This Is The Week
It is an important week for residents suffering layoffs, unemployment, bankruptcy, credit pressure, unpaid bills, higher taxes, higher utility bills, rising insurance and foreclosure. We all have multiple chances to get screwed to the wall this week. Governments at all levels are counting on you not to know, not to care, and not to show up.
This is the week where staff slips by their recommendations to elected bodies throughout the County and the elected bodies generally rubber stamp staff recommendations.
Of special interest, on Wednesday before noon the City of Vero will budget City health benefits. Watch for a fast one on the Government Clinic idea. On Thursday it's utilities, on Friday its review of officers. More later.
The County will pass its budget approaching a half BILLION dollars. Although two days are set aside for a review Commissioners are planning to do it in one day. If the federal government can pass a trillion dollar stimulus bill without reading it, the largest tax increase in history, cap and trade, in one month and a trillion dollar health reform measure in three months surely we can carefully review a several hundred million dollar budget in a day and take Friday off. (That was sarcasm, I know, sometimes its hard to tell).
Here's the bottom line....show up or shell out!
Alright I know you're tired of me telling you about it. Unemployment is now up to 14.1%. Indian River is now tied for 3rd maybe even second. Another 660 people are now unemployed that were working just one month ago. 2,400 more could be unemployed by September.
The effective unemployment rate which includes those who are not eligible is likely to be in the 20% plus range. If history repeats itself we will see unemployment edge up to 18%, take a dip in season and return to 18% again in September of 2010.
Another bad sign no one is talking about is that for the first time in history the workforce has decreased. 800 people have left the workforce. Left town, given up, whatever.
Despite opposition from the Indian River Neighborhood Association some Commissioners led by Commissioner Wesley Davis, have been working on some solutions and they were able to defeat an IRNA supported effort to raise gasoline taxes but that could change if the IRNA regains a majority on the Commission in August of 2010.
Reading the writing on the wall Teamsters local 769 made salary increase concessions in return for fewer job cuts. Steve Myers the head of the bargaining unit did a great service to his members in an effort to ward off layoffs.
Reaction from Commissioners was almost comical. As each Commissioner spoke the bidding for who could give more praise and rewards grew. It was like watching an episode of the Bachelorette with Commissioners competing for a rose and a night in the private suite. As usual the last one to speak was Commissioner Wheeler who ordered a proclamation be issued at this Tuesdays Commission meeting praising the union for its civic mindedness. Gary gets the rose.
The Fire Fighters Union did not participate in the concessions. The Fire Union President has requested time to speak on Tuesday. I am sure Commissioners will get an earful. It's the only really interesting thing on Tuesday's agenda. Watch for sparks to fly.
The headline in the Press Journal read foreclosures "Indian River Near State Levels". Talk about spin. The headline could also have read " Indian River Foreclosures rocket up 40% while St. Lucie numbers improve".
Which is closer to the truth. Records show a 39.5% increase in foreclosures in one month here in Indian River County. "Near State Levels" sounds like it could be improving.
Question? What happened to the money set aside by the County and City of Vero Beach for payments to Piper. Now that they are not being used what happened to the 12 million?
CITY OF VERO
As they say give credit where credit is due so here goes. Thumbs way up to the City for its efforts to secure a train stop on the new Miami to Jacksonville Amtrak Line. In decades to come when I am long gone this one action could be the single most important accomplishment made by city staff and elected officials in my lifetime.
Also thumbs up to City staff for its thorough vetting of the Royal Palm sidewalk plan. They communicated with residents, were open to changes and meticulous in their planning. Even though I hate to see us spend $250,000 when people are struggling to feed their families and that money could be needed elsewhere (like a fountain for kids)it is in a dedicated account and unavailable. Until we find a better way, like allowing a transfer with a unanimous vote we're stuck with this kind of inefficiency.
There must be a school for City Managers somewhere with a class entitled, "How to get increased revenues out of people." Lesson One: Threaten to take away their favorite thing if they don't give you more money.
The threat to close the fountain is a ploy to beat residents into submission. A red herring, a ruse. The kids fountain is one of the most popular benefits of living in Vero Beach. It cost millions to build and its $30,000 operating budget is a pin point on the total budget.
They do this all the time. A couple of years ago they said they would have to cut school resource officers, school crossing guards, charge a dollar at the fountain.
I have an idea. There are probably 100 ways to cut the budget $30,000 that does not effect kids or the public at large at all. If the Council can't find a way, let me. I can do it in 5 minutes. And since they don't care about the few benefits afforded the public let's start with the outrageous benefit packages given City workers.
City manager Jim Gabbard was quoted in the Press Journal as saying "Shutting off the fountain could be unpopular with residents but it's better than laying off an employee". That pretty much says it all. The highest priority is to protect their jobs...them first you last.
One thing to remember. More taxes and higher fees are already contributing to unemployment. Business is leaving, new business not coming because of outrageous costs, you raise them higher, people leave faster, property values decline, tax revenue declines. To keep your jobs you find other ways to extract money from suffering residents ie red light cameras. People do not buy houses in the city, realtors go out of business, tax revenues fall more.
Alright, this isn't funny anymore. It is time to demand relief on the utility issue and if there is no way then it's time for a change. If we cannot operate a utility then we should not be in the utility business or find people who can run a utility.
I cannot fault the current Council, the current Mayor, the current City Manager or utility staff. They are suffering just as we all are under a hideous contract signed years ago. I just hope the new contract does not have the same flaws as the old one so that 20 years from now we are not saying the same thing about the new contract.
Believe it or not it could get worse! Remember last summer we avoided another trap in the FMPA contract that could have cost the City millions for years to come. Could it happen again? It would already have happened if not for a convenient power outage that shut down just before reaching the limit. If it happens again this year let's pray (authorize) another power outage.
Now the Utility Authority is being asked for authority to borrow enough to cover 15 million dollars in utility debt even at the astronomical rates imposed. Have you ever seen a government with authority to borrow that didn't do so?I would rather give my teenage son my car, credit card and a case of beer than authorize borrowing for government knowing my teenage son would be more responsible.
See picture above. It is what happened to the Golden Goose.
Just a note about the City's Sacred Cow, The Vero Beach Police Department.
The City of Pt. St. Lucie just raised taxes 26% to avoid laying off City Police Officers. The City of Fort Pierce, the poster child for irresponsible spending cut 8 officers and is considering contracting with the Sheriff for policing. In these economic times it is right to at least ask ourselves if we need the duplication of services between the City police and the Sheriffs office.
I cannot prove it but someone told me that the City of Vero has more police officers per 1,000 residents than any other municipality. I don't know if that is true or where to find the information but if Vero has 57 officers as reported by the Press Journal and there are 17,000 people, that comes out to 3.3 officers per 1,000. Pt St. Lucie for comparison has 1.56. Sebastian is less also but I don't know how much less.
We may or may not need a complete redo but it could be time for a trim. Even for sacred cows.
PAYBACK IS IN THE AIR
Just when you think you have a handle on things in politics something comes out of the blue that changes the whole thing. That happened this week when former Emergency Management Director Nate McCollum announced his return to Sebastian after being cut by the Flagler County Emergency Department.
McCollum left Indian River after a salary dispute with County Administrators. Now jobless McCullum could be looking for a government job like Sebastian City Council or County Commissioner. As a County Commissioner McCollum could have a dispute about Administration salaries.
I am sure that it was just a "coincidence" that Nates' old job as emergency manager was filled just last week after being left vacant for more than a year. Bryan Nolan was an excellent choice to fill the job but the timing was just amazing. (there's that sarcasm thing again).
As they say, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword". The only question is, "who has the sword now".
Can't leave school spending out of this weeks woes. The School Board will be reviewing the 5 year capital plan this week. Let's see, fewer students enrolled, Charter Schools gaining popularity, class size requirements relaxed, School District already borrowed as much as $200,000,000. I have an idea. STOP!
An Orlando candidate figured out that one government employee can cost as much as $10 million dollars over his lifetime. A report next week on benefits and salaries and the true cost of government workers compared to private employees.
For those of you who do not understand the dangers of allowing government on the local or national level to run health care get this.
In the House version of the federal health care bill now forcing its way through congress page 425 there is a provision which requires every senior to attend a counseling session every five years to discuss "How to End Your Life". Subjects include how much of a burden the patient is on their families and society as a whole.
The formula method goes something like this. Lets say that you have a disease that is likely to kill you in 5 years. Treatment costs a million a year and will increase your life to 7 years. Can the system afford to keep you alive for two years.
For you seniors who voted for Democrats in Congress that allow people like Henry Waxman, Barney Franks and Nancy Pelosi to be in charge of a decision to allow you to live or die, you got change alright. Was it the Change we wanted or the Change We Now Deserve.