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Mexican stimulus package

Live Free or Die: An Ongoing series

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  • | 4:00 a.m. April 23, 2009
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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This is just the beginning.

Over the next four years, we’ll be reading many news stories about how your “stimulus” money was wasted.

To be sure, there’s no humanly possible way the federal government can mete out and spend $700 billion efficiently and accountably — especially when you consider this largesse is being passed through Washington and its bureaucracies, 50 legislatures and their bureaucracies and more than 20,000 U.S. counties and municipalities and their bureaucracies.

Poof! Up it goes in smoke it goes. Or rather, down to Mexico — to fuel our southern neighbors’ economy.

Consider the accompanying table. This is only a small portion of Florida’s total stimulus take. Indeed, the projects listed at right — $40 million worth — are only one-third of what Florida is expected to get for transportation projects.

And what are we getting? Trails and sidewalks to nowhere.

The Legislature is sending this list of municipal-and-county transportation projects to the Department of Transportation to wire us this boat-load of cash that the federal government is borrowing against your grandchildren’s future taxes.

Think about this. First, think about what else could be done with that $40 million. But also think about who the most likely beneficiaries of this taxpayer giveaway will be. When you see trails, sidewalks and road being built these days, who is doing the work? Unemployed computer programmers? Unemployed mortgage brokers? Unemployed investment bankers?

If this money is going to stimulate anything, it’ll provide a hefty to boost to the Mexican economy.

What’s more, this stimulus is nothing more than a crack-cocaine high. It will last for only a short time. These projects will do almost nothing to stimulate sustainable economic activity. Once they’re done, they’re done. Walking trails don’t generate commerce. Sidewalks don’t generate commerce. Nor do, for gosh sakes, wildlife crossings!

+ Wise move, commissioners
Go figure.

In one meeting, five of the seven Longboat Key town commissioners say “no way” to letting the town’s Planning and Zoning Board review the town’s sign code. At the next, they reverse course.

But give them credit. Apparently they realized it’s better to make love, not war. Had the commissioners remained steadfast in their opposition to engaging the planning board, they would have worsened their longstanding tensions with the planning board.

So now there’s an expectation of the planning board. It is tasked with demonstrating to the city’s elected leaders that the planning board can and will produce credible recommendations on the sign code, recommendations that reflect wise judgment, fairness and public participation. Planning board members are well aware they can’t hand in a report that looks like it was written by commercial sign makers. Indeed, to say they didn’t understand this would be an insult.

To be sure, this is an opportunity. And it is an opportunity much larger than merely reviewing the sign code’s goofy inequities for political signs and “for sale” signs. If town commissioners and planning board members look at the broader picture, the sign-code review should become the first of three comprehensive reviews of town codes that are warranted.

The other reviews: Chapter 157-subdivision regulations and Chapter 158-zoning code of the town’s land-development code.

The majority of these chapters were written for another era — a period nearly 30 years ago when modern Longboat Key began to take shape. Large portions of these chapters are irrelevant today and need updating — just like a home that was built 30 years ago. The foundation needs to be reinforced, old wood replaced, outmoded plumbing, electrical and fixtures updated.

So it is with Longboat Key’s development codes.

Reviewing the entire code would be a huge task. But just as the planning board led efforts to shape a vision plan for the town for the next 25 years, it can continue the job and modernize the town’s codes for the next 25 years.

The Town Commission and chamber of commerce tried this before. Almost a decade ago, a chamber-led task force reviewed the town’s zoning codes and recommended that the codes be reworked to give property owners flexibility that were based on reason and reflective of the times.

As a result, the Town Commission adopted a few minor changes, but none of them has spurred what remains an intractable problem on Longboat Key — that is, aging commercial developments whose property owners have no economic incentive to reinvest.
Let’s not get too far afield, however. Town commissioners took a wise step turning over the sign-code review to the planning and zoning board. This will be a good model for how to update town codes for the Key’s next new era.

+ We were wrong
On this page last week, we zinged Longboat Key Vice Mayor Bob Siekmann and Commissioner Gene Jaleski for abandoning their populist personae when they were among commissioners who voted not to let the planning and zoning board review the town’s sign codes.

It’s true that Siekmann and Jaleski voted April 9 against the planning board’s review of the codes. But we failed to note and unintentionally omitted that Jaleski proposed that a citizens’ task force be formed to conduct such a review — a suggestion that his fellow commissioners didn’t even discuss.

True to his promise to try to open Longboat government to more citizens, Jaleski followed his suggestion April 9 with a memo to Town Manager Bruce St. Denis, requesting a citizens’ sign-code task force.

“I campaigned on the notion of opening the process of governance to the community as a whole,” he wrote. “Therefore I want to have the sign-code review process be as transparent as possible and to include the community as a major player in the process. I favor once again creating a community task force similar to the one that existed in the early ’90s.”

At last week’s Town Commission workshop, Siekmann and Jaleski pitched forming a citizens’ task force again. But again, the commission majority rejected their populist idea.

We stand corrected. They still have the religion.


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