Our View

 

Our View

 

Date: October 23, 2013
by: Observer Staff

 
 

Perhaps Longboat Key town commissioners can show those uttlerly incompetent of managing other people’s money (that would be Congress and the president) how it’s done.

At long last, there is a reasonable idea to address Longboat Key’s version of unfunded entitlements — that would be the town’s more than $30 million in unfunded town-employee pensions.

Thanks to the persuasive financial logic primarily of Armando Linde, a retired economist at the International Monetary Fund, Longboat Key resident and member of the town’s Investment Advisory Committee, committee members concluded last week the town can meet its obligations without taking on more debt by issuing bonds.

That is, if the Town Commission and town staff can stick to fiscal discipline. That is, if the Town Commission and town staff can discipline themselves to budget every year the funds necessary to meet and exceed the 30-year amortization required by state pension laws.

In other words, it would be akin to homeowners overpaying on their mortgage to retire it ahead of schedule.

But that takes discipline and commitment. Some committee members, including Commissioner Jack Duncan, talked of the Town Commission adopting a policy statement that forces discipline — that requires the commission to make the annual payments and then some. Good concept, but no commission can lock its successors into such a scheme without first adding such a requirement to the town charter. Which isn’t likely.

Instead, the approach should be the way businesses typically operate. If, say, the board of directors says the business should pay down its debt ahead of the term of a loan or bond covenants, that task becomes the responsibility of the chief executive officer. He is charged with managing the business to meet the board’s expectations.

That’s all it takes. Instruct Town Manager David Bullock to propose a pay-down plan and then stick to it.
Not just Bullock, but commissioners as well.

Better yet, consider taking the matter a step further. We have long advocated the Town Commission devise an incentive pay plan for the town manager. Give him targets and timelines to increase productivity, cut costs and pay down the town’s pension debt. The better he performs, the more he would earn.

This works in the private sector. It can work in the public sector. But it takes three things: discipline, political courage and setting and sticking to the right priorities.

Longboat Key’s $25 million, $30 million or $43 million in long-term debt — depending on how you measure it — is merely pennies compared to the $17 trillion debt that we let our government representatives accumulate in Washington, D.C. But if the Longboat Key town commissioners and staff can show the fiscal discipline required to pay down the debt through the town’s annual budget process, those cowards in Washington should be able to do the same thing. It’s really no different. It takes the same political courage and discipline. The only difference is in the zeros behind the numbers.

+ ‘We’re entitled’
Let’s put some numbers in context.

Look closely at the above table.

Those who follow the money that flows in and out of Longboat Key Town Hall know that every year there is always a degree of haggling and gnashing among town commissioners over how big or bigger the town’s annual budget will be. Or whether the town’s millage rate should go up or down a 10th of a point or two.

That’s good.

It’s good that commissioners and the electorate show such interest in Longboat Key’s tax rates and fiscal management.

But in the overall scheme of government budgets and taxation, it’s accurate to say the amount of attention paid to Longboat Key’s $9,085,732 million in town property-tax collections and 1.8872 operating millage rate is disproportionate to where Longboaters’ local tax dollars really go.

Look at that table again. Yes, you read that right.

Longboat Key’s Sarasota County residents send nearly $42 million a year across the bay, with $36.6 million of that going to county government and the Sarasota County School District.

Longboat’s Manatee County taxpayers send $19.45 million, with $18.72 million going to the county and Manatee public schools.

Or, let’s put everything together, and the total tally is this:
$61,257,659

That’s how much money Longboat Key taxpayers send across the bay every year over and above the $9 million they contrbute to fund the town’s operations, debts and infrastructure.

Think about what could be done with all that cash. Or, at least, think of that $61.2 million this way:
What do you get in return for that?

The short answer is: little. Certainly the value received is nowhere close to the $61.2 million. Not even half.

To be sure, we could get into all kinds of debates with Longboaters and county officials over taxation.

There are many, for instance, who have no problem with Longboaters sending $36 million a year into the black holes of public education. They’ll tell you it’s a “public” duty to educate our youth. Well, let’s save that one for another day.

The point of reminding everyone about all that money Longboaters send to the two counties comes in the context of this week’s Urban Land Institute study. When the interviewers go into their deliberations, they inevitably will craft some recommendations that will require money.

And as we have shown, there is plenty of money — it’s just going to the wrong places.

Indeed, this has been a constant sore point for Longboat Key since its incorporation in 1955. To that end, this newspaper — in spite of the chuckles it generates — has advocated for its 35-year history secession from the two counties. It’s ridiculous how Longboat Key serves as Sarasota and Manatee counties’ Sugar Daddy.

So as Longboat Key attempts to enhance its environment and public amenities for the next generations, and as the ULI experts think of ways for the Key to revitalize, serious consideration must be given to that now All-American whine that “we are entitled.”

Longboat Key residents should be entitled to having more of that $61.2 million return to the betterment of the Key.

WHERE LONGBOAT TAXPAYERS' DOLLARS GO

Click here to view a chart in PDF format.

 

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