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East County Thursday, Jul. 9, 2009 10 years ago

Our View


When you look at the data, it’s difficult to reach the same conclusion as does Mick McHale, president of the Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association.

With his Sarasota police union colleagues surrounding him last week in front of City Hall, waving their placards of protest, McHale proclaimed the city’s police department “undermanned and under siege.”

No doubt a lot of Sarasotans probably feel that way — especially because the city’s finest has yet to nab the Home Invasion Hoodlum who has terrorized at least a half-dozen city residents and is still lurking.

But that’s just one thug in a city of 55,175 population — not exactly a mob that has Sarasotans under siege.

We won’t discount, either, the statistics showing Sarasota — in a sample comparison of other Florida cities — as having one of the highest crime rates per 100,000 population. That could lend credence to the claim the police department is undermanned. Indeed, it’s surprising to see Sarasota has more crimes per 100,000 population than some of Florida’s largest-metro cities. Those places are often perceived as rampant with crime, while Sarasota often is perceived as still sleepy and safe.

But when you compare sworn officers per 1,000 population, the city’s police department has nearly twice as many officers as does the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department. This statistic creates puzzlement.

How do you explain the city having nearly twice as many officers per 1,000 population and twice as much crime as the county?

This much is clear: The citizens of Sarasota should not buy into the police union’s bullhorns.

Instead, they should be pointing at the union, Police Chief Peter Abbott and City Manager Robert Bartolotta and saying: Hey, fellas, explain how you can have more human resources for law enforcement than does the county, and yet the city has one of the highest municipal crime rates in Florida?

If anyone should feel under siege, it’s the law-abiding citizens of Sarasota.

+ Kudos to Turner
Sarasota City Commissioner Terry Turner — a doctor of economics — not surprisingly understands economic cause and effect, incentives and human behavior more than his counterparts.

Turner was the only commissioner this week who advised against installing parking meters on Main Street now. He advocates waiting first to evaluate the effects of the opening of the city’s new parking garage on Palm Avenue.

Think this through:
What is the goal? To have a commercially vibrant Main Street.

What are the requisites for that? Among them: unique, affordable retail and dining establishments that draw consumers; a friendly, affordable tax and regulatory scheme that allows businesses to be as competitive as those businesses in other locations; and easy accessibility, i.e. ample parking. In the case of the latter, it’s not just the number of parking places, it’s the value and convenience of those parking places.

For instance, is the experience of parking downtown so negative that it outweighs the consumer’s desire to patronize downtown merchants vis-a-vis the same experience at, say, the Westgate malls or St. Armands Circle?

Given all of the above, then what comes first — shoppers or ample, accessible parking?

When start-up businesses open, typically they offer introductory prices and other incentives to generate consumer traffic. Whet the consumers’ appetites, make it easy for them to keep coming back. As they recognize the value of the product or service, the businesses phase out the specials and return to normal pricing. Build traffic, then hike prices. Turner clearly recognizes this concept. His colleagues ought to listen.

+ Those expensive bus rides
Two weeks ago, Sarasota Observer City Editor Robin Roy provided a statistical snapshot of Sarasota County’s public bus system, SCAT.

The intent was to give taxpayers a sense of how the bus system has been performing fiscally in the wake of its expansion of service in the past year.

Here’s a recap comparing pre-expansion 2004 with 2008:
• Fuel costs: up 286%
• Ridership fares: up 88%
• Mileage: up 30%
• Vehicles in operation: up 24%

County officials are pleased with the increase in ridership revenues. But no matter how you look at the numbers, there are more negatives than positives.

Look at how much more money was spent to generate the additional revenue. Clearly, this is not an economic model that makes sense.

But it’s not supposed to. SCAT General Manager Anthony Beckwith told Roy the county’s goal is to generate revenues equal to 14% of the cost of a route. SCAT last year generated only 12%.

The federal and state governments, meanwhile, require public transit systems to generate revenues equal to 20% and 25%, respectively, of the cost to receive federal and state funding. The feds currently are providing 20% of SCAT’s $21 million annual budget, the state is providing 10%.

When Roy asked what happens when the system falls short of the revenue goals, Beckford said, “nothing, really.” The feds and state threaten to rescind the funds, but they never have.

So there you have it. Accountability? In your dreams. Now multiply the above scenario by every public-transit system in the United States. It’s extraordinary squandering of your hard-earned property (your earnings).

+ Hurricane Charlie
We all must pray, as hard as we can, that the Good Lord spares Florida this summer and fall from a major hurricane.

Here’s why:
We already know what physical devastation occurs. But because of Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature, two more storms will follow the hurricane, rendering devastation just as severe as the storm itself.

One will be the inability to handle consumers’ claims by state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Co. and many of the new property insurers that Gov. Crist likes to tout.

Talk to any insurance agency owner in Florida, and he’ll tell you he and his peers have no confidence that
Citizens and the new companies have the human resources and operational capabilities to process the massive number of claims that surely will follow a storm.

This is crucial. Many Floridians already remember what it was like in 2004 and 2005 to go days and weeks without repairs to their homes. This time around, the delays will be even worse because of slow and inept claims processing. We’ve heard this from three insurance agency presidents and the owner of a software firm that serves the state’s insurance industry.

The third storm after a major hurricane will be the political-financial cyclones that blow through Tallahassee. They’re inevitable. And every lawmaker — and the governor — knows it.

There’s a gap in the billions of dollars in the amount of money available to cover property claims in the wake of a bullseye on South Florida or Tampa Bay, or if there are multiple catastrophes.

The state will make up some of this gap by issuing bonds (debt taxpayers must pay off). But the governor’s unspoken strategy to cover the rest is obvious: go begging to Washington for a New Orleans-style bailout.

Gov. Crist is disingenuous when he says Florida’s property insurance market will survive without State Farm Insurance and with the new startup property insurers. When the trifecta occurs, perhaps state politicians finally will be blown back to reality. There’s not a government in the world that can manage an insurance market successfully.


                            2006    2007    % Chg.    2008    % Chg.

Population           55,364 55,644 +0.5%    55,174    -0.8%
Total Index Crime  4,148   4,104    -1.1    4,248       +3.5
Murders                        4          6    +50.0        8       +33.3
Forcible Rapes           23        28    +21.7      22       -21.4
Robberies                 196      185    -5.6       196        +5.9
Agg. Assaults            342      369   +7.9       356        -3.5
Burglaries                  847      806    -4.8       815       +1.1
Larceny                  2,484    2,470    -0.5    2,662       +7.7
Vehicle thefts            252       240    -4.7       189      -21.2
Crime Rate/100,000 7,492.2    7,375.5    -1.6    7,699.3    +4.3
% Cleared                  24.9     27.3    —                        27.6    —
Source: Florida Department of Law Enforcement

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