It happens every spring … From The Longboat Observer, April 22:
“St. Denis also told commissioners the millage rate would have to be raised from 1.4903 mills to 1.6453 mills to maintain services for the 2010-11 fiscal year. If not, services would have to be cut this summer.
“Said St. Denis: ‘I need to know whether you want to maintain the level of service or make more cuts before I present you with a preliminary budget June 1. We are very tight now.’
“Commissioner Robert Siekmann said he did not want to cut the town’s level of service.
“‘I don’t think we can go any lower in our level of service because we are already not happy with our reduction of officers,’ Siekmann said. ‘We have done everything we can.’”
You could play that recording in every Town Hall in Florida. We’ve certainly heard it here before. Just insert a few past commissioners’ names in place of Commissioner Siekmann.
It is always framed the same way — there’s not enough money, services must be cut.
The good news is the Longboat Key Town Commission began addressing the budget two weeks ago, thanks to the urging of Commissioner David Brenner, an old hand at this from his days trying to keep the city of Philadelphia from collapsing financially. Typically, the commission waits until June when the town manager issues his projected budget, making it difficult for the commissioners to consider creative options.
Talking about the budget in April also will help avoid succumbing to the “either -or” strategy of “Here are your choices: Keep the level of services and pay more in taxes or cut services and keep the tax rate the same or lower.”
That option is frustrating for taxpayers. That’s not how they operate their businesses or households. In business, for instance, the excercise goes more like this:
A. The problem: Revenues are going to be less than they were the year before.
B. Unless the business adjusts, its expenses will outpace its income — a deficit.
C. To adjust, then business’ top executives begin the process: Where are the problem areas? What choices and options do we have to make expenses equal to or less than income?
The answer is always the same: Raise revenues, cut expenses or a combination of both.
D. Begin to examine the above options. And start with the expenses, not the revenues. In business, it’s easier to cut expenses than it is to increase sales, particularly in a downturn. In government, raising revenue just takes a vote to increase taxes.
But in today’s economic climate, raising taxes should be at the bottom of the option list.
Start with expenses. Every expense should be challenged, the necessity of every job analyzed.
In government, however, the first position is always: Save jobs.
Although this is a noble approach, it’s not the right one. If a business is to survive, prosper and reward its shareholders and employees, it always strives for efficiency improvements. Often, this means adapting to new technologies to cut the cost of delivering goods and services. And let’s face it: A job is a cost. It’s not a benefit, or a guarantee for life.
As painful and heartless as it may seem, this is the mindset that all of the town’s managers and department heads must adopt. When downturns hit businesses, in the end, it’s more important to preserve the company than it is to preserve unnecessary jobs.
Another business principle, one to which every CEO will attest: Tough times become an organization’s best opportunity to enact dramatic change. What’s more, once the cutbacks are completed, the surviving entity is more efficient and better prepared to face the future and profit in the recovery.
So this is the hour Town Manager Bruce St. Denis can show his leadership. It will be his toughest challenge in 15 years he has served as town manager.
As St. Denis begins this process, he is facing an estimated $2 million revenue shortfall compared to expenses of roughly $15 million.
It’s not an envious task. But in his initial round of analysis, St. Denis should squeeze out every cost possible that will not affect the most essential services his customers receive in return for what they pay.
St. Denis knows the drill. What expenses can he postpone? What employee benefits can he trim? What subpar employees should be let go?
This will be painful, as St. Denis knows, but he also knows it must be done.
+ Take a test walk with sand
Before you spend $25,000, $30,000 or even $80,000 on a new car, you take it for a test drive. Or before you buy that $500, $1,200 or $2,000 new dress, you try it on, walk around in it and stand in front of the mirror.
In that vein, before taxpayers spend $28 million to $50 million on a new beach, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to spread out walkable swaths of the different types of sand so Longboaters can see it, feel it and walk on it?
Beach engineers can talk all day about the practical differences, advantages and disadvantages of sand types. But this reminds us of interior home decorating. Leave that to most men, and you’ll get a solid, brick hut with working plumbing. As for aesthetics, you can’t deny a woman’s touch. Touch, feel and looks can add just as much value as the foundation.
Let’s take a test walk.
+ Crist unveiled
As expected, Gov. Charlie Crist’s hometown newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, published last Sunday a 1,600-word exposition entitled, “The Rise and Fall of Charlie Crist.”
It was a good read. But it could have been told in only 73 words — those of former Florida Republican
Party Chairman Tom Slade of Jacksonville. Slade summarized Crist’s career quite succinctly for the Times:
“He got elected education commissioner and spent the entire time running for attorney general. He got to be attorney general and spent the entire time running for governor. When he got to be governor, he spent the first two years running for vice president and the last two running for the United States Senate,’’ said Slade. “Finally the electorate says enough is enough. We want someone in government that cares more about us than him.”
Longboat Key Mayor George Spoll asked us to clarify last week’s Sound Off question regarding beach sand.
We described the proposed sand for the next beach renourishment as a “mulatto” sand — a mix of white and dark sand.
To be more precise, the Town Commission has chosen a dual layer of sands — a less-white sand (not fine white) and a coarse gray sand underneath.
So, same question: What’s your opinion? Let us hear from you.
Would you support adding a layer of white sand above the high-tide line to keep our tradition of white-sand beaches?
At what point would the cost be prohibitive to you — 10% more than $35 million, or $38.5 million? Or would
20% more, or $42 million, be too prohibitive?
E-mail your response to email@example.com or go online at yourobserver.com and do a search for Sound Off; add your comments below the story. Meantime, three responses:
CELL TOWER & SAND
Put the cell tower on Sister Key. Dress it up as an Australian pine. Just do it. The “Don’t Build the Ringling Bridge Support Group” needs some new members.
Take the money from the cell tower lease and use it toward the best beach sand we can get.
Because most of the island is owned by non-residents who have no vote on their taxes, or anything else for that matter, at least allow them to pay (non-homestead owners pay more taxes than residents) for a beautiful beach that they can visit and enjoy.
The last beach renourishment with dark sand was a disaster.
It was impossible to walk on the dark slush, and everyone was complaining.
Over the course of the next two years, the dark sand wandered south and not only is it an eyesore now, it is also too hot to walk on in the summer.
I totally agree with Bob Gault’s assessment. Let’s use white sand as he suggested, replenish a year later than planned and figure out a way to keep the sand from shifting at the hot spots in the meantime.
By then a 20% increase over the cost of mulatto sand won’t hurt so much.
As for the cell tower, I would support a tower in the form of a tall tree.
Isn’t it the commissioners’ responsibility to watch how our tax revenues are spent?
At present, Longboat Key is financially hard-pressed. Those are two good reasons to conserve funds.
On my last trip to the French Riviera the beaches were dark, pebble-like sand particles, and the beaches were jammed. So much for the necessity of white sand (which, as we all know, will not last for long) to attract tourists.