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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 19, 2019 2 months ago

He might cry ‘wolf,’ but it is for good reason

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Sarasota businessman Martin Hyde used his three minutes at the City Commission meeting with a fiscal message.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

If you follow Sarasota City Commission meetings in person or via video, you know one of the routine parts of every commission meeting is the three-minute commentary from Sarasota resident, businessman and onetime City Commission candidate Martin Hyde.

He’s there without fail — and always prepared, sometimes with clever, funny props to make his point. And you have to admit: His native-British accent accentuates his frequently witty, entertaining presentations.

Hyde spends a day a week preparing. “It’s not easy making your point in three minutes,” he says.

But Hyde has become proficient. His message is almost always fiscal — how the city administration and commission, in Hyde’s opinion, are mismanaging taxpayers’ money.

For Mayor Liz Alpert, Hyde is somewhat like the boy who cried wolf — the boy to whom villagers stopped listening. She says she knows he usually is going to deliver “a diatribe on how stupid we are.”

But she and other commissioners, nonetheless, listen.

Commissioner Hagen Brody appreciates Hyde’s comments. “He has taken the mantle of the taxpayer watchdog.”

This past Monday, Hyde took his three minutes to address the city budget. Here is what he said:

“Seeing as this commission has only passively been involved in this budget, despite being the ones who will be held accountable for it, I thought I’d give you an example of critical thinking on a budget [along] with my alternative.

“Payroll is the biggest cost at $49 million, as it is in most organizations. The city is at just more than 700 staff now compared to just more than 540 when the city manager arrived six years ago. That is more than a 25% increase (actual: 29% increase — editor) during a time when the city population has increased by less than 10% (actual: 6.3% increase — editor).

“The cost per staff member is therefore $70,000, plus health care at approximately $9,000 a year each, and other benefits, including pension contributions that come to another $20,000 [per employee]. So it costs the city an average of just under $100,000 to employ a single person annually.

“Natural wastage, assuming people stay for 20 years, is around 5%. So if we start a hiring moratorium immediately, we’d have 35 positions open within a year, which would be an annual saving of more than $3 million for 2020-21.

“The Sustainability Department costs more than $200,000 a year and sustains nothing beyond those who work here. We can adopt environmental-friendly policy without a department pointing out the obvious.

“The Economic Development Department should be merged with the county, thereby saving another $300,000 plus in duplicated salaries, seeing as its best ideas were $40,000 to a Domino’s pizza franchise and $60,000 to underwrite bad credit risk car loans in District 1.

“Legal fees should be reduced by 20%, saving another $500,000 potentially by invoking more stringent risk management and not pursuing dubious claims, such as those against AECOM and still after many years the Susan Chapman lawsuit.

“Bobby Jones could be reduced to zero from the current $650,000-plus in losses by leasing it out or handing it to a conservation agreement, with monies in return to cover upkeep as a public park.

“Increasing all scheduled replacement programs by 25% as in, by way of example, computers from four to five years will save hundreds of thousands of tax dollars a year.

“Looking at selling surplus city properties could generate millions of dollars and reduce holding costs.

“Seeing as I’m a believer in everyone ‘sharing the pain,’ it’s only right that we should also take a look at the costs of senior management, too.

“I’d propose cutting out the assistant city manager position that we added three years ago and go back to the system we had for decades before that of a city manager and a deputy city manager.

“I’d promote Marlon Brown from deputy to city manager and John Lege from assistant to deputy, leaving [City Manager Tom] Barwin as the odd man out, creating a saving of another $250,000 to taxpayers.

“These changes create more than $5 million in total, without cutting any meaningful services, that could be returned to taxpayers as a much-needed tax cut or invested in more police officers on better pay and a meaningful affordable housing program that these measures could fund.

“Here’s my summary of proposed changes to our city budget: I’m asking for a motion to be made to adopt it for the good of all of our citizens. Can I get a second?

“I didn’t think so.”

Say what you will about Hyde. But as the above “diatribe” shows, it’s good that someone is watching out for taxpayers.

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