executive pay increases year over year, there exists another massive problem. We have pension liabilities that are severely underfunded. As of last year, the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System or PSPRS for Mesa fire is only 50.5% funded and Mesa Police 46.99% funded. The retirement for the remaining City of Mesa employees in the Arizona State Retirement System or ASRS is only 70.5% funded.
ASRS Will Break in the Future
If you look at the breakdown of the asset classes you can see that ASRS is heavily invested in equities or the stock market. This means when the next stock market downturn comes ASRS will be in trouble. Typically retirement funds are diversified across multiple asset classes so they are immune to these market gyrations. The issue is they are so grossly underfunded they have no choice but to invest in risky assets in hopes that they meet their goal of a 100% funded ratio.
While PSPRS is severely underfunded you can see they have at least diversified. They did this after the board bankrupt PSPRS circa 2008.
At the end of the day, neither the ASRS or PSPRS retirement funds are healthy. If we can’t afford the retirement we’ve promised to employees without massive tax increases how can we possibly be handing out raises so far in excess of what our citizens are experiencing?
2019 Mesa Average Residential Household Cost Comparison
The purpose of this report is to analyze the amount paid by the typical Mesa household for direct services provided by the City of Mesa. These amounts are then compared to seven other comparable cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
This report takes into account property tax, sales tax, and utility services as of July 2019. This report assumes the same consumption levels for water and wastewater services. For property tax we use median single-family home value in each city for the analysis. The sales tax numbers are based on Phoenix metropolitan household income. The purpose of this is to reflect the typical residential household would pay for each of the services or what would be paid in taxes in the respective city.
Residential solid waste services for Mesa are estimated at $362 per household.
In the above chart the annual water charge is based on a typical single-family residential monthly water consumption of 10,000 gallons. The annual total cost for the typical Mesa household is $1,138.
Even though Mesa has the third highest sales tax rate at 2% our sales tax revenue per household is only $636. This lack of revenue indicates a poor economic situation.
For this analysis the Phoenix metropolitan median household income of $73,291 per 2017 census survey. Phoenix metropolitan median household income was utilized to make a comparison between cities.
Mesa does not have a primary property tax but a secondary property tax. Mesa ranks the lowest for property tax collection for this reason. The median single-family LPV for each city, per the Maricopa County Assessor, is below.
Only the City of Mesa and the Town of Gilbert levy a secondary property tax.
On an annual basis cities study whether a rate increase is needed. Listed below is a summary of the adjustments for the typical residential customer as of July 2019.
Proud to announce our website is complete and we have started a new initiative to modify the City of Mesa charter. It’s called “Yes on Affordable Utilities”. This will push to preserve our utilities by making sure adequate investments are made into their financial sustainability. More details can be found on the website, https://voteyesonaffordableutilities.com
“Yes on Affordable Utilities” is a community-driven effort to reduce your City of Mesa utility rates, this includes your water, wastewater, sewer, trash, and electric. Today for every $100 you spend on these Mesa utilities $32 is skimmed off the top to balance the budget and pay for unrelated expenses like a subsidized private airport, golf course, professional sports complexes, and ASU campuses. This has led to uncontrollable water costs and utility rates in Mesa.
This week Mesa’s bond rating agency reports were released by S&P and Moody’s, two of the three largest credit rating agencies.
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the financial health of Mesa and I feel like now would be an appropriate time. If you don’t follow finances or understand accounting, I would be glad to meet and explain further in person, 480-648-3756, if you have any questions or concerns.
The most relevant thing I want to outline in this article is that we not only have a fiduciary responsibility for the city of Mesa (as a municipality), but ultimately our primary responsibility is for the future welfare of all 500,000 people residing here. It is extremely important that we draw a distinction between the two because what looks good at the city level is a lot of the time detrimental to the people who live in Mesa. This is mainly due to higher taxes and utilities to cover the ever-increasing costs.
Good for Mesa Bad for Taxpayers and Utility Customers
Let me explain by giving a few examples of what I’m referring to. As the City’s financial situation becomes worse due to its increased spending, the bond rating agencies would normally lower Mesa’s credit rating. To prevent this from occurring, the city must raise additional revenue to replenish their funds and cover their operating costs. There are five ways the city can accomplish this: 1) neglect the investment in infrastructure (capital improvement projects), 2) amortize the debt over a longer time period, 3) create new debts (bonds), 4) increase utility rates, and 5) increase sales tax (as a percentage). We have done all five, here are some examples:
Lack of Investment in Critical Infrastructure
In the above example, you can see that over $3.2 billion is anticipated to be invested in our Mesa over the next 8 years. What you should also take away from this is the City anticipates asking the voters for approximately $1.1 billion dollars of more debt which will appear on the 2020 ballot.
Now if we look at the above projections we only have around $370 million. To be exact it is estimated that we are short $2,857,835,493. If you can’t count that many commas that is $2.8 billion dollars. The main cause of this neglect is due to the massive transfer of utility revenue from the enterprise fund, to the general fund, where it can be used for discretionary spending. Instead, utility revenue should be reinvested in critical infrastructure. Failing to invest utility revenue in repairing, maintaining, and upgrading the utility system is extremely destabilizing and will ultimately lead to 1) massive amounts of capital needed in the form of debt (paid by taxpayers), or 2) the deterioration of the utility system (example to follow).
The increase for the transfers can be seen year over year below:
Here is the relevant excerpt from the bond rating reports. I am proposing we do exactly what the bond rating agency reports suggest and cap on the amount of money the city is permitted to transfer out of the enterprise fund and into the general fund for discretionary spending.
Organizations and companies don’t normally function this way
This quote is from this year’s credit rating report, in which the credit rating agencies recognize this as a problem. In a normal functioning organization or corporation, capital assets are depreciated over a long time period to determine how much money should be held in reserves to pay for these investments. However, the city uses its utility system to leverage a massive amount of debt to ultimately transfer utility revenues to the general fund to be spent on discretionary items. The goal is to load up the system with debt rather than address the ever-increasing expenditures.
Holding voters hostage
I refer to utility bonds as, “holding voters hostage”. I felt this way when I ultimately had to vote to approve them this month. You will constantly hear the argument that we have debt because voters approved it. Of course voters are going to approve bonds for clean water and infrastructure, who in their right mind wouldn’t. The main problem is that the money being generated from the Mesa utility enterprise and its debts is not being reinvested in utility infrastructure and instead is being siphoned off in the amount of 30% every year.
$2 Billion in debt
Mesa’s debt over the last 20 years has increased by approximately 205%. In the next few years, we will break the $2 billion dollar debt figure. The politicians have shown a level of irresponsibility with the City’s budget as outlined by these massive debt increases and utility rate increases.
From 1998 to 2008 the City of Mesa has increased its debt, on average, 5.97%, annually. Now let’s assume we increase our debt year over year at the same percentage. This assumes a baseline of 2019 indexed to 100, more information can be found on indexing here, https://www.dallasfed.org/research/basics/indexing.aspx . Here is what the future projections show. This amount of debt is wildly unsustainable.
When you run out of money amortize your liabilities
The other issue hurting Mesa’s financial stability is Mesa’s pension liability. Instead of addressing the pension liability problems head-on, Mesa has decided to not address the problem and let someone else deal with it in the future. Mesa has amortized our PSPRS liabilities from 20 years to 30 years using a 25-year pay off schedule.
Outlined in the chart below is the massive pending pension crisis, totaling almost $600 million in unfunded liabilities:
This issue is also outlined in the bond rating reports.
Luckily we’re a monopoly…
It is important to remember the bond rating agencies have one concern: to protect the investor. They do not care about the future sustainability of our citizens. This is an extremely important distinction that needs to be made. While these reports are essential to analyzing the fiscal health of our municipality they bear no burden on the future sustainability of our city, or the wealth of our residents. In fact, you could argue the opposite is true. They recognize we are a monopoly and we can, and have, continuously increased taxes and utilities to pay these liabilities. Utility rate increases are a regressive inflationary tax impacting the poor and middle class disproportionately. These quotes below are from this year’s report.
This chart below shows the runaway inflation costs of water vs. the average income in Mesa:
Massive Sales Tax Increases
The above chart is another example of a major problem instead of solving the spending issues we continuously burden the tax-payer. This chart shows that on average we increase the sales tax by 5% every year. One percent in 1998 to two percent in 2018 is a 100% increase over the duration of 20-years or 5% every year. Here’s what this looks like over the next 80 years.
Mesa’s Eroding Wealth
There is one chart that summarizes the overall health of the municipality and that is the net position. This takes all of your assets and subtracts your liabilities. It’s the equivalent of an individual’s net worth. The chart below shows the comparison of Mesa’s net position compared to the five largest cities in the state. While we rank third in size on this chart we come in last as it pertains to wealth.
What’s worse is a city has assets that it cannot sell. Like street asphalt, lights, restrict funds, etc. If you remove these assets, our wealth plummets into insolvency. This can be found in our unrestricted net position. Our wealth is negative $658 million.
Government spending whether through debt financing or direct taxes takes money from the private sector. This will continuously lower our living standards and damage our economy.
It is important to note that this is not an issue of liquidity in which you can just keep issuing more debt/bonds. The issue is one of insolvency. The people of Mesa are the revenue source for the city. You can only take so much of their annual income before they have nothing left to give. As we start to see a huge rise in homelessness, we need to ask ourselves the question, “what is the cause?” I would say it’s simple. Picture yours or an average individuals income as a pie chart. As utilities, government taxes, rent, mortgage, etc. keep going up, the average individual is not seeing increases in pay – this becomes unsustainable and begins stressing the entire system. For a more in-depth macroeconomic view of this topic, I would recommend, “Big Debt Crises, by Ray Dalio”.
Home Rule Approval plummets
Home Rule gives the City of Mesa the ability to control our own budget as opposed to having state-mandated limits on our spending. It appears the people of Mesa are becoming wise as “Home Rule” approval has plummeted over the last two elections. It fell from 83% approval in 2008 to 71% in 2014. In the last election it fell an additional 14% from 72% to 58%. Losing home rule would mean massive budget cuts. Instead, we should pass a charter amendment to limit the transfers from the enterprise fund to the general fund at 20%. The alternative would be a lot more difficult to manage.
Mesa’s wealth is your wealth, collectively. You should exercise extreme caution when politicians tell you that spending more money through bonds and debt financing is the path to wealth. It is, in fact, the exact opposite. Debt is an extremely powerful tool that can be used to disguise today’s problems while burdening future citizens of Mesa with these liabilities if it’s not used properly. We should invest Mesa tax and utility revenues in maintaining and repairing our aging infrastructure and addressing our pension obligations. Only after Mesa has addressed these long term issues should Mesa tax and utility revenues be used for any discretionary projects. Amortization of liabilities sets a dangerous trap that our kids will have to deal with it when it’s snowballed into a massive debt that will be too big to pay back. Be cautious of people who simply regurgitate bond rating agency reports without actually digesting them.