Lately, it seems as though every week Longboat Key Mayor Lee Rothenberg is urging or Town Manager Bruce St. Denis is nudging town commissioners to raise taxes.
Last week, for instance, Rothenberg made another pitch to his colleagues to raise the town tax rate from 1.4952 mills to 1.6 mills. And two weeks ago, St. Denis showed commissioners how the Sanibel Island City Council raised its millage rate 44.6% for three years after Hurricane Charley — from 1.7 mills to 2.5 mills — to build up its reserves. As City Editor Kurt Schultheis reported last week, Sanibel now has a disaster reserve of $4.5 million and total reserves of $15.1 million. Wow.
Compare that to Longboat Key’s reserves of $4.7 million.
Apparently, the way St. Denis sees it, the town doesn’t have enough money in reserve to deal with the aftermath of a direct hurricane hit, even though it has $20 million of insurance coverage, which is $7.3 million more than Sanibel spent after Charley.
What’s more, he worries about the continuing strains of the recession on the budget for next year, suggesting that a tax hike will be inevitable.
Sure, we’d all like to have a huge cash cushion — far more than we would ever need. But let’s be realistic: $15 million in reserves would be the size of the annual town budget. No way.
One of the questions to ask is this: In whose bank account would you rather have excess cash — yours or the town’s? While the city council in Sanibel may feel secure with its $15 million cash cushion, that’s money that would be better left in the hands of taxpayers.
What’s more, it’s not as if the town of Longboat Key would not have access to capital in an emergency.
Let’s remember: The Town Commission has the power to tax. It also has the power to raise the millage rate to a legal limit of 10 mills. If Longboat Key needed to borrow funds for an emergency, it could, without much strain.
Thankfully for taxpayers, and to some surprise, the majority of Longboat commissioners — Vice Mayor Bob Siekmann and Commissioners Gene Jaleski, Peter O’Connor and Jim Brown — appears to be holding firm and resisting the mayor and town manager’s lobbying. Their position: Keep the millage rate at 1.4952 mills. Rothenberg wants 1.6 mills.
Pressure is building. The first and final readings of the town budget and tax rates are scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 14 and 5:01 p.m. Sept. 29, respectively, at Town Hall.
You can be sure there will be another round of lobbying for higher taxes. But let’s hope the majority doesn’t cave. We have the cushion we need.
+ Pipeline to Gov. Crist
It’s not too late. Longboaters have until Friday, Sept. 11, to plead their case to Gov. Charlie Crist on the Port Dolphin LLC liquefied natural-gas pipeline. It’s worth the effort.
Port Dolphin officials say they will invest more than $40 million in the construction of the pipeline, which will run about 28 miles 100 feet under water in the Gulf of Mexico, terminating between Egmont Key and Anna Maria Island at Port Manatee.
The project will be good for Florida consumers and the economy. Port Dolphin will bring additional energy supplies to the state and create jobs, both of which Florida needs.
About the only problem with the project is that its path is slated to run through two prime sources of sand that could be used by Longboat Key and other coastal communities for beach renourishment. If adjustments are not made to the proposed path of the pipeline, the results will cost Longboat Key residents (and other communities) millions of dollars to find and retrieve new sources of sand.
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis told Longboat Key Kiwanians earlier this summer that every mile farther that sand must be transported adds 40 cents a cubic yard to the cost. In the last renourishment, the town pumped 1.5 million cubic yards at a cost of $21 million. If sand is dredged from a site just 5 miles farther than where the town last dredged, the cost would rise at least $3 million. Add another $1 million to find and permit the site. Coastal Planning & Engineering, the beach consultant for Longboat Key and Manatee County, estimates the proposed path of the pipeline would add more than $50 million over four decades to the cost of sand for Manatee County.
Clearly, this is a balancing act on how public resources should be allocated.
Whatever decision is reached should be done so with the idea that nothing is free — neither the use of the sand by Longboat Key nor the bottoms of the Gulf of Mexico for Port Dolphin. There’s a price and cost for both.
Heretofore, however, the state and federal governments have not charged local jurisdictions for dredging sand, save for the permitting fees. Nor have they charged pipeline companies for placing pipes along the Gulf bottoms. But now we have competing interests who want the same resource.
In the marketplace, the highest bidder would win.
But, in this instance, Gov. Crist, we hope, will consider the consequences.
To award Port Dolphin its desired path would deny Longboat Key and Manatee County use of sand these two jurisdictions already have identified for future use. The cost would fall disproportionately on Longboat taxpayers because we always pay 70% of the renourishment cost ourselves.
On the other hand, to force Port Dolphin to change its course would raise the cost of Port Dolphin’s energy for Florida consumers, who are also taxpayers.
There’s room for compromise, mitigation and compensation — on both sides.
Let Gov. Crist know that Longboat Key and Manatee County taxpayers have much at stake.
+ Stimulus: legal plunder
Here are your stimulus dollars at work:
A friend in Phoenix recently received an e-mail from a business associate. It said:
“I’m currently consulting with a design-build company that has won about $1.5 billion in federal contracts within the last 90 days. They are actively searching for a Native American tribal-owned company to help them with the 78% small-business spend requirement placed on them by the government.
“Do you have any tribal contacts that may be interested? They are expecting more awards before the bidding season ends in October, so the problem is compounding.”
Unless we’re missing something here, this is the usual government-politician approach — rather than select contractors on the basis of competence and competitive bidding, the federal government selects contractors, or rather redistributes your wealth, on the basis of race, color and tribe.
It’s against the law for you to hire that way, but it’s OK for those who make the laws to do it.
As Frederick Bastiat put it centuries ago: legalized plunder.