Sunday, May 10, 2009

Indian River Report May 10, 2009


The Florida Legislature finished their main job this week approving a new budget. Overall about the same as last year. Notable items include raising tax on cigarettes by $1.00 and a 2% reduction in some state salaries.

Missing is meaningful reform in health insurance benefits enjoyed by state workers and not available to taxpayers and a real gift to taxpayers, a new provision which allows local school boards to raise taxes locally with a super majority vote. Since the Indian River County School Board has taxed residents every single penny allowed by law and them some through borrowing tricks one can be sure that additional taxes will be imposed to fuel the School Districts construction machine.

Thanks a lot.


Still trying to assess the effects of the Piper sale. The purchase by the investment arm of the Country of Brunei leaves many guessing about the future of employment here in Vero Beach. Here is the official link to the nation’s website.

Brunei calls itself a “moderate Islamic nation”. According to the website the country was established nearly 2000 years ago in 100AD. They are actually in Malaysia nearer to Thailand than the Persian Gulf.

They welcome business and investment and according to their Ministry of Information offer religious freedom despite being a nation of Islam.They promote new industry as long as it’s clean. All polluting industries are banned. (guess they haven’t talked to Frank Zorc lately).

They could be a guide to our economic development. They have a system for one stop shopping when it comes to business investment or expansion. You can get approval from concept to concrete by talking to one person.

More to come.


In case you haven’t heard the housing industry business sucks. Homes on the Treasure Coast including Indian River County have lost almost half their value, 45.6%. A California firm that studies these matters thinks a further 10 to 15% drop is possible and estimates the bottom will happen in the summer of 2010. That’s during the next campaign season for County Commission, School Board and State Legislature.

So with homes down almost 50% why aren’t property taxes down 50%? Just asking.


Small bright spot. FPL is hiring. So are Liberty Medical and Wal Mart for remodeling. Still current unemployment sits just under 13%. Most observers expect that number to continue to climb over the summer months. Next report due out later this month.

Speaking of jobs, several hundred jobs hang in the balance awaiting political decisions. Up to 300 jobs could be created by allowing local businesses to provide material and beach re-nourishment services. County staff seems to favor a Michigan dredging firm. Commissioners will be waiting for Gary Wheeler to return before making a decision either this week or next.

Also on the line could be hundreds of hotel and restaurant jobs. The Indian River Chamber of Commerce will reveal its plan for tourism to the Tourist Development Council next week. Hasn’t changed much in 20 years but I’m like a Cubs fan, “maybe this year is our year”.


St. Lucie County has passed a measure which gives a competitive edge to local workers. Indian River County has not considered a similar measure. Commissioner Bob Solari has spoken out against the concept. Solari based his opinion on the philosophy of free trade which I generally agree with but these are extra ordinary times. I intend to bring the subject up during public comment at the May 19th Commission meeting. If you agree that local vendors and local workers need local governments support contact your Commissioner or attend the May 19th meeting at 9 am.


The saga of 66th Ave. continues. Some property owners can’t make up their minds if they are willing to sell parts of their property at what seems to be highly inflated prices or go to court for more. A group led by former Commissioner Ruth Stanbridge says she won’t sell. “You are going to have to take it” said Stanbridge. Meanwhile she informed Commissioners that the offer the County received from her attorney was not authorized. The settlement would have given Stanbridge hundreds of thousands of dollars and rent free living for as many as 5 years.

An alternative is being considered by Commissioner Gary Wheeler. Three lane the road and fix the bridges and save many millions of dollars. Ruth Stanbridge can then stay in her home until she melts.


As everyone knows County government is cutting back although not nearly as much as the private sector. One prime target could be in the enormous cost of health care for County employees. Added to the historic cost of healthcare is the proposal to start a private, government employee only, clinic.

Russ Lemmon of the Vero Beach Press Journal reported the huge costs associated with providing medical care for jail inmates. So, correct me if I am wrong but it seems like the only way to have health coverage, protection from economic disaster and have peace of mind is to:

1. Work for the government
2. Be retired from the government
3. Be held by the government or
4. Be in the country illegally.

Wow, what a Country.


Speaking of WOW, if you are a Vero Power customer you just got stuck again. Vero Power through its Orlando power group is paying more than double the price for fuel as most other Florida power providers. Now I know its Monday morning quarterbacking but gee whiz, give us a break. The powers that be say “seemed like a good thing to do at the time”. They have since changed their policy. Luckily we will be out of that contract in January.


The Commission approved the concept of allowing tax breaks for business but decided to delay the required voter approval until the 2010 general election. Commissioner O’Bryan calls it a “tax freeze” on business. Since Commissioner O’Bryan is up for election in the August Republican primary he will have plenty of opportunity to get public input on the matter.


Long time representative and State Senator Ken Pruitt announced his resignation which will take place on August 4th. This will require a special election for his replacement. Pruitt has served St. Lucie County for 18 years.

This is the latest in a string of changes at the top for the Republican controlled legislature. Just last week the powerful Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives was indicted and resigned as Speaker.

Pruitt cited health and family as his reason for resigning. Pruitt was not eligible for reelection due to term limits. He has not announced his intentions but believes returning to the private sector will allow him to increase his income. While Senate President Pruitt served as a real estate consultant.

Someone remind me, when does Dr. Massey, president of the new Indian River State Collage retire again?


Say something long enough and some people will believe it’s true. That’s what seems to be happening with School Board member Debbie MacKay’s claim that Charter Schools are not complying with desegregation efforts. Her charge is now being repeated by the new Chairman of the local NAACP, Mr. Tony Brown.

Brown recently took over the reins of the organization from Victor Hart. Brown repeated MacKay’s unfounded charges against Charter Schools and Charter parents in a Press Journal interview.

Ms. MacKay will face tough opposition in the upcoming election. But trying to inflame racial tension in order to defeat charter schools as a choice for parents and win reelection is a dangerous path.

MacKay and her new found best friend Claudia Jimenez are also planning to renege on their pledge to support Charter School's construction needs. Money was set aside for Charter Capital funding but is now being opposed by MacKay/Jimenez.


Despite having six chances to pass approximately 149 students are in danger of not receiving a diploma this year for failing all or part of the state mandated test. There are a number of alternatives including a free 13th year of high school, an alternative certificate of completion or even entry into a Community College.


It is a "Sophies Choice" for the teachers union. More than 50 teacher’s jobs are on the line. School Board member Matt McCain, an accountant, says that a 5% across the board salary cut would save everyone.

The union says no way and in fact is insisting on new raises. 2% step raises were awarded by an independent arbitrator and should have been. The step raises were agreed to by the district during the last round of salary negotiations and later denied by the District (see charter school capital funding above). Failing to live up to agreements seems to be the norm with one notable exception, Superintendent Dr. Harry LaCava’s $100,000 dollar sick leave bonus.


Special kudos this week to Indian River State Collage. They graduated their first class of 4 year degree holders. 43 graduates. I wonder what year and how many students graduated at UF and FSU at its first ceremony?

Congratulations and good luck. Indian River State Collage class of 09.


This week’s story that you didn’t see in the Press Journal.
On a Go Line bus on Friday two black males were among the riders on route 4 about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Riders included seniors, workers, mothers and at least one infant. Suddenly near the stop at a grocery store on US1 one of the men drew a gun and put it to the other man’s head and said, “ I’m going to kill you …(expletive deleted)”. (We can thank Richard Nixon for that term). Reportedly, the man did not fire and escaped on foot.

I was told this story by a very frightened young lady who reported that the bus had been delayed throwing the entire bus connection schedule off delaying more than one hundred commuters on a busy Friday afternoon and was “the most frightening thing I have ever seen”.

How long people were held I do not know, Details I do not know, maybe it was reported and I just didn’t see it. But if it is true, and if it was not reported, Why?

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