Florida Governor Charlie Crist has made his decision. He has appointed a staff member to serve as United States Senator from Florida. His decision is a far cry from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. There was a long list of excellent candidates to serve Florida in what some of us still believe is or should be the greatest deliberative legislative body in the world". He now joins a comedian from Minnesota, a pay to play Senator from Illinois, an ethically challenged Senator from New Jersey, a bath room bandit from Idaho and more assorted characters who will soon be making a decision on things like national health care, national defense, and energy.
We can do better.
Although reports are that the economy is still in the tank some Realtors are quietly reporting an upswing in sales. The holdup in the real estate correction seems to be banks. One short sale was brought to my attention where a Condo unit worth $140,000 in 2006 sold this week for $43,000. Wow! So why are the tax rolls down only 9% in the County?
FRESH MARKET OPENS
The long awaited "Fresh Market" made its Vero Beach Debut this week. Most reports rave about the beauty of its interior. Now everyone is happy, however. One reader sent me this report.
They keep using the word "natural" on everything which means absolutely nothing in the marketing/food industry. Asphalt is natural!
The prepared food section people (where the food is already cooked and ready for eating) did not even know if their meat was farm raised, grown without growth hormones/antibiotics/pesticides or anything else. They just looked at each other with blank stares and said everything in the store was "natural."
Another sign of the times. Last years spike in fuel prices may be this years best buy. Last year a group of local business men invested in buying a large number of fuel efficient "Scooters". Since the price of fuel has stabilized scooters are less popular but like real estate the thing that moves excess inventory is a good price.
So there will be an auction held where more than one hundred scooters will be sold to the public at absolute auction. These items normally sold for more than $1,000 may go for a fraction of the retail price. Saturday, September 12th, 10am. Here's the info: http://ewaldauctions.com/Auctions/Flyer/auction09122009.html
Wonder why no locals have any cash and unemployment is in runaway mode. Latest sales tax reports reveal a decline in March of 1.9 million dollars. At 7% rate that means a total of $27,170,000 in lost sales in Indian River County alone. $250,000,000 annual reduction for all businesses who pay sales tax, that's a quarter of a BILLION dollars lost to local businesses. A potential $25,000,000 profits lost.
Tourist tax receipts also took a hit, down over $70,000 for March indicating a million dollar plus loss for hotels and seasonal rentals. Still people are questioning the role of the Dodgers. That debate is over.
FOLLOW UP ON SUICIDE RATE
This is a follow up from last weeks column on suicides. I spoke to the Coroner of the 19th judicial district about rumors of a spike in the Indian River rate of suicide linked to the tattered economy.
The Coroner confirmed a spike in the rate reporting the following:
2009 23 (year to date)
The coroner confirmed a link between the suicide rate and "the lengthy time of high stress caused by the current economic conditions".
Immediate steps to promote the economy are needed right now not only for our quality of life, but to preserve life. So once again I call on politicians and powerful organizations to set aside their petty politics and work together to ease this situation. Your life might not depend on it but some of your neighbors lives do. That is not speculation...that is a fact.
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY
Anybody hear anything about Joe Baird? Just kidding it has been the talk of the town. I am sure that you have heard that The jury found Mr. Baird not guilty but what you have not heard is why.
I have received a confidential report that information that might better explain the verdict was edited out of stories published by the Press Journal.
1. Did an officer commit perjury casting doubt on all of the information?
2. Why was a Police Lieutenant making a DUI arrest? Certainly he can but it is very unusual.
3. Was someone who does not like Joe Baird for political reasons attending the same party and did he "drop a dime" on Baird for political revenge. If so should we be using the police power of the government to settle political disputes? Some peoples cell phone records might reveal some interesting things.
4. Should we change the name of the town to Vertigo Beach?
Now before everybody gets excited, I am not condoning drunk driving. But I also don't want to live in a country where the police can stop you anytime and ask to see "your papers". That is best reserved for another country and another time in history.
As a public service I have advised some people I know, and you know who you are, to take this number: 978-0240. Put it in your speed dial or tattoo it on your index finger so when you are doing the test pointing at your nose on the side of the road you will remember to call Bobby Guttridge.
The last stop for this issue will be the County Commission meeting of September 15th when the grandfather of suspended lifeguard Tom Bissonette will finally get to speak his mind.
A reader forwarded a very interesting map called a "heat map" after last weeks report. It sheds some new light on the area and cause for unemployment. Although it's still too early to tell, it might even help the IRNA in their effort to blame unemployment on construction instead of IRNA no growth, no jobs, higher fees and higher taxes policies. Take a look and Judge for yourselves. http://www.localetrends.com
Speaking of reader input, another reader forwarded a very disturbing report that deserves more attention. It had to do with Piper Aircraft. Now that Piper has been sold to the Country of Brunei what happens to Indian River County? More disturbing was the announcement that Piper executives were attending a show to sell airplanes to the military in various Muslim Countries.
Now I don't want to be paranoid but selling airplanes manufactured in Vero Beach partially funded by Indian River residents to foreign military, Muslim or not, concerns me. It may be nothing but it warrants checking out.
Impact fees have long been a controversial issue. Press Journal editors love em, the IRNA loves em, business hates em. Lately the controversy has been the relationship between Commercial Impact fees and residential impact fees.
In a little reported move at the last County Commission meeting officials admitted that numbers were used in past calculations which resulted in many businesses being charged highly inflated Impact Fees compared to their actual impact.
Rate adjustments up to 90% for some banks were made. Millions have been assessed against businesses that were needed to employee residents and instead were funneled to government coffers.
A representative of the Home Builders Association told Commissioners "all we have been asking for all along was that fees be based on fair, accurate and timely data.
Better late than never!
Schools got off to a good start this week. Congratulations to schools at least so far.
Thumbs down, however, for Superintendent Dr. Harry LaCava. In a recent guest editorial Dr. LaCava wrote that he and district staff were working together with Charter Schools for the benefit of children. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. LaCava's editorial was disingenuous at best.
Columist Ken Ward rightfully rebutted District staff assertions. As much as I disagree with Mr. Wards economic views or his personal manners he is dead right on the issue of the District policy of hostility towards Charter Schools.
RUMOR HAS IT
So it is clearly marked for Mr. Wheeler, RUMOR has it that other members have moved to muzzle the erratic behavior of School Board member Debbie MacKay. I have been told that her fellow members have told her that her recent antics are making them all look bad and to cut it out. Want confirmation? You ask them. You can be sure that none will tell me.
Here's some good news. A young mother got a great surprise last week. She won $250,000 on a Florida scratch off game. Better news. I found out it was my old next door neighbor and I couldn't be happier for the friendly, hard working mother and her husband and children. Good for them.
Everyone remembers the horror of the Terri Schiavo story. I had the great fortune of meeting her brother, Bobby and her mother and father. I was saddened to learn that Mr. Schindler, Terri's father, passed away this week. Mr. Schindler never really recovered from the trauma of that time. If you would like to help the family in their effort to address end of life issues here is the site for the Terri Schiavo Foundation. www.terrisfight.org
RED LIGHT CAMERAS
The use of red light cameras to stop red light violations is going to court in several south Florida cities. The claim is that traffic laws must be the same anywhere in the state. Get ready for some hefty legal fees to balance out the income produced by the camera idea.
There is also new evidence that it causes more accidents than it prevents. Here is a quote from the Washington Post.
The District's red-light cameras have generated more than 500,000 violations and $32 million in fines over the past six years. City officials credit them with making busy roads safer. But a Washington Post analysis of crash statistics shows that the number of accidents has gone up at intersections with the cameras. The increase is the same or worse than at traffic signals without the devices.
Three outside traffic specialists independently reviewed the data and said they were surprised by the results. Their conclusion: The cameras do not appear to be making any difference in preventing injuries or collisions.
"The data are very clear," said Dick Raub, a traffic consultant and a former senior researcher at Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety. "They are not performing any better than intersections without cameras."
Don’t get me wrong. I am not supporting red light runners. It is clear that adjusting yellow lights are successful at preventing red light runners. Red light cameras only are proven to generate money for stretched City budgets.
CITY OF VERO BEACH
I have saved the report on the City of Vero Beach for last. There is a great deal of information to discuss especially as it relates to Vero power and utility fees.
I love the City of Vero Beach. I do not want to live anywhere else but we are in the midst of a true crisis. It is not just the inexcusable situation which has led us to be one of the highest priced power payers in the state.
A vote on power rates has now been postponed until after the elections in November. The budget, however, with more than 6 million dollars to be transferred from overburdened rate payers will be adopted in September.
Several candidates including Debra Fromang, incumbent Bill Fish, newcomer Jack Shupe, critic Brian Heady, and former Councilman Ken Daige have entered the race for two available seats. Although I like each of them personally and hope that Ms. Fromang is returned I believe more is needed.
I have been asked to consider getting into the race and have picked up the papers needed to meet the requirements of filing for City Council in November. I have not yet made a decision. Filing deadline is this Friday at 5pm.
I have a plan which will result in lower electric rates in the short run and either becoming competitive or getting out of the utility business in the long run. It is time for lower rates and no excuses and I can make that happen.
My plan will only work if I am elected so I can't say much about it here right now. Suffice to say that this is a critical time and we can't keep going the way we have been going. I will be discussing the plan over the next 8 weeks. Feel free to let me know your thoughts.