Sunday, June 21, 2009

Clinics, Sheriffs and reform Oh My!



Appearing on the Rhett Palmer Show on Friday Indian River County Sheriff Daryl Loar continued his effort to communicate with residents about his agency. “I want to raise the awareness of what the agency does” said the newly elected Sheriff.

Loar made his case for budget cuts through efficient operations but not at the cost of public safety.”We have begun to see crimes that we call SURVIVAL CRIMES, said Loar. Survival crimes are crimes related to sinking economic times that would not have been done in times past. “We arrested a man at Publix” Sheriff Loar reported. “He walked out with a cart of groceries. He said he has been out of work for four months and just decided to do it to feed his family. Now he is in jail and his family is worse than before. That’s what we call a survival crime”.

Loar praised past Sheriffs and current departmental employees but noted a change would be taking place. “I have grown up using technology and modern law enforcement techniques”, Loar said. Loar also noted that change and discipline would take time. Three deputies were suspended or fired recently. However, a review board recommended lighter sanctions.

Loar noted an increase in certain kinds of crime and highlighted efforts to fight white collar crime, computer crime, gang activity and drug crimes.

Loar conceded that there was some unrest in the department but assured listeners that hard work and a changing attitude would accomplish better service and a safer community for Indian River residents. In short, change isn’t coming. It’s here.

County Staff

The only major issue on the County Commission agenda this week is a proposal that would allow the Commission to grant permanent waivers to allow minor changes in building approvals. County staff continues to oppose the measure despite a 7 to 0 vote to recommend the changes by the County’s Professional Services Committee.

This proposal is the latest in a series of proposals designed to make it easier for businesses to open and employment to improve. Indian River County continues to be a leader in chronic unemployment almost always appearing in the unemployment top ten. Still, entrenched bureaucrats cling to absolute power over business openings.

Current regulations require months to correct problems and can cost many potential employers thousands of dollars often causing potential businesses to go elsewhere and perpetuate Indian Rivers rising unemployment problems (see ECONOMY page 4).

“I have spent $30,000 just to try to get a small business started here”, reported one potential employer. “I give up on Indian River. They even made me hire an archeologist from Tampa. All I want to do is open a small boat repair place and hire about 10 people”.

Some Commissioners have been trying to change the attitude. Commissioner Wesley Davis offered a five point plan called R.I.G.H.T. which means Reform Government, Reduce Impact Fees, Grow Existing Businesses, attract highly targeted new industry, and Tax abatement. Much of the Davis proposal has been approved.

Opposition from staff members have led to watered down versions of some proposals and staff members Bob Keating and Stan Boling are expected to oppose the proposal on Tuesday. Problems with landscaping rules, arbitrary decisions by staff on traffic issues and sign ordinances have been just a few of the numerous complaints received by Commissioners in the past.

A measure that allows temporary relief was adopted earlier this year. Tuesday’s proposal is designed to allow permanent waivers to some rules in unique circumstances by allowing logical alternatives to be used. A similar rule is allowed with building requirements. Building height, zoning use, and major changes are not eligible.

Still some Commissioners are reluctant to override staff. “All we are asking for is the ability to use common sense”, Commissioner Wesley Davis has stated in the past. The written staff report outlining the reasons for staffs unwavering opposition can be found on the County web site. , starting on page 175.

Tune into the Rhett Palmer Show on WAXE 1370am Monday morning from 8 to 10 for a discussion of this and other issues.


Unemployment Disaster Looms

Reports from the State of Florida are pointing to a new unemployment rate of 13% up from last month. 7,800 Indian River residents are unemployed. 6.9% or 4,200 others are considered underemployed or have given up completely and rely on the state or local charities for food and shelter.

No one is immune. White collar, construction, finance, services all are hit hard. Even government workers have been affected although not nearly as hard as the private sector.

Historic figures show that unemployment grows from 3% to 6% between May and September. If history holds true, Indian River will have unemployment of 16% to 19% by September meaning another 1,800 to 3,600 residents will become unemployed in the next 90 days. Add to that business closings due to reduced spending and you have a disaster not see since the Great Depression.

Banks in Trouble

Good news and bad news for local banks. Seacoast, Riverside, Oculina and First Peoples Bank are all on the watch list. Riverside slid to dangerous levels according to a leading Miami firm who rates the health of financial institutions.

On the good side of the ledger Marine Bank and Trust was rated very high. Congratulations to Mr. Lawrence and his crew.

Real Estate

Two major economic stories last week. Indian River property identified as under rated. Realtors report an increase in business from outside the area. That relates to the second story. Loan Modifications a Mirage. Banks are not being user friendly when it comes to adjusting mortgages. Anyone surprised?


Another Rate Increase?

Water and sewer rate increases may follow the City of Vero Electric Utilities 18% electric rate hike according to a consultants’ report presented to the City last week. Consultants pointed out that rates have not increased to keep pace with operations and that base rates need to be adjusted. The report showed that water and sewer had to borrow money from the general fund to cover losses.

Special Call Meeting

A special meeting has been called for the City of Vero Beach Monday at 9:30. Agenda items include budget and reimbursement issues.

Government Clinic

More information on the effort by City Staff to establish a “Government Workers Only” health clinic.

I met with City Staff members on Friday to try to get their side of the issue. In short these are my findings so far:

1. There is no evidence of anything underhanded, but most if not all employees could financially benefit from the clinic.
2. Cost saving for taxpayers is the reason stated for establishing the Government Clinic. However cost savings claims are only projections and based on reports with three years and less experience and are not guaranteed.
3. Alternative plans could provide equal savings without establishing a clinic that segregates Government Workers from privately employed workers.
4. Supporters acknowledge that government workers already enjoy higher average salaries and benefits that exceed those available to the majority of taxpayers.
5. Establishing a clinic would protect workers from budget cuts in benefits. The clinic essentially removes cuts in benefits from consideration as part of the cost savings required by falling revenues.

It might help to know what government workers currently receive in health benefits.
Both County and City employe health care premiums are paid 100% although a small deductable or co pay is required. Dependents are also covered by both plans but the majority is paid by taxpayers.

County City Yours/Mine
Employee Premium Paid by Taxpayer $525 month $436.86 month $0
Dependent Coverage Taxpayer Paid $240 month up to $554 month $0
Employee Paid Dependent $217.50 month up to $366 month $1,500 month

As you can see the total health benefit not counting retirement etc. it $9,180 for County Employees and up to $11,899.68 for City of Vero Beach employees.
What is yours?

There is more but it’s Fathers Day and the more I write about it the more twerked off I get.

So in summary. Even if it saves money and that is by no means assured, do we need to add benefits or subtract them? I am not picking on government employees. Many work hard and provide much needed services in a very professional and caring way. What I want is equality. If we can’t afford it for taxpayers then we can’t afford it for government workers either.

By the way. The County Health Department is available to all government workers now. When I pointed this out to city officials pushing for the new clinic the response was “would you go there?”. My answer is yes. They do a great job, they see almost 17,000 clients and most prescriptions cost patients $2.00.

Where else is the savings? According to City Department heads they will save money by not paying Doctors, clinics and lab testing facilities so much. Let’s see, less money to the local economy equals more unemployment. Maybe we can all work for the government?


Police Chief History

Sebastian made the news with the retirement of popular police chief Jim Davis. Davis’s second in command moves up to take charge and becomes the first female Police Chief in Indian River County history. Congratulations and good luck.


On Wednesday the Sebastian Council will consider billboards on I 95 since the Indian River Tourist Development Council refuses to do so. Only problem is they turned the decision over to the Sebastian Chamber.

The proposal before Council spends 10 times the going rate to Parris productions and at least twice the going rate for billboard space to an out of County supplier.
To date I have had a quarrel with the way the Indian River Chamber wasted thousands on their Tourism campaign but have had no problem with the Sebastian Chamber. The Sebastian Chambers director’s recommendations on the three person selection committee means thousands misspent.

I will attend the Wednesday meeting and try to explain but may be limited to three minutes and unable to present my alternatives.

As they say, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. I just wish they weren’t always talking about us!


MacKay pushes tax increase

Well most School Board members got the message. At a workshop four of five members indicated that they were not in favor of raising an additional tax. Only Debbie MacKay was for it. Claudia Jimenez initiated the discussion and wisely expressed opposition (guess it’s time for another camping trip).

That didn’t stop MacKay from trying to get support from the County’s economic development Council. MacKay asked for a vote of support from the EDC. She didn’t get it. Although polite, the members who are from business and try to improve Indian River’s economy soundly responded against MacKay’s’ argument that education deserved and needed more money despite the economy and suffering taxpayers.

“A” Schools

Congratulations to the Indian River School District for improving its ratings. More Schools in higher rankings. Good For You!

½ Day Wednesdays

The dreaded ½ day Wednesday idea is back. Let me be the first to tell you that it is not going to happen. There may have been worse ideas in history but I can’t think of any right now. This shows how out of touch school employees are with the public and how little they care about you, me and the children who are supposed to be the priority.


Assistant Superintendent Fran Adams made a great presentation to the Economic Development Council. Hopefully it will be available on the District website soon and I will link it to you. One striking highlight in the presentation, Get This. There are more advanced level students in China (top 28% IQ) than there are students in the United States. We’re Doomed!


Just a media note to mark the passing of Ed. Burchfield. Indian River Residents might not be as familiar with Ed as St. Lucie residents. Ed was a veteran of the airwaves with many years as talk host for WPSL and WIRA. Longtime residents may remember him as the weatherman on WTVX channel 34 television. He died last week after a battle with cancer on the air until days before his death.

Ed Burchfield was proof positive that nice guys do not always finish last.


Just a short editorial note.

What are you going to say if Joe Baird is found not guilty? Didn’t think of that did you? Well let me be the first to bet a wooden nickel that that is what will happen. Anybody remember Jack Jewel? He’s the guy the FBI said set the bomb at the Atlanta Olympics. They followed him around for weeks. The press convicted him. He lost his job. Oh by the way, they found out that it wasn’t him. Be careful all of you. You might not know as much as you think you do.

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