Our View

 

Our View

 

Date: May 19, 2010
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

Almost no one would want Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis’ job today.

As he and the Longboat Key Town Commission begin the annual ritual of preparing the next fiscal year’s budget and property-tax rates, St. Denis — the CEO of the town — is confronting an $800,000 gap between revenues and expenses. That is a potential $800,000 deficit on a $13.8 million budget, or roughly 6% of the total budget.

The burdens are heavy. Taxpayers must contribute $1.1 million to the town’s three pension plans next fiscal year. The police chief is asking for $200,000 more to add two officers to his staff to fight an increase in crime (see page 3). The town attorney’s budget looks like it may need an additional $150,000 to deal with the contentious Longboat Key Club and Resort expansion application. And town employees, understandably, would gladly welcome a pay raise.

To be sure, St. Denis is in an unenviable position. But it’s also one that hundreds of thousands of American business owners confronted the past three years — precipitous declines in revenues while their companies’ expense structures consumed more than their revenues.

Act like a business owner
Clearly, St. Denis struggles with this challenge — and rightfully so. No CEO in America relishes the duty of making difficult cuts to his business. But in last week’s budget meeting with the Town Commission, St. Denis seemed resigned to the belief that it cannot be done — finding $800,000 in expense cuts without dramatic cuts to Town Hall jobs and adverse effects on services. “I don’t think there are any more elephants to pull out of the hat,” he told commissioners.

And to that end, St. Denis asked commissioners for guidance. Should he proceed with his budget preparation under the scenario of preserving the town’s current levels of service? Which is code for: Will commissioners stand for a budget that shows an increase in the property-tax rate to balance the budget?

To their credit, Commissioners Gene Jaleski and David Brenner did not do what so many in government do, which is simply accept that budget cutting means fewer and less services and can’t be done. This is always the quick response. If you suggest cutting budgets in public schools, the reflex is predictable: That means fewer teachers and elimination of art, music, sports, etc.

Fortunately, Jaleski and Brenner urged St. Denis to make the effort. Offer a budget that cuts $800,000 in expenses. In other words, attack this exercise the way a business owner is forced to address it. Make the cuts or go out of business. Find new revenue (and that doesn’t mean simply raising prices or taxes) and cut expenses.

In these instances, every CEO is charged with evaluating and questioning every aspect of his business, every job, every employee, every product or service. It must be done, however painful. That’s the charge for St. Denis, and that’s the charge he should give to each of his department heads.

Start from scratch
But St. Denis should go one step further: Start over. Imagine the town wiped out by a hurricane and having to start anew. What services would it, could it provide? What services could it do without and still provide the minimum level of service needed and that Longboaters? Throw out all of the town’s legacy costs, particularly in people, and imagine a much leaner, smaller staff doing the bare minimum. What jobs can be cut? Which ones can go part time? Which ones can you cut in the summer.

Start building from scratch.

Then make two lists: one list of the services that will be provided; the other of the services that must be cut. Show the lists to the taxpayers and commissioners. Let them see a quantifiable picture of what it will mean to make cuts.

If St. Denis finds this challenge too conflicting and difficult, he should not be afraid to admit it. Ask for help. Longboat Key has plenty of experts — Lenny Landau and Phil Younger come to mind — who have confronted these very challenges in their careers with productive, successful results.

Commissioner Brenner is right. This is the once-in-a-decade opportunity — in the midst of an economic downturn — to do what heretofore has been impossible in America to achieve: create a smaller less-expensive government.

+ A government success!
Trying to figure out the best course of action on the north Longboat Key beach is like trying to figure out how to cut the town budget. It’s not easy.

Should the town spend $5 million this summer to rebuild a 200-foot-wide North Shore beach and avoid having to install four breakwaters — even if the sand may only last a year?

Or should it do nothing, wait for the 2011 and 2012 renourishment and risk severe property damage to North Shore condominiums?

It’s a good bet town officials and Longboat Key beach consultants will take what steps they can to keep that $5 million sand from washing south.

This story will be ever moving.

Meantime, it’s worth noting and praising Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis; Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Conservation Lands Management; and the West Coast Inland Navigation Board for reaching a sensible solution on the Longboat Pass channel.

The three governments will participate in the dredging of the Longboat Pass channel, thus bypassing the slow-moving U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state environmental bureaucracy.

Everybody wins. This effort will save money for the federal and state governments and for Longboat Key; provide sand for Longboat Key; and restore the channel in a way that’s best for boaters, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.


Sound Off!...More Voices, More Choices

CELL TOWERS

Here are two suggestions for cell towers for Longboat Key:

• Longboat Key resident Patricia Henry sent us the photo of the flagpole cell tower at Bobby Jones Golf Course in Sarasota, maintained by Verizon.

Writes Henry: “As it towers over the trees, the flag can be seen from all over the two golf courses. Everyone agrees that it is a beautiful and inspirational sight. This would be a welcome addition to the north end of Longboat Key. It could be seen by anyone driving from the north or the south.”

• The second suggestion — at the entrance to north Longboat Key at the intersection of Firehouse Court and North Shore Road — came anonymousluy from a north Longboat resident who didn’t want his neighbors’ ire for suggesting the site.

• Final note: North Longboat Key has a big cell-phone reception problem. We should quit denying it. Case in point: Last week, Ringling College of Art + Design hosted a two-day, creativity-in-the-workplace seminar at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts for 25 Manatee and Sarasota business executives.

Throughout the workshops, presenters had their online videos interrupted because of lousy wireless reception. And whenever the group took its breaks, you could see the business executives wandering all over the campus of the art center trying to find a spot where their cellphones could receive decent voice reception.

The workshop attendees were impressed with the Arts Center’s facilities as a site for future business, corporate and leadership conferences. This would be a great use of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts — but only if Longboat Key communications systems join the New Millennium. — Ed.

BEACH SAND

Dear Editor:
I live in Emerald Harbor, among residents who enjoy a private 20-foot deeded beach access.
It was the March 1993 storm when I stood at what was then the edge of our beach — at the spot where our benches now rest.

Beginning with former Mayor Jim Brown’s beach-sand restoration about that time, we have had at least two restorations that I can recall. In front of the benches, we now have 30 yards of fine white sand held in place by sea oats and an additional 35 yards of sand going down the the tidal berm, which slopes on down another five to eight yards to the water’s edge (depending on the tide).

Total: about 200 feet of beach where once there was none.

The 35-yard stretch is now covered with some coarse gray sand, which has drifted in from the north, having been placed there during the last renourishment.

As I stated in our annual homeowners meeting in response to those who complained about the gray sand: Beach sand is like whisky and sex: When it’s good (white), it’s wonderful; when it’s bad (gray), it’s still pretty good.
Weldon Frost
Longboat Key

 

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