Surely Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis was not serious when he wrote in the opening of his annual budget letter to the Town Commission:
“This fiscal year 2009-10 budget has been prepared as conservatively as possible (emphasis added) while attempting to maintain the current level of service enjoyed by the citizens of Longboat Key.”
Give him his due. The proposed budget for 2009-2010 is not padded the way it has been in previous years.
Still, the town manager is asking for a 6.4% increase in the property-tax rate to wipe out a $498,740 budget deficit. Mind you, he’s asking for a tax hike when the town is forecasted to end the current fiscal year with $4.5 million in its unreserved fund balance (call it cash on hand) and when tax increases should be avoided at all cost — during a recession.
Calling Commissioner Gene Jaleski!
Here’s your cue. For more than a decade, Longboaters have read and heard your suggestions for tightening the town’s spending. Now you finally have a say. Go get ’em.
We’ll be anxious to see the results.
+ Transparency? Yeah, right
There’s a lot of talk these days among the likes of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and President Barack Obama about about transparency in government.
But that’s all it is. Yack. Yack. Yack.
Try finding online, for instance, the 2009-10 Florida budget that lawmakers adopted last month. Good luck.
It’s much easier finding the federal budget (www.gpoaccess.gov/USbudget/fy09/).
Of course, finding budgets is one thing. Understanding them is another. You can’t help but think our government financial officers purposely either overwhelm taxpayers with numbers to confuse and obfuscate or withhold information to hide and disguise.
This is the norm — with perhaps one rare exception, the town of Longboat Key. Though not perfect and in places obfuscatory in their presentations, Town Manager Bruce St. Denis and Finance Director Tom Kelley do a better job than most of their counterparts when it comes to presenting meaningful and understandable budgets.
Here’s an example: Annual payroll and benefits expenses. Taxpayers would like to know: Are the salaries of employees rising faster than inflation? Good luck finding a line item in most county or city budgets showing that.
But kudos to St. Denis and Kelley. They show it. In the proposed budget released last week, it shows personnel costs declining 4.18%, or $458,609 from the previous year’s budget.
Here’s another frequent obfuscation of most government budgets: Disclosing “actual” revenues and expenses for current years. On this, the city of Sarasota is an exception — to the good. It shows current-year actuals in its budget proposals. Longboat Key goes halfway. Its annual proposed budgets show “actuals” for two years ago. Taxpayers don’t get to see how the current-year spending compares to the budget. This should be disclosed.
By proposing only past and proposed budgets, government officials can hide anomalies and hide where they have padded their annual expenses (and therefore the need for higher taxes).
Here’s another budget disservice to taxpayers: Most government authorities do not disclose the percentage change in revenues and expenses. On this, Longboat Key once again is a rare exception. Kudos again to St. Denis and Kelly for submitting budgets that do show percent changes.
These figures are important. They help taxpayers see at a quick glance which areas of their government show unusual changes and whether any areas of their government are out of whack. If, say, the police budget is expected to increase 10% in one year, taxpayers obviously will want to know why. Why would expenses be rising 10% when, say, inflation is only 3%?
Showing annual percentage changes that compare actuals to proposed budgets and for one budget year to the next should be mandatory for every level of government budget reporting. This is what every business does on its monthly, quarterly and annual income statements. This is how businesses typically measure their performance. This is transparency.
Taxpayers should demand such transparency from all levels of government. It would lessen our distrust of government and the feeling that we are forever being fleeced.
+ How government grows
We couldn’t help but notice: The biggest increase in the town’s proposed 2009-2010 budget is the taxpayer-owned tennis center.
Its budget is forecasted to increase 44.4%, to $466,088, thanks to the hiring of a contracted teaching pro and additional expenses connected to the center’s expansion.
In fiscal 2006-2007, the tennis center’s budget was $307,660, 52% less than next year.
+ Bad perk finally cut
Hooray. Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis is proposing to end the cushy perk for town employees allowing them to bank unused sick leave each year and build up a nice cash payout at retirement.
This is standard practice in Florida’s government agencies, municipalities, counties and school districts, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. In the Sarasota County School District, for instance, the “compensated absences” exceed $20 million (and counting), a liability that taxpayers must fulfill one day. In Longboat, the amount is about $85,000.
Currently, town policy is to pay out 50% in cash of an employee’s medical leave balance upon retirement, based on the employee’s salary at retirement.
St. Denis is proposing town employees take a payout equal to 50% of their medical leave balance at a point between now and Sept. 30, 2009. The payout could be taken in cash, deferred compensation or a combination of both. The remaining medical leave would remain as part of their leave balance. Or they could leave all of their medical leave in their account, with no future payout upon retirement.
Medical leave would continue to accrue, but it could only be used for illness, and there would be no future payouts of the unused balance.
If only other taxing authorities would do the same.
+ Where are the facts?
President Barack Obama said in his Saturday radio address the United States must adopt nationalized health care. “If we do nothing,” he said, “all Americans’ health will be at risk.”
This is standard exaggerated blather from Obama — the president who is on track for delivering the most statements that are devoid of supporting evidence and facts.
It’s mystifying how any rational American possibly could think that the federal government could manage health care better than individual Americans who are free to choose.
This is an Obama and Democratic government that will be operating with a $1.2 trillion deficit in the coming year and total debt of $11.3 trillion (not including Medicare, Social Security or the drug entitlements). And they want to manage our health care? Now that’s sick.
CELL TOWER SAGA
When we quoted last week John Dolmetsch, president of BIG Wireless LLC, a Pennsylvania designer, installer and manager of regional and community wireless networks, saying a cell-tower unipole could be installed for $75,000, that caught readers’ attention.
Heretofore, most of us have heard figures of $350,000 or more.
Asked about the low cost for a unipole, Dolmetsch says: “The $75,000 figure is for a basic monopole at about 130 feet, which could hold a few carriers. That would be for the foundation, materials and erection.
“If you go the fancy route, ones that look like trees or the stealth flagpole type, they can be a lot more than $75,000. They can be a few hundred thousand if you need to get real fancy.”
For more on Dolmetsch’s company, go to www.4service.net/BIGWirelessServices.asp),