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Letter to the editor

‘Investments’ vs. increased operating costs

A reader writes to question the town of Longboat Key's spending.

  • By
  • | 5:00 a.m. September 2, 2023
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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We, like most Longboat residents, have been involved in running or owning businesses. Having just received our property tax Truth in Millage (TRIM) notice and reading the Observer article reporting on the proposed town budget we are compelled to comment.

First the obvious, given the eye-popping increase in property values this last year, most properties without a Homestead Exemption, logic would dictate the tax millage could and would be reduced given the incremental revenue generated by the increased assessment values. Apparently not in this case, and commissioners are saying how good it is that they are able to keep the millage the same as this year, no increase. We don’t get it.

Your report on the proposed budget quotes Mr. (Town Manager Howard) Tipton using the term new “investments in fire, police and in people,” to explain the majority of the projected increase in operating expenses. The term “investing” in government is used now by all bureaucracies to soften the term “spending increases of tax dollars.” We are supposed to feel good about “investments,” bad about “spending increases.”

Of course it is completely justifiable for budget increases due to inflation impact, employee health insurance benefit costs, reasonable market-driven salary increases, but most business operators would draw the line at increasing the full-time staff count, which includes not only salary but substantial benefit costs and is basically a permanent, ongoing business expense.

This begs the question: What exactly is the cost — benefit analysis, (ROI) of these individual new “investments?” Well, probably hard to say, maybe increased efficiency, productivity, better run the town manager’s office with a new assistant town manager? 

One other point, we have been criticized by some in the town hierarchy for not attending the budget planning workshops so we would better understand the budget issues. Wrong answer. 

As “shareholders” of this “not for profit town business” we expect our competent town department heads guided by our “CEO” town manager to prepare a detailed budget minimizing costs to be presented to our excellent commissioners, our “board of directors,” to maximize shareholder value and minimize cost increases i.e. continue to cost effectively provide the excellent services (“returns”) we have enjoyed over the years.

We all know 2024 is going to be a questionable year economically, with many economists projecting a recession due to escalating interest rates. Real estate activity has waned and property values could easily begin to deflate in a normal economic cycle. Inflation, while a concern, has decreased significantly as this year has progressed due to increasing interest rates. Double-digit inflation, across the board, should not be projected into the proposed budget.

That aside, this is not a wise time to take on more payroll and benefit costs.

We also want to acknowledge the great job our town staff, fire, police and commissioners do in managing our very special “not for profit” town of Longboat Key. We are all blessed to live and/or work here.

— Bob and Shannon Gault, Longboat Key


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