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The 168,000 residents of the City of Fort Lauderdale pay more taxes per person ($570 in 2003) than any other large city in the State of Florida. A 3 year period of gross mismanagement has transformed a city with an $18.3 billion tax base into a municipal basket case. On December 16th, the City Commission approved a package of tax & fee increases along with service cuts, layoffs and program freezes that stunned residents and employees alike. Contrary to appearances, this fiscal deterioration didn’t occur overnight. Despite protests of surprise and shock by municipal representatives, the budget disaster we now face did not ambush Fort Lauderdale. City officials have had a ringside seat to a three year fiscal mismanagement spectacle. They were not, however, spectators. They were participants. “How did we get here?” acting City Manager Alan Silva asked rhetorically. “As I have said many times, we had been living beyond our means.” This page will provide information about the history that brought us to this sorry state, the participants in that history, the effects that we will have to live with (and pay for) and the steps being taken to dig us out. This is what happened...

From The Desk of
Commissioner Teel

On December 19, 2003, Pam Brown (an Assistant to the City Commission) sent an email to Catherine Wichmann (Commissioner Teel's Assistant). Attached to the email was a newsletter article written by Fort Lauderdale District 1 City Commissioner Christine Teel describing some of the factors responsible for the bewildering budgetary bedlam that the City of Fort Lauderdale is currently experiencing. The article, which is published below, also details some of the measures that the Acting City Manager, Alan Silva, intends to implement to extricate the City from its (and our) fiscal dilemma. READ ON... - editor

Commissioner Christine Teel
Commissioner Christine Teel
I know many of you have been following the City Commission’s budget deliberations over the past weeks. I want to devote this newsletter article to a brief explanation of the issues. The 2003 City of Fort Lauderdale budget, offered by the former administration, was balanced using assumed savings that simply did not exist in reality. It contained revenue overestimates and expenditure underestimates. If we had put that budget into motion we would have literally run out of money by the end of the year. I have tried to summarize, below, how the city got into this dilemma and how we plan to extricate ourselves.

What factors impacted the past
City budgets 2000 - 2003?

  • External Factors - National economy on a three-year downslide causing lowest interest rate in 50 years

    NEGATIVE FINANCIAL EFFECTCOST
     
    City’s interest rates on investments fall - $1,300,000
    Aftermath of 9/11 - increased public safety spending - $4,500,000
    Declining FPL franchise fees and State sales tax - $   414,000
    Cost of municipal elections - $   180,000
    Higher pension contributions - $8,000,000
    Increase in workers compensation contributions - $2,000,000
    Additional contributions to health insurance plans - $2,000,000
    Property tax revenues 2002-3 - $1,000,000

    How did the City respond
    to falling revenue?

  • The City did not change its spending patterns!

    BUDGETARY OVERUNSCOST
     
    Police Dept. exceeded budget two years in a row$3,800,000
    Fire Dept. exceeded budget two years in a row$2,600,000
    Parks Dept. exceeded budget two years in a row$1,350,000

  • The City added services and positions!

    QUESTIONABLE TIMING???COST
     
    Parks Dept. added 15 new positions$593,000
    Police Dept. added computer-aided dispatch$433,000
    Fire Dept. added new rescue unit at the beach$652,000

  • The salary line has continued to increase...

    YEARSALARIES
     
    1999$  89,211,550.35
    2001$  97,010,958.75
    2002$107,747,999.00
    2003$116,099,355.40

  • While the revenues do not balance with the expenses!

    YEARDEFICIT
     
    1999 - $ 1,250,702.92
    2001 - $ 1,228,269.61
    2002 - $ 3,744,026.27
    2003 - $ 6,040,644.25

    SIMPLY PUT, WE HAVE BEEN
    LIVING BEYOND OUR MEANS

    Alan Silva, our Acting City Manager, has put together a plan to manage the deficit, control spending, and get the City back into a position where revenues coming in are equal to expenses. These budget adjustments will:

    • Generate $8 million in salary savings during the current fiscal year (FY 2003-04)
    • Generate an additional $4 million in savings during the current fiscal year (FY 2003-2004) to ensure the budget is realistic and balanced
    • Reestablish a base budget that saves $15 million heading into fiscal year 2004-05

    At our meeting on December 16th the City Commission agreed to the following:

    • A one-month code fine amnesty program to generate $500,000. Public Safety Aides will be spared elimination if the code fine amnesty program covers the cost.
    • Mounted patrol will continue, with modifications, through outside contributions.
    • Approximately 50 personnel layoffs. (NO POLICE OFFICERS OR FIRE FIGHTERS WILL BE LAID OFF)
    • 100 vacant positions will be eliminated.
    • Fire apparatus selectively removed from service only to minimize overtime

    Mr. Silva has committed to the City Commission that Department Heads will be held accountable for any future overspending and will suffer appropriate consequences. Although the next two years will be austere and difficult for all of us, residents and employees, I firmly believe that the City’s current financial situation warrants these measures.

    I leave you with my best wishes for a happy, peaceful and more prosperous New Year.

    Christine Teel



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    Stadium Closing after Orioles

    Spring Training then POOF

    Aquatic Complex Closing Early

    Int. Swimming Hall of Fame

    Swimming Pool Hours Reduced

    City Employees await Verdict

    Public Safety Aides Reprieved

    Click to GALT MERCHANTS ASSOCIATION DIRECTORY!
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    BUDGET COMMENTARY
    FROM THE EDITOR ...

    Alan A. Silva - Acting City Manager
    Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva
    Mr. Alan Silva is a successful City Manager with both Federal and Municipal government experience to his credit. Fort Lauderdale should consider itself fortunate to have "the right man at the right time in the right job" during this fiscal conundrum. Galt Mile residents, however, are concerned about Commissioner Teel's statement regarding one of Mr. Silva's budget adjustments, "Fire apparatus selectively removed from service only to minimize overtime". While every realistic resident needs to encourage Christine Teel's support for fiscal sanity and the intelligent ministration of the unpleasant "recovery" medicine prescribed by Alan Silva, residents of the Barrier Island are rightfully leary about the possibility that their access to Emergency Medical Transportation (ambulance service) could be impacted.

    Fire Chief Otis Latin indicated at a Public Meeting at the Beach Community Center that the intermittant displacement of "certain shifts" in Fire-Rescue Station #13 was being considered to offset anticipated "overtime expenses". The Barrier Island differs from the mainland in one unique aspect; crossing a bridge is required to reach a hospital. While the Oakland Park and Sunrise Boulevard Bridges are in radio contact with the Fire-Rescue service, the Commercial Boulevard Bridge is not! Most of our area hospitals are near to or north of Commercial Boulevard and an additional 20 - 30 minute wait for the bridge to close followed by a traffic battle up Federal Highway (one of the few streets where traffic CANNOT be preempted by Fire-Rescue for some incomprehensible reason) could yield devastating (if not lethal) results. When the Cleveland Clinic closed, local officials promised that a full time Emergency Medical Transport would be stationed on or near its former site to allay the fears of Barrier Island residents. Click Here to read about the November 24th Public Meeting at the Fort Lauderdale Beach Community Center wherein residents were informed about how the City's budget woes might affect Fire-Rescue's operational status and diminish the availability of Emergency Medical Transportation. An "occasionally deleted shift" would intermittantly reduce the number of Emergency Medical Transports serving the Barrier Island from 3 to 2. It has been argued that 2 Fire-Rescue Units serviced the Barrier Island for many years prior to the closing of the Cleveland Clinic. The obvious difference is that the Transports enjoyed the availability of a hospital ON THE ISLAND at that time.

    As Commissioner Teel emphasized that "NO POLICE OFFICERS OR FIRE FIGHTERS WILL BE LAID OFF", it is apparent that the City recognizes the importance of not balancing the budget at the expense of Fort Lauderdale's critical services. The Galt Mile Community Association is confident that our representatives will achieve our fiscal objectives without impairing our Emergency Medical Transportation capabilities. In fact, we're betting OUR lives on it ... as well as YOURS!

    Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Christine Teel's office is located at 100 N. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301. Her telephone no. is (954) 828-5004 and FAX no. is (954) 828-5667. Click Here to Email Commissioner Teel. Click Here to access Commissioner Teel's City of Fort Lauderdale web address.

    Commissioner Teel's assistant, Catherine Wichmann, can be reached at (954) 828-5033 or Click Here to E-mail.

    Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva's offices are located at 100 N. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 and his telephone # is (954) 828-5013, Fax is (954) 828-5021 or Click Here to e-mail Mr. Silva.

    Pam Brown is an Assistant to the City Commission. Phone: (954) 828-5004, Fax: (954) 828-5667. Click Here to E-mail. Her office is located at 100 North Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301.

    For complete contact information, go to Report Card.


    Click To Top of Page


    “Doctor” Silva Plays the Budget Music

    Who pays the piper...and how much?

    The Budget Crisis faced by Fort Lauderdale has been diagnosed by a fiscal physician, Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva. Mr. Silva has volunteered to suffer a six-month ordeal in which he aspires to wean the City of Fort Lauderdale from the devastating fiscal habits to which it has become accustomed, administer a dose of reality into its “wishful thinking” budget projections and help its stunned residents (us) to face the music. The medication prescribed is a combination of fee and tax increases, service cuts and the temporary freezing of programs that have played a large part in Fort Lauderdale’s evolution.

    Acting City Manager Alan Silva and Vice Mayor Carleton Moore
    Alan Silva & Vice Mayor Carleton Moore

    Mr. Silva, former Director of the Office of Human Resource Development for the U.S. Agency for International Development (1994 - 1997) and City Administrator for Fall River, Massachusetts (1981 - 1984, 2000 - 2001), presented the inimical budget facts to the City Commission on December 3rd. He awaited their reaction with the caveat that he would only continue as Acting City Manager if the City was willing to realistically face its dilemma and take the difficult measures necessary to put its affairs back in order. Pleased with the City Commission's recognition of the magnitude of the problem, he characterized the Commission's resolve to take the hard steps back to solvency as a watershed event. In an effort to soften the harsh effects, Silva relegated the authority/responsibility for the cutbacks to the Department Heads that would have to live with them. Each Department Director would, in turn, accept full responsibility for living within their means and face dismissal for outstripping their budget. The Commission faced the music on December 16th and passed the austere budget measures by a 3-2 vote (Vice Mayor Carleton Moore and Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson dissenting).

    The fees, taxes and fee/tax increases approved by the City Commission at their scheduled December 16th meeting to soften the budget shortfall are as follows:

    • Fire assessment fee: 50 percent increase, from $42 to $63.
    • Ambulance transport fees charged to Medicare: Increased from $330 to $425, $452 or $525, depending on level of treatment.
    • Water and sewer rates: 5 percent increase, amounting to about $2.71 more per month for the average user.
    • Parking fines: 32 percent increase, from $19 to $25.
    • Parking rates: Various increases citywide.
    • Home or business alarm systems registration fee: $50, with an annual renewal fee of $25.
    • Alarm response fees: Doubled, to $100, if more than two alarms are responded to in one year.
    • Sanitation fee: A 10 percent increase, amounting to $34.74 more for a single-family home.
    • Property taxes: 10.16 percent tax increase. The impact varies, depending on the value of an owner’s property and whether it is entitled to a $25,000 homestead exemption. The increase ranges from $12 more for the average homesteaded single-family house, to $215 more for a non-homesteaded house.

    As things currently stand, the City is about $12 million short in meeting its anticipated $215 million operating budget. While fees and taxes increase income, layoffs and program cutbacks decrease expenses. The City has adopted a buffet of rescue efforts to address possible layoffs:

    • No current Police or Fire-Rescue personnel will be laid off
    • Police Public Safety Aides: A code lien “amnesty program” in which code violators can have fines reduced to 25 percent if they pay during February is designed to raise $550,000. If not, aides would face layoffs in the spring.
    • Mounted Police Patrol Unit: Private citizens and developers have pledged $44,500 to sustain the unit.
    • 50 unnamed municipal employees face layoffs.
    • Forced unpaid days off and unpaid furloughs are expected to make up $2.4 million of the operating shortfall.

    The $12 million recovered by this painful venue will provide us with a one year reprieve. The expected shortfall for the next year is $15 million - $16 million. Commissioners agreed that next year portends a tax increase.
    Police and Fire Unions Protest Budget Cuts
    POLICE & FIRE UNIONS PROTEST BUDGET CUTS
    They will also determine whether a $125 million Bond Issue should be placed on the March ballot to finance new police headquarters and fire-rescue stations. City Unions representing the beleaguered municipal employees who will have to pay the “human cost” of these budget measures have been placed in the difficult position of having to balance the needs of their constituencies with Fort Lauderdale’s fiscal realities. Police, Fire-Rescue and other union representatives have been making a cogent case for the fact that their membership will be forced to “take the lumps” for the City Administration's inexcusably poor fiscal judgment. While Mayor Naugle and the City Commissioners have committed to avoid any Police or Fire-Rescue layoffs, the fact that the unions haven't come to an agreement on a new contract could lead to layoffs down the road.

    At the December 16th City Commission meeting at City Hall, many speakers repeated their willingness to pay higher taxes and fees to help navigate through this difficult time rather than face the cuts in manpower and services that threaten the City. In addition to higher fees and reduced services, residents face shorter hours at recreational facilities like the Aquatic Complex. Vice Mayor Carlton Moore indicated that he received many budget-related emails. He asked the people that sent the emails whether they would support a tax increase. Moore said, “I think only one of them said no.”

    Alan Silva’s unrequited challenge entails walking a tightrope between cutting expenses (jobs, services, etc.) and increasing resources (taxes, fees, etc.). Perched precariously between those that demand more services and those reluctant to pay for them, he has agreed to temporarily serve as Fort Lauderdale's fiscal “piñata”, universally taking the heat resulting from the mismanagement practiced by his predecessor and others. Remarkably, he is doing it “Pro Bono”! How many “Doctors” do you know that work for free?


    Click To Top of Page


    What Happened  


    A Chronology - Who Did What...and When?  

    The 168,000 residents of the City of Fort Lauderdale pay more taxes per person ($570 in 2003) than any other large city in the State of Florida (See Table Below). A 3 year period of gross mismanagement has transformed a city with an $18.3 billion tax base into a municipal basket case. On December 16th, the City Commission approved a package of tax & fee increases along with service cuts, layoffs and program freezes that stunned residents and employees alike. Contrary to appearances, this fiscal deterioration didn’t occur overnight. Despite protests of surprise and shock by municipal representatives, the budget disaster we now face did not ambush Fort Lauderdale. City officials have had a ringside seat to a three year fiscal mismanagement spectacle. They were not, however, spectators. They were participants. “How did we get here?” acting City Manager Alan Silva asked rhetorically. “As I have said many times, we had been living beyond our means.” This is what happened...

    • August, 1998 - Floyd Johnson was selected as city manager. Johnson’s relationship with the City Commission was simple. The City Commission’s job was to distribute tax revenues to the projects they supported. Johnson’s job was to create a viable financial structure through which this could be accomplished. It was a simple arrangement, the City Manager wouldn’t say “no” to any project or curb the financial outflow and the Commissioners would turn a blind eye to the fact that Johnson’s budgets made no sense.
    • July, 2000 - Johnson warned in a budget message that the City should be “more foresighted and strategic in our financial planning” and that “we have tended to be too incremental with some past decisions.” Johnson elaborated, “We have prided ourselves on lowering taxes and holding utility rates steady; however, there are times when reasonable increases are prudent and this year requires such increases.” No one, including Johnson, paid heed.
    • Summer, 2001 - The City’s new self-insured health plan showed a substantial jump in costs but nothing was done. Johnson and his top budget staff (Director Damon Adams, who retired last spring, and current Finance Director Terry Sharp) knew of the growing financial problems and repeatedly warned city commissioners by memo. Sharp, for example, spelled out in a November 2001 memo the possible loss in pension investments and sales tax revenue in the sluggish economy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, following nine pages of forecasts of economic downturn and allusions to budget cuts, he concluded: “No action is requested at this time.” He rated the severity of “fiscal stress” as “low.”
    • March, 2002 - Sharp states in a memo that water-sewer projects staff overtime and the city jail and stadium continue to sap money. Labor contracts, annexation, pension upgrades and insurance hikes were costing the city more and a health insurance deficit was looming. He recommended no budget cutbacks.
    • Spring, 2002 - Commissioners and employees were told that the city’s health insurance program was failing (the fund currently carries a $6.5 million deficit); officials acknowledged program mismanagement and longtime finance director Damon Adams retired.
    • June, 2002 - City risk manager Scott Denham resigned, taking responsibility for the failed health insurance program. Simultaneously, Sharp warned that the city’s contribution to the general employees’ pension would jump $4 million. He optimistically asserts that “The FY 2003 budget is tight but doable.”
    • September, 2002 - Commissioners approved a budget that included $1.3 million towards restoring the city’s self-insured health program, which had a negative balance of $8.7 million that was expected to worsen. In the City’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (FY ending 9/30/2002), the Management’s Discussion and Analysis states that “the City’s insurance fund had assets of $7.3 million but liabilities of $22.4 million of which $21.9 million represent estimated claim liabilities.” Ironically, it continues, “The health plan has undergone major renovation” and “appears to be on a better financial track.” The budget, not surprisingly, also included new expenditures. Commissioners raised taxes and fees, but excluded homesteaded property.
    • April, 2003 - Commissioners are told the budget outlook is bad but no action is taken.
    • June, 2003 - Johnson established a hiring, travel and purchasing freeze, and a ban on nonessential overtime.
    • July, 2003 - Muni-war broke out. Johnson and Sharp announced an official deficit of $5.4 million and that the city would run out of money before the end of the budget year. Commissioners denounce Johnson’s budget and its proposed tax increase as a “shell game” of shifting funds with cuts in the most sensitive, and wrong, places. In response, Johnson vows to avoid layoffs. Retiree Alan Silva critiqued the budget, saying it is out of balance and “fiscally irresponsible” and that layoffs are needed.
    • August, 2003 - Auditor Ernst & Young LLP confirmed that “the city’s financial condition is deteriorating.” Johnson writes a letter denying the city is in a crisis. He says a three-year economic downturn and the City Commission’s failure to raise taxes high enough created the problems. The city’s coffers are empty (about $10 million in the hole) and its emergency savings depleted.
    • September, 2003 - Commissioners ordered Johnson to resign or be fired. Then they passed a budget with higher taxes and fees, and cuts in services. (Johnson later agreed to quit.) However, Commissioners find out the budget they passed is not balanced and that major cuts are needed immediately. Moody’s Investors Service placed Fort Lauderdale on a watchlist for possible reduction in its bond rating, an indicator of financial health.
    • October, 2003 - Silva is selected to be interim city manager, working for free. He’s told the city must start saving $25,000 a day to avoid a deficit. Standard & Poor’s Rating Service changed its outlook to "negative," a warning of possible downgrade in the city’s bonds. A lower bond rating makes it more expensive for a city to borrow money.
    • December, 2003 - Commissioners made final the $12 million in cuts Silva recommended, a decrease that would cut $15 million out of next budget year’s base. They also set aside $2 million in reserves (enough to pay the bills for about 4 days - Alan Silva asked for $10 million - Click to Table). They will reduce the workforce 6 percent, including layoffs for 50 employees, the first layoffs in almost a decade.

    Taxes Levied (Per Person) in Major Florida Cities

    Major Florida
    Municipality
    2003
    Population
    Tax Base
    (In Billions)
    2003 Taxes
    (Per Person)
           
    Fort Lauderdale 168,000 $18.3 $570
    Miami 373,000 $19.4 $454
    Jacksonville (Duval) 782,000 $34.2 $454
    Hollywood 143,000   $8.2 $403
    Tampa 317,000 $18.3 $383
    Orlando 202,000 $13.1 $382
    Clearwater 101,000   $6.7 $351
    Saint Petersburg 252,000   $1.0 $284
    Pembroke Pines 148,000   $7.3 $233
    Coral Springs 124,000   $6.7 $233
    Tallahassee 162,000   $6.7 $158

    Source: State of Florida

    The City’s finance officials consistently warned of impending budget troubles. Memoranda went to Commissioners, the Mayor and their staff personnel. Although memos were sent about the need to curb spending, raise taxes and plan for the future, finance officials never acted on their own advice. While official budget documents acknowledged the anticipated problems, no timely recommendations were made. Instead of setting aside additional cash for emergencies, officials ran through contingency funds (meant for “unanticipated demands after budget adoption”), reserve funds (meant only for extreme emergencies), one-time funds like grants or money that had been set aside to maintain roads and buildings. The “undesignated” fund balance dwindled from $9 million in 2001 to nothing by early 2003.

    While the Administration’s Finance officials did nothing to stem the washout aside from mentioning it, the City Commission behaved as if there was no cause for concern, pointing to the anticipated increases in tax revenues from several large but incomplete real estate developments. It is unfathomable that City officials were oblivious to the downturn in the economy and how that would impact pension investments ($96.7 million in losses last budget year in city employee pension funds required an additional City contribution of $8 million), tax revenues (property taxes came in $1.15 million short) and interest income (interest earnings plunged $600,000 from expectations). Generous union contracts, a self-insured employee health insurance plan that leaked money like a sieve and a non-stop stream of porky municipal projects chewed through the paper thin reserves in a flash. City records show that in the last budget year the city dipped into its emergency cash to pay for a $19,380 roundabout on Miami Road, $137,000 for a Downtown Master Plan, $45,000 for a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, $12,366 to give the city manager a raise, and another $946,101 to give all other managers raises. City Commissioners didn’t pay serious attention to the collapse until pieces of plaster started falling on their heads. The self-insured health plan that the City implemented to save money paid rich benefits, with low employee contributions. The troubled program’s deficit peaked at $13 million and will cost the city $2 million extra this year. The City’s workers’ compensation insurance fund needed a $2 million boost and franchise fees from FP&L and People’s Gas dropped $475,000. The parks, police and fire departments collectively overspent their budgets by $4.9 million, resulting in a two-year $7.75 million “overtime” deficit.

    To imply that intelligent elected political officials and experienced career bureaucrats were either distracted by a shell game, had the wool pulled over their eyes or were misled in any other way, shape or form is simply not credible. In fact, there is no credible explanation for this collapse. Vaudeville is widely presumed to be dead...not in Fort Lauderdale!

    Cities Fund “Reserves” in their annual budgets to address emergencies. Of Broward County's 4 largest municipalities, Fort Lauderdale’s “Reserve Fund” has been the smallest for the past five years!

    Broward City 99-00 00-01 01-02 02-03 03-04 F.Y. 2003 - 2004
      (In Millions) General Fund Budget
                 
    Coral Springs $15.8 $16.8 $22.9 $26.2 $27.1   $78.5
    Hollywood   $4.8   $4.7   $6.0   $6.0   $5.8 $137.1
    Fort Lauderdale   $1.5   $1.5   $2.0   $1.5   $2.0 $215.0
    Pembroke Pines   $7.2   $8.3 $10.3 $16.9 $16.9 $118.0

    Source: Cities of Coral Springs, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and Pembroke Pines

    Fort Lauderdale’s Annual Operating Budgets and Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) are available on the internet. Click Here to go to the City's Budget Page and access the Annual Operating Budgets from 1997 to the present. Click Here to access the City of Fort Lauderdale Finance Department’s web page.

    Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva’s offices are located at 100 N. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 and his telephone # is (954) 828-5013, Fax is (954) 828-5021. Click Here to e-mail Mr. Silva at ASilva@fortlauderdale.gov and Click Here to access the Acting City Manager’s web page.

    Click To Top of Page


    Barrier Island Community Meeting

    Fire-Rescue Budget Broken


    November 24, 2003 - The City of Fort Lauderdale held a November 24, 2003 Public Meeting at the Beach Community Center (3351 NE 33rd Avenue in Fort Lauderdale) to address Fire-Rescue budget issues affecting the Barrier Island. It would appear that Fort Lauderdale has been operating in a state of “financial denial”. The former City Manager, attempting to pacify a wide range of fiscal demands placed by the Mayor and the City Commission, has been addressing “this year’s expenses with next year’s income” for many years. The City is broke. We are, however, not alone! It seems that the tax cuts, givebacks and giveaways that politicians have painted as a brave new world have an inconvenient repercussion. No taxes - no money, no money - no services! When this is combined with the “Rose Colored Glasses” worn by our representatives while spending over a half million dollars on the Air-Sea Show and dozens of other financial gaffes, it presents a recipe for disaster. Municipalities across the nation are coping with various levels of financial distress; some better than others. The Barrier Island got a dose of the bitter medicine required as part of the remedy for fiscal ineptitude...CUTBACKS.

    Fire Chief Otis Latin
    Fire Chief Otis Latin
    The 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM Public Meeting, despite being inaccessible to anyone who works for a living, was attended by over one hundred and fifty residents, Fire-Rescue and Police personnel. The barely publicized meeting was an exercise in softening up the community for some bad news. The unfortunate “messenger”,
    Fire Chief Otis Latin, was joined by City Commissioners Christine Teel and Cindi Hutchinson in an attempt to clarify the impending pitfalls in the new Fire-Rescue budget.
    Commissioner Cindy Hutchinson
    Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson
    Chief Latin explained that the Fire-Rescue overtime budgeted for last year was $1.2 Million dollars. The department exceeded its budget by 60%, actually spending $1.9 Million dollars. This year, the overtime budget is $956,000...$56,000 of which is for Ocean Rescue, leaving $900,000 for Fire-Rescue (less than half of last year’s expenditure). As a result, the Department is undergoing a “temporary reorganization”. The four Battalions that cover the city will be consolidated into three. He admonished that the city will have the same number of transports, engines, quints and trucks despite the one battalion administrative cutback. Several Battalion Chiefs and Lieutenants will be shifted from Administration to Operations to help reduce the overtime demand. Unit size will sporadically shrink from 4 to 3 firefighters while Rescue Unit staffing could diminish from 3 to 2. The Chief described the overall Fire-Rescue organizational venue as being “a fluid system that constantly shifts from one area to the next” as demand dictates. Chief Latin then lowered the Boom!

    When the Cleveland Clinic, the only Barrier Island Hospital, pulled up stakes (and their Certificate of Need) and moved to Weston, there was a tornado of community protest. Local officials worked overtime to allay the legitimate concerns of tens of thousands of angry and frightened beach residents. Although no viable medical services replacement could be found, the promise of Fire-Rescue Ambulances standing “at the ready” near the site of the former Cleveland Clinic dissipated much of the community “angst”.
    Fire-Rescue Station 13
    Fire-Rescue Station 13
    The three Fire-Rescue Stations that service the Barrier Island are Station 54 located at 3200 NE 32nd Street, Station 13 at 2871 E Sunrise Boulevard and the southernmost Station 49 at 1015 Seabreeze Boulevard. Chief Latin told the assembly that the Transport (Ambulance) at Station 13 would intermittently lose a shift. The Chief again pointed to the fluid nature of the system, often placing one or more of our Barrier Island teams on the mainland and conversely finding mainland-based units responding to Barrier Island emergencies. Chief Latin then opened the floor to questions.

    A Physician-resident of the Bermuda-Riviera Condominium described a scenario wherein the team from Stations 54 or 49 was on the mainland while Station 13 was unavailable because of this overtime plan. If two emergency calls were received, how would the remaining unit respond to both? Chief Latin exclaimed that an EMS team would be dispatched to stabilize the situation but the victim would just have to wait for the next available Transport unit to get to the hospital. He reminded the audience that the Barrier Island operated successfully for years with only two Stations. A resident pointed out that the Cleveland Clinic’s prior presence greatly reduced the required transport time but that patients now had to be brought over a bridge to a mainland hospital. While the bridges at Sunrise Boulevard and Oakland Park Boulevard were accessible by radio to accommodate emergency closings, the Commercial Boulevard Bridge could only be contacted by telephone. In addition, Fire-Rescue’s ability to “preempt” traffic does not extend to Federal Highway, the main thoroughfare to most of the area hospitals.

    Ian Kemp, one of several dozen red tee-shirted Fort Lauderdale firefighters in attendance, remarked that the enormous overtime expenditures were a direct result of the Department’s staffing policies. He claimed that “institutional understaffing guaranteed the chronic need for overtime.” He also reinforced community life-safety concerns by warning that “the service cuts would substantially increase the critical response time that often dictates survivability in an emergency.”

    Alan A. Silva - Acting City Manager
    Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva
    GMCA President Robert Rozema asked Chief Latin why the City reduced Fire-Safety services by about 7% after increasing the Fire-Rescue Assessment by 40%. Alan Silva, the Acting City Manager who represents the only bright spot in the City’s murky financial outlook, explained the financial basis for the belt-tightening and hinted at the ridiculous fiscal environment in which City Hall denizens proliferated. Mr. Silva said that even with the 40% increase, the Fire-Rescue assessment only covers 50% of the Department’s operational expenses. Prior to the increase, the assessment barely covered 25% of the Fire-Rescue budget. The fairy-tale environment under which the City Hall budget existed for years relied on next year’s projected income to satisfy this year’s overdrafts. While he intentionally avoided fixing responsibility for the City’s rubiks cube financial dilemma, he is recommending that all regular critical functions of City government be fully funded every year. He warned that if any department head overspent their budget, they would be summarily dismissed. Mr. Silva, a veteran City Manager with Federal and Municipal government experience, exhorted that he would quit were he pressured to allow any “budget-busting” measures by anyone in City government. Mr. Silva, however, does not appear to be micromanaging the various departmental budgets. Fire-Rescue, for instance, has been given certain budgetary parameters within which Chief Latin and his staff are responsible for exercising their discretion while delivering Fire-Rescue services.

    Commissioner Christine Teel
    Commissioner Christine Teel
    Three glaring questions as yet remain unanswered. 1) Why didn’t any elected representative serving in City Hall notice that they were spending more money than was available? District 1 Commissioner Christine Teel remarked that she inquired of the former City Manager about the Air-Sea Show expenses and was told “about $100,000”. Realizing that the amount was far from credible, she continued to investigate. The actual amount exceeded $500,000. Apparently, these highly suspect fiscal representations were accepted by the Mayor and every City Commissioner for years. 2) The second dilemma arises from scrutiny of the priorities exercised at City Hall. Sacrifices unquestionably have to be made. Common sense would seem to dictate that Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services should be the last sources of recovery through cutbacks. Most people agree that it is preferable for some Parks to go unattended and the Sister Cities Program to temporarily lose a “Sister” before risking anyone’s life! 3) The last issue relates to the recent Fire-Rescue Assessment. The 40% increase in the Fire-Rescue assessment amounts to about $27.00 ($36/unit in 2002 to $63/unit in 2004) more than the previous assessments. If the increase brought the Fire-Rescue budget to within 50% of operating levels, why didn’t the City assess a few dollars more and completely fund the critical services? Whereas nobody enjoys paying taxes, they like the prospect of an unavailable or delayed Ambulance during an emergency even less.

    Informing a community that they have to pay for the services that they receive is a politically abhorrent task. It took a fair amount of hard nerve for Otis Latin to risk the wrath of those predisposed to “killing the messenger” that delivers bad news. Similarly, Acting City Manager Alan Silva is courageously intent on not sugar-coating the harsh realities attendant to fiscal prudence. Would it have been too much to expect our City Fathers and Mothers to trust us enough to ask that we fund the critical services instead of cutting them? Mayor Naugle asserts that we can expect a modicum of financial relief in about two years (when the recently completed downtown development projects start realizing tax benefits for the City). How our representatives steer Fort Lauderdale through this temporary fiscal “gauntlet” will likely determine their future occupations!

    To contact Fire Chief Otis Latin (at 101 NE 3 Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301), call (954) 828-6800 or Click Here.

    Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva’s offices are located at 100 N. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 and his telephone # is (954) 828-5013, Fax is (954) 828-5021 or Click Here to e-mail Mr. Silva.

    Click Here to email Commissioner Christine Teel and Click Here to email Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson.


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    Update: Mayor James Naugle

    Fort Lauderdale Mayor James Naugle, a longtime political benefactor of the Galt Mile community, was the guest speaker at the October 16th, 2003 Galt Mile Community Association Advisory Board meeting. Shore Preservation, Fire Safety and Insurance dogma were placed on “hold” while the Mayor addressed a municipal issue that impacts the City’s ability to contend with each and every other challenge...MONEY! Fort Lauderdale’s financial condition is dire. The City’s coffers are empty and funding is the primary item on every City Hall agenda.

    Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle
    Mayor Jim Naugle
    Mayor Naugle distributed a multi-page collation to support his presentation. The first page was a two-line chart entitled "Full-Time Budgeted Positions". The top line shows that there were 2103 full-time budgeted positions in 1996 and there are 2551 full-time budgeted positions proposed for 2004, an increase of 448 positions. The average annual compensation for a municipal employee is currently $71,924.00 ($86,835.00 for Police and $81,622.00 for Firefighters/EMTs). Annual compensation for the 448 additional employees amounts to about $32,221,952.00.

    Despite the fact that a certain increase in governance expense is to be expected to accommodate the growth of our City, this 21.3% increase in staff is indicative of a “do it in-house” policy that has historically proliferated in City Hall. Three conditions need to exist for this policy to continue unopposed. The first two are {1} the need to control every aspect of every service that the City delivers and {2} the general sentiment that the City can deliver the services more efficiently than its commercial competitors. It is, of course, a gamble. If your “in-house” effort supplants some inefficient vendor whose business is based on the siphoning off of tax dollars into the company's strong-box, you're a hero. If, however, your competition does it better and cheaper, you're a goat. The third condition is always necessary whenever you gamble, {3} the resources to cover your bet. Funds adequate to equip, staff and house the operational needs of the indicated service need to be available. When you can’t pay, you can’t play. Currently, the City can’t pay.

    Fort Lauderdale's mission has been refocused. While treading this financial tightrope, the City has to find a way to deliver acceptable levels of service for a lot less money! The Mayor explained, by way of example, that the Bulk Trash component of the Sanitation Rate on the Garbage Bill could be moderated by outsourcing collection to a commercial Sanitation business. To deliver the service in-house, the City needs to buy and maintain expensive equipment (trucks, roll-offs, claws, etc.), hire collection staff and retain administrative and support staff to oversee the division. The fiscal stress of this labor-intensive service is magnified by the benefit costs (pension, workman’s compensation, health insurance, etc.) that outsourcing sidesteps. When GMCA President Robert Rozema asked Mayor Naugle about replacing the large number of broken uplights along the Galt Mile, the Mayor explained that the number of City electricians had diminished from 12 to 8. The electrician responsible for maintaining the uplights had been downsized (retired). The Mayor implied that the City might be better served by outsourcing services like this.

    The Mayor feels that a majority on the City Commission is predisposed to exploring these cost-cutting alternatives. He expressed concern about a proposal by one commissioner to install a new bureaucracy designed to monitor rental properties for possible code violations. The rental property owner would be subject to obtaining a license or paying for an annual inspection. Properties would be reviewed for cleanliness, upkeep, repairs and the warranted permits. The new division could require resources to fund operational expenses, office space and the salaries and benefits for about 22 new municipal employees - roughly $2.5 Million per year. The offering will be considered in conference by the City Commission, reviewed by the City Attorney and subject to Public Hearings.

    Mayor Naugle injected an element of irony into the presentation by including a “Fiscal Year 2002/2003 Ad Valorem Tax Profile” of selected municipalities compiled by the State of Florida Department of Revenue in his fact sheets. He offered a table contrasting Population Estimates, Operating Millage, Total Taxable value and Taxes Levied and 2002 Per Capita Taxable Value and Total Taxes Levied in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Hollywood, Tampa, Clearwater, Saint Petersburg, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs, Hialeah and Tallahassee. It demonstrated, among other things, that the 2002 Per Capita Taxable Property Value in Fort Lauderdale was $98,114.00. Aside from Orlando at $70,399.00, the rest of the municipalities were about half that of Fort Lauderdale (Miami - $47,785.00, Hollywood - 53,653.00, St. Petersburg - $40,124.00, Pembroke Pines - $47,587.00, Coral Springs - $51,950, Tallahassee - $42,060.00, etc.). At $475.58, Fort Lauderdale had the highest 2002 Per Capita total taxes levied of the major Florida municipalities. This superior income stream should lend itself to a speedier economic recovery for our beleaguered municipal bankbook as compared to our sister cities. The challenge for our City Fathers (and Mothers) will be to sustain the relatively inexpensive “Quality of Life” programs that are usually the first to go when a government becomes financially strapped. If they can “walk the walk” and tighten the City’s belt without succumbing to the political heat, our Mayor and Commissioners should benefit from an expected revenue spurt in about two years.

    Galt Ocean MileOur Mayor emphasized the financial impact that The Galt Mile has on the City's finances. District 1 (our district) represents 37.06% ($5,347,229,990.00) of the total assessed property values for the City of Fort Lauderdale. While the Member Associations (condos & co-ops) of the Galt Mile Community Association account for 22% ($1,163,544,450.00) of the District 1 valuations, they comprise more than 8% of the total municipal valuation ($14,428,491,910.00). We historically receive, in return, substantially less than we contribute.

    Alan A. Silva - Acting City Manager
    Acting City Manager
    Alan A. Silva
    The Mayor spoke to the replacement of recently departed City Manager Floyd T. Johnson. Referring to the City Commission, Naugle stated, “We should have exercised closer oversight of the former City Manager’s budgets.” Fort Lauderdale has engaged Alan A. Silva, 53, as “Acting City Manager” for a six-month term effective October 9, 2003 (Pro Bono!). Mr. Silva, former Director of the Office of Human Resource Development for the U.S. Agency for International Development (1994 - 1997) and City Administrator for Fall River, Massachusetts (1981 - 1984, 2000 - 2001), will be responsible for directing the City of Fort Lauderdale’s day-to-day operations, administering a total operating budget in excess of $375 million and overseeing a staff of nearly 2,500 employees.
    Chief of Police Bruce G Roberts - Next City Manager???
    Chief of Police Bruce G Roberts
    Fort Lauderdale and Miami belong to a minority of municipalities functionally administered by a City Manager. The Mayor’s preference for a permanent solution, aside from Chief of Police Bruce G. Roberts, is to lure a highly qualified proven commodity away from some successful “City Manager-based” municipality instead of promoting from within the existing hierarchy.

    Palazzo Las Olas
    PALAZZO - LAS OLAS
    Mayor Naugle touched on several other issues. He voiced his concern over the Palazzo development on Las Olas Boulevard and the Intracoastal Waterway. He’s understandably uncomfortable with allocating a paltry $5 Million valuation for the foreseeable future on one of the most desirable locations in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. In response to a query by GMCA Presidents Council Chairman Pio Ieraci, he expressed consternation over the unbridled development taking place downtown. Thousands of units are coming online with no adjunctive relief from the concomitant traffic. He advocates the development and promotion of public transportation to reduce the exploding congestion. While not advocating a moratorium on development downtown, the Mayor asked that the City be afforded the opportunity to “catch up” with regard to traffic control. He also encouraged progressive solutions like the efficient, convenient sub-rooftop parking provided by the downtown Publix Supermarket.

    Mayor Naugle can be contacted by E-mail at MayorJames@aol.com and maintains a website is at http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/commission/bios/naugle.htm. For complete contact information, go to Report Card.

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     Code Amnesty Program Could Save Safety Aides 

    One of the efforts that elevated Fort Lauderdale's public safety reputation from spotty to sterling is the Public Safety Aides Program. This successful program is in danger of either being suspended or sacrificed in the “budget bonfire” ignited to restore the municipality’s fiscal sanity. Every Public Safety Aide frees up one trained police officer to fight crime instead of answer phones. As part of Police Chief Bruce Roberts’ $6.4 million contribution to diminishing Fort Lauderdale’s budget, the “Public Safety Aides” program was included in the package of cutbacks approved by the City Commission to relieve the severe budget imbalance. As hope springs eternal, the threatened program may yet exact a reprieve and survive the budget axe.

    A deal was struck at the December 16th City Commission meeting to approve the emergency budget adjustments. In a clever attempt to kill several birds with one stone, the City is offering a Code Amnesty Program designed to raise the half million dollars needed to perpetuate the Public Safety Aides Program. Should the code amnesty program underperform, layoffs could loom in the spring.

    Public Safety Aides
    Public Safety Aides
    Here’s how it works. From February 1st to March 1st, any eligible property owner with an outstanding code enforcement fine or lien can settle their balance due by paying the City 25% of the debt’s face value. There are, however, certain prerequisites to participation in this municipal 75%-off sale. In addition to owing outstanding fines or liens, the violated property needs to be currently in compliance with the City’s code of ordinances. If the violation persists, the property is ineligible for the discount. If you feel that your property is in compliance but has not been inspected, please call the Community Inspections Division at (954) 828-5207 to schedule an inspection in order to verify your eligibility for this program.

    Payments may be made in person Monday - Friday from 7:30 A.M. - 4:30 P.M. at the City’s Community Inspections Division, located at 300 N.W. 1st Avenue. Payments made this way may be satisfied with a credit card, cash, personal check, cashier’s check or money order payable to the City of Fort Lauderdale. Payments may also be mailed to: City of Fort Lauderdale, Community Inspections Division, 300 N.W. 1st Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Payments that are mailed (no cash or credit card payments will be accepted through the mail) must be postmarked no later than March 1, 2004. Payments made in person must be made no later than 4:30 P.M. March 1, 2004. Once the amnesty period ends, outstanding code enforcement fines and liens will revert back to 100% and will be aggressively collected using every means available to the City, including foreclosing on properties.

    The benefits derived of this program’s success are manifold. Procrastinating property owners have a substantial incentive to “fix” their safety violations to secure participation in the discount program. Whenever this occurs, our world becomes a little safer. The benefit to “violated” property owners is self-evident and substantial (75% off is a BIG discount). The program’s central mission is to bring in $550,000 to bridge the budget gap that threatens to swallow Fort Lauderdale’s Public Safety Aides Program. The current pool of outstanding liens and fines from both corrected and non-compliant properties amounts to more than $73 Million. If 3/4 of one percent of the total indebtedness is realized, 30 very important jobs will be saved.

    Property owners who think they may be eligible, or have any questions about the Code Fine Amnesty Program, are encouraged to contact the City’s Community Inspections Division at (954) 828-5207.


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    Parks Department Fails Audit


    Overtime Abuses Uncovered  

    City Auditor Allyson Love has acquired new status as a result of the City’s Budget Boondoggle. Her office is the center of a power struggle between the City Commission and the City Manager’s office. The City’s Charter Review Board, contemplating a reapportioning of governance controls, is examining the possible relocation of the Auditor’s responsibilities to the City Commission from the City Manager’s office. Commissioners have asserted that this would effectively give them a “handle” on past and potential spending missteps such as overtime abuses. Any changes to the Fort Lauderdale City Charter require approval of the voters.

    Parks & Recreation Department The value of this office has recently revealed itself as completion of a partial audit of Parks Department overtime yielded startling abuses. Some Parks Department employees have substantially increased their incomes (up to 45% above their base pay) through the use of essentially unaudited overtime pay. The audit, recently distributed to city commissioners, also determined that the department has no written policies on overtime, lax oversight and no way to determine what work was done. Love’s office stated in a review of overtime spent during the 2002-03 budget year, “Overtime usage and distribution appears excessive, not adequately documented and/or monitored”.

    City auditor Stacey Thomas found that supervisors themselves were paid overtime without demonstrating proper authorization, employees didn't always clock in or out when on overtime, and some were paid overtime in the same week they took sick leave, compensatory leave or vacation. Supervisors weren’t required to document reasons for the overtime. The audit states that, “Crews worked overtime on weekends without a foreman/supervisor to monitor their productivity, and the overtime work was not distributed equitably”.

    Parks & Recreation Department Parks Department exceeded last year's budget of $474,864 by $242,015, running it up to $716,879. The audit covered only about 20% of the department’s staff. Abuses ranged from mild to severe, with one employee earning the equivalent of 45 percent of his base pay -- or $28,829 -- in overtime, and another clocked $26,316 in overtime, or 40.4 percent of his $65,111 base pay, according to the audit. Three other employees made 30% over and above their base pay while twenty others racked up 20% increases.

    The audit determined that 78 percent of the overtime audited in the parks division, and 18 percent in the recreation division, could not be justified with any documentation. The unjustified overtime during the audit period amounted to $61,493 of the $106,503 that was reviewed. The few available records show that overtime was doled out to employees staffing festivals, pools, beach patrol, parks, tennis courts, teen programs, and after-school and camp programs. The biggest overtime earner, for instance, is the only individual in the Department who can drive the “showmobile” a mobile stage used at city events.

    Parks and Recreation Director Ernest Burkeen said that while he doesn’t believe that abuse is widespread, he’s pleased to learn about the sloppy practices so that they may be addressed. “Our failure has been to document in terms of writing down what exactly we’re doing,” said Burkeen, who inherited the department in 2001. Burkeen said he thought all employees adhered to an unwritten policy to document the reason for the overtime. Burkeen asserted that, prior to the City’s budget crisis; the Department’s emphasis was on service, such as trying to reinvigorate the Himmarshee area with weekly Downtown Live events, staffing summer camp and programs and overspending the water budget by trying to rescue new landscaping. “Our focus has always been on the aggressive side about trying to provide the service first and then where to find the money later,” said Burkeen. “It was ‘provide the service. Do whatever you can to provide the service.’ Now we have different times, and we’re not doing nearly as much as we have in the past.”

    A recent budget memo shows that since this year’s budget began October 1st, his department had spent only $31,736 in overtime by December 31st. By the same time the previous budget year, the department had spent more than seven times that amount, or $235,032. Remember, this audit only covered one-fifth of the department! In the meantime, because of the light that her office can focus on cloudy fiscal scenarios, Auditor Allyson Love’s stock can only go up. The times, they are a-changin.

    The City Auditor is attached to the City Manager’s Office and can be contacted by E-mail at ASilva@fortlauderdale.gov or Click Here to access the City Manager’s We Page.

    Call 954-828-PARK (7275) to contact the Parks and Recreation Department or go to Web Page Here.

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    Love Nails Another Audit


    Audit lightning strikes again! One of City Auditor Allyson Love’s troops, auditor Renee Foley, uncovered a contractor’s repeated overbilling of the city, apparently in cahoots with city employees. Love’s office also brought into sharp focus the glaring absence of a written business ethics policy for vendors doing business with Fort Lauderdale and the marked lack of reasonable controls on city projects. Fort Lauderdale contractor Recreational Design and Construction Inc., or RDC, billed the City $110,000 in “questionable costs” during the construction of Civic Peoples Park in southwest Fort Lauderdale, according to Ms. Foley. As a result of the audit, $85,800 out of the total $258,114 paid by Fort Lauderdale to RDC for the park project was determined to be “overbilling”, for which the City intends to invoice the company.

    Fort Lauderdale, after years of nurturing a free-spending culture that ultimately resulted in the City's budget imploding, is currently in a heightened state of fiscal awareness. The City Auditor’s office is operating on all cylinders, seeking budget leaks to plug and historical mistakes to rectify. A recent audit of the Parks Department yielded a veritable buffet of abuses and costly inefficiencies. This effort is adjunctive to Acting City Manager Alan Silva’s declared program of financial reforms, service cuts and tax/fee increases designed to insure that Fort Lauderdale “lives within its means”. In reviewing the City’s relationship with RDC, Foley wrote, “we found significant issues of a material nature that jeopardized the City’s assets.”

    Riverside Park
    RIVERSIDE PARK - FORT LAUDERDALE
    The Civic Peoples Park project, a passive neighborhood park at 3781 SW Riverland Road built between 1999 and 2001, included a walking path, playground equipment, picnic shelter, landscaping and a half dozen parking spots. RDC enjoys a multi-year contract with the City to provide general design and building services for small projects within the City’s Park system. The company also performed construction services for Welcome Park and recently completed work on Riverside Park in Fort Lauderdale..

    Civic Peoples Park
    CIVIC PEOPLES PARK - FORT LAUDERDALE
    The City paid RDC extra for items, like a portable toilet, that were already included in the main contract. They picked up lunch tabs for RDC’s project manager, Scott Greiner. Fort Lauderdale was billed for a slew of items that were unsupported by any documentation like permit fees and concrete. They reimbursed RDC for undocumented American Express and Home Depot bills. They also paid for consultant work done before the project was even approved.

    RDC, located at 3990 North Powerline Road in Fort Lauderdale, invoiced the City for a variety of suspicious expenses. Among them were pass-through costs of unverified staff overtime and monies paid to subcontractors or consultants directly affiliated with the company for which RDC provided no actual receipts to back up vendors’ statements. Because the City failed to include any business ethics standards in the contract, this possible conflict of interest was accepted in stride. It was also discovered that RDC and its subcontractors didn't carry the proper insurance. Company officials claim that the city’s contract administrator, Peter Sheridan, had “verbally” assented to these “contract modifications”.

    Other conflicts cloud the City’s relationship with RDC. In a controversy termed, “unusual, suspicious and probably unethical” by Assistant State Attorney John Countryman, Sheridan was forced to resign after it was discovered that RDC built a spa in his private home. Sheridan’s mother, in an attempt to mute the potential blowback, paid for the $11,000 spa months later. In another RDC project overseen by Sheridan, the $328,614 Welcome Park project, a 2002 audit uncovered $200,000 in questionable or ineligible payments made by the City to the company. Sheridan currently works at Keith and Schnars, a Fort Lauderdale consulting firm that does substantial repeat business with the City, including improvements to the Holiday Park Gymnasium and George English Park.

    Sheridan is not the only municipal employee under suspicion for a conflict of interest. Fort Lauderdale Engineer Peter Strelkow, while overseeing an RDC project for the City, concurrently provided private services to the company. Strelkow, although still employed by the City, is awaiting discipline for yet another conflict of interest controversy.

    In response to the disappointing discoveries made by Auditor Allyson Love’s office, the City intends to recover the sorely needed $85,800 overbilled by RDC and exercise substantially stronger controls for effective oversight of future City projects. The Fort Lauderdale Engineering staff has also committed to establishing a written business ethics policy by March 22nd. To preclude a recurrence of this embarrassing (and expensive) scenario, all City contracts would be subject to the terms of this newly created policy. Difficult lessons learned by our municipality in reaction to these audits serve as poor excuses for silver linings. However, if Allyson Love bags a few more juicy ones, not only will she help the City shed its "fiscally casual" reputation that threatens our bond ratings, she'll have the makings of a $20 million four-part pay-per-view mini-series!

    Call 954-828-PARK (7275) to contact the Parks and Recreation Department or go to Web Page Here.

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    Tickets OR Taxes


    Parking Meter - Helps Pay The Bills
    MONEY MACHINE
    Hard times tend to sharpen the senses and stiffen one’s resolve to make difficult decisions. The City’s budget crunch has encouraged City officials to increase fees and enforce unpopular regulations from which they would normally distance themselves. Few things generate more complaints from residents, merchants and visitors than the unexpected toughening of parking rates and regulations. A controversial income source, nourished by the public’s need to park their cars, is one of Fort Lauderdale’s underutilized cash cows. On Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale’s popular municipal showcase, visitors who used to enjoy free street parking after 9 PM are now slaves to the meter until 3 AM, after which vehicles parked in local lots will be subject to the tow truck. The increased parking meter rates throughout the city, unchanged since 1981, range from the former 25 cents to $1.50 per hour. The new rates are comparable to those experienced by neighboring municipalities like Miami, West Palm Beach, Hollywood and Pompano. The $7.5 million it accrues to the City’s coffers is a substantial piece of Fort Lauderdale’s budget puzzle.

    Another unexplored fiscal resource that has recently attracted the attention of our municipal representatives is the variable yet reliable income borne of parking and traffic violations. Commissioners are looking past the “political incorrectness” inherent in raising the penalties for parking and traffic tickets above limits considered conscionable as a deterrent, concentrating instead on the number of city jobs that can be saved by the additional funds. Parking fines have jumped from $19 to $25 for an expired meter and from $24 to $30 for illegal parking. The $3.3 million expected from parking scofflaws exceeds by 50% the $2.2 million required to meet Acting City Manager Alan Silva’s minimum budgetary objectives for traffic citations.

    Chief of Police Bruce G Roberts - Controls Fort Lauderdale’s Parking Enforcement Team
    Chief of Police Bruce G Roberts
    Fort Lauderdale’s parking enforcement team, unlike many city departments plagued by budget-driven personnel cutbacks, has been fully staffed this year. The 23 parking meter specialists that populate the unit were moved into Police Chief Bruce G. Roberts’ domain. Under the Police Department, team efficiency has improved, with citation output increasing by 21.5%. Roberts’ minions were responsible for adding $3.08 million to the City’s bottom line last year, the result of 144,150 citations issued.

    Serious opposition to this “rates and fines” crackdown has been mounted by business owners and the tourism industry. Merchants characterize the effort as a “wet blanket thrown on the City’s economy in exchange for pennies” and point out that while most cities assign a low priority to parking meters, Fort Lauderdale maintains “23 specialists that do nothing but forage for expired meters.” Travel industry spokespersons have complained that the policy is alienating visitors and undermines Fort Lauderdale’s main source of income, tourism. The arguments have been afforded some credibility by the City Commission. To prevent automobile accidents or DUIs resulting from the mandate to evacuate vehicles from lots at 3 AM by potentially inebriated celebrants, the Commission allowed a six month reprieve to study the issue. City Commissioner Dean Trantalis responded to the policy by exhorting fellow commissioners to “not be so Gestapo-ish in our approach to parking enforcement, we’re trying to make this a fun city.”

    Smart Park In-Vehicle Parking Meter
    SMARTPARK DEVISE
    The city is working to soften the impact by offering a debit card that can be slid into the meter as payment. While this should be available in two to three months, it will probably be two to three years before the meters can accept credit cards. The Parking Services Division has introduced a new in-car parking meter known as SmartPark. A small pocket calculator-size electronic device, it uses a smartcard that’s loaded with a prepaid amount of parking hours. According to the City, “The smartcard is inserted into the SmartPark, which is then placed inside the vehicle and displays the parking time purchased. An initial one-time refundable deposit for the SmartPark unit is $55 and customers must purchase the smartcard for $10. Customers can preload the SmartCard in increments of $25, $50, $75 and $100.”

    While meting out citations has been honed to a science, collecting the money has always been a disturbingly inexact art. The heart of the City’s collection system has historically been prayer. Irrepressibly, City officials would “hope” that the fines were paid. If that didn’t work, the next step would be to “sulk”. Under the sobering effects of the “budget gun”, Fort Lauderdale has decided to trade in “hoping and sulking” for something more effective, particularly with regard to visitors’ violations. Superficially, this refers to those who, while vacationing here, indebted themselves to the city by not attending to where, or how long, they parked their rentals. Upon closer inspection, it clearly includes the myriad snowbirds and snowflakes driving vehicles registered in their “other” home town. In either case, the City has decided to capitalize on the software it purchased in 2000 designed to track delinquent citations.

    Last year, after researching the potential benefit, Fort Lauderdale commenced an experiment centered on rescuing revenues lost due to the inaccessibility of scofflaws, primarily out-of-state. If it costs $30.to track and invoice a $19 debt, the “hope & sulk” system starts to sound reasonable. Instead, they opted to engage Enforcement Technologies Inc., or Etec, of Irvine, California, on a trial basis to recover the outstanding fines “on consignment”. Darlene Pfeiffer, the parking services division’s financial administrator, explained how Etec operates. Etec uses the information collected during the issuance of a violation and recorded on the new software to run a nationwide motor vehicle search and locate the scofflaw’s home address. When successful, they follow up with fairly standard collection procedures. Their success has been stunning. In a memo to commissioners, Parking Manager Doug Gottshall wrote, “Of the $351,000 in citations sent to Etec to date, approximately $308,800 has been collected, for a success rate of roughly 88 percent.” Etec nets 30% of the funds collected for its efforts. The results were so encouraging that on March 2nd, the City Commission unanimously voted to authorize a $60,000 payment to Etec (estimated annual), thereby extending the trial.

    The benefits from effective implementation of these systems hold special fascination for our elected officials. The budget crisis has presented them with a dangerous responsibility. Every day, our representatives have to explain to the public (in all its forms) that we have to either pay more or receive less. They are required to do so while artfully dancing around the use of politically suicidal terms such as “service cuts”, “taxes”, “fees” and “layoffs”. If a method of pumping $10 million+ into the Fort Lauderdale economy can be offered without using any of these “unmentionables”, it’s considered a blessing. Of course, the complaints by merchants, visitors and those of us that “get caught” are still a factor...but not nearly impactive enough to offset the budgetary benefit. Tickets or taxes...what would you do?

    The City of Fort Lauderdale's parking services are managed by the Parking Services Division of Administrative Services. The division is located at 290 NE Third Avenue on the southeast corner of NE Third Avenue and NE Third Street. To ask about the SmartPark in-vehicle portable parking meter or the SmartCard used to activate the unit, call (954) 828-3700.

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    Fort Lauderdale Faces Fire Fees


    It was inevitable. An acquaintance that has visited us with increasing regularity of late has scheduled another appearance. By now, you’ll probably recognize the envelope containing the announcement. It starts with “Notice To Property Owner” and at the bottom of the page is the admonition that “****THIS IS NOT A BILL****”. Under the title is the familiar “Notice of Hearing to Impose and Provide for Collection of Fire-Rescue Non-Ad Valorem Assessments”. That’s right...it’s the legally mandated warning that the bill for Fire-Rescue services is on the way (Section 197.3632 of the Florida Statutes).

    Alan A. Silva - Acting City Manager
    ACTING CITY MANAGER
    ALAN A. SILVA
    Conceived in 1999 as a $36 fee to residential property owners, the assessment was created when the “ponzi-like” budget juggling that Fort Lauderdale was engaged in started to yield noticeable shortfalls. In keeping with the current anti-tax political propriety, our municipality’s fiscal management sought any alternative to a Property tax increase. Instead, the “fee” was bumped up to $42 per property owner. As per the existing format, revenues from “next year’s” ever-increasing tax base (owing to new development) would be penciled in to offset “this year’s” deficits. This use of tomorrow’s revenues to address yesterday’s debts only works as long as the economy expands. When the economy hit the skids, so did Fort Lauderdale’s budget. City officials endured incredibly difficult fiscal contortions simply to avoid telling the electorate that they would have to pay for City services. The Fort Lauderdale equivalent of President Bush’s (the FIRST one) exhortation of “no new taxes” restrained officials from delivering the bad news and using the dreaded “T” word. On September 3, 2003, the hearing prerequisite to a startling 50% Fire-Rescue increase was held at the City Commission Chambers at City Hall. At the sobering December, 2003 City budget meeting wherein Acting City Manager Alan Silva spelled out the sacrifices that were in store for the stunned electorate, it was admitted that the new $63/unit fee only paid for half the Fire-Rescue tab. The other shoe just dropped!

    A whopping 89% increase ($119) for residential property owners will completely fund our tenuous Fire-Rescue service. The tab for small businesses housed in 20,000 to 29,999 square foot properties would jump from $2,092 to $3,975. Larger concerns that occupy 100,000 square feet or more will see their bills increase from $10,459 to $19,872. (Click to See Full Table Below!) When the budget bubble broke, Alan Silva warned that we were going to have to start living within our means. When you’re broke, you learn to live on a cash basis. Because Fire-Rescue was still underfunded, residents had to face cost increases or service cutbacks. During the May 4th Conference Meeting (Tuesday), the City Commission took the first steps to putting our Fire-Rescue Department on a solid financial footing. A Commission majority gave the green light to Acting City Manager Alan Silva to design the budget around the anticipated $119 Fire-Rescue assessment. The increase will not contain the customary exemptions for non-profit organizations, tax exempt properties and government buildings. All users will be payers.

    Fire-Rescue Station 13
    FIRE-RESCUE STATION 13
    The projected assessment is consistent with the recently instituted fee increases for fire inspections, sanitation, ambulance transport, water and sewer, parking meters, parking and traffic fines, stormwater, and alarm response. Commissioners, still leery of the political blowback from a Property Tax adjustment, feel that fee increases are more palatable than raising taxes. The public has had a taste of how service cutbacks affect their lives. Engine 13 on the Barrier Island has undergone intermittent service lapses adjunctive to the budget crunch. While the medical transport at Station 13 hasn’t as yet missed a shift, it is in line to do so. While Fire Chief Otis Latin has explained that Fort Lauderdale enjoys a “floating” system for medical transport, with units from the mainland able to cover emergencies on the Barrier Island, the bridge-borne isolation owing to the Intracoastal poses a real danger to Island dwellers during a medical emergency. City officials have been swamped with local objections to this gap in our medical transport safety net. Residents have clearly indicated that they would rather fund the Fire-Rescue shortfall than risk the absence of a medical transport when needed.

    Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Carleton Moore
    COMMISSIONER
    CARLETON MOORE
    Commissioner Carleton Moore, while acknowledging the need to pay our way, addressed an inequity that is inherent in the fees vs. taxes controversy. Fees always hit the least solvent of us the hardest. While fees are the same for everyone, property taxes are assessed according to the value of a property, placing a lesser burden on those less financially grounded. Referring to user fees as a regressive tax, Moore asserted, “Come on, you know who that’s going to hurt the most” after the Tuesday commission meeting.

    Fire Chief Otis Latin
    Fire Chief Otis Latin
    Tagging historically exempt non-profit, tax exempt and government properties as donors will add $1 million to the City’s bottom line. The cost of delivering Fire-Rescue services to these heretofore non-contributors is almost $2 million annually. Chief Latin explained, “The bottom line is that it costs the city money to provide fire protection service to those entities and that they should be paying, like everyone else, for that service, as authorized by law.” Coupled with the assessment increase, Fire-Rescue would receive almost $2 million in additional funds to help contend with its annually underestimated overtime budget. The assessment should also afford Fire-Rescue the opportunity to plug its portion of the City’s talent drain that arose from the severe measures taken to avoid layoffs. Disgruntled employees on all levels have left municipal service to avoid experiencing the pay cuts, assignment shifts, unstable working conditions and other fallout from the budget squeeze.

    It is unlikely that the suicide rate will increase owing to any single fee hike. However, the cumulative impact of all these increases is substantial. Those of us that rate the City’s effectiveness in managing its fiduciary obligation by checking to see if our Property Tax assessment was elevated will be fooled. User fees are taxes - PERIOD. The alternatives, an ambulance being unavailable when needed or adding minutes to the 911 response time, are unacceptable. We are limited to two responses. We obviously have to do a better job of monitoring those who oversee our money. Secondly, we have to get used to paying our way. This crunch is far from over.

    Fire Chief Otis Latin can be reached at 101 NE 3 Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301, call (954) 828-6800 or Click Here to email.

    Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva's offices are located at 100 N. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 and his telephone # is (954) 828-5013, Fax is (954) 828-5021 or Click Here to e-mail Mr. Silva.

    Click Here to email District 3 Commissioner Carleton B. Moore.


    Projected Fire-Rescue Non-Ad Valorem Assessment Increase
    for Commercial Properties

    Building Classification
    (Square Feet)
    Current Assessment New Assessment
         
    Less than 1999 Sq Ft     $105     $200
    2,000 - 3,499     $210     $399
    3,500 - 4,999     $367     $697
    5,000 - 9,999     $523     $994
    10,000 - 19,999   $1,046   $1,987
    20,000 - 29,999   $2,092   $3,975
    30,000 - 39,999   $3,138   $5,962
    40,000 - 49,999   $4,184   $7,950
    50,000 - 59,999   $5,239   $9,954
    60,000 - 69,999   $6,275 $11,923
    70,000 - 79,999   $7,321 $13,910
    80,000 - 89,999   $8,367 $15,897
    90,000 - 99,999   $9,413 $17,885
    100,000 & Up $10,459 $19,872

    The Projected Fire-Rescue Non-Ad Valorem Assessment Increase for Residential Properties will go from the current $63 to $119.



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    Gretsas Wins City Manager Lotto


    “Listen, money comes and goes. Jobs come and go. Your integrity is all you have. And if it's eroded, you never get it back.” – George Demetrios Gretsas.

    He’s from New York. He’s young. He achieved the lowest score of all the competing candidates on the City’s leadership test. He’s a goal oriented workaholic. He’s all ours. George Demetrios Gretsas was offered the City Manager position in the City of Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, June 1st, by the City Commission (R-8). Following a brief negotiation, he accepted. In about a month or two, this 36 year old whiz kid from just north of the Big Apple will fill the $250,885 shoes of discredited former City Manager Floyd Johnson and Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva. Mr. Gretsas has his work cut out for him.

    George Demetrios Gretsas - New Fort Lauderdale City Manager
    NEW CITY MANAGER
    GEORGE GRETSAS
    George Gretsas was on the plus end of a 4 to 1 City Commission vote to put him in the City’s driver’s seat. Commissioner Carleton B. Moore, the lone dissenter, thought it was a bad idea. Referring to the final four (out of the original 215) losing applicants that targeted Fort Lauderdale’s City Manager position, Moore declared Gretsas to be the “weakest candidate”. The other Commissioners and the Mayor are delighted. At the May 17th City Commission meeting, Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson moved to select Gretsas for the point position in the war to reestablish Fort Lauderdale’s fiscal credibility. Characterizing Gretsas as “a person who has fire in his belly”, Commissioner Christine Teel seconded Hutchinson’s motion. At the outset of the “search process” for a new City Manager, the City Commissioners individually compiled “wish lists”, identifying their preferred candidates. Hutchinson and Commissioner Dean Trantalis both included Gretsas in their “top five”. Mayor Jim Naugle also claims Gretsas as one of his top picks. While uncomfortable with the decision of the majority, Moore ultimately granted Gretsas a unanimous vote of support.

    While the City instituted a professional search process for Fort Lauderdale’s top spot, the reasons that motivated the Commissioners’ selection of Gretsas were far from scientific. As part of an evaluation devised by Management & Personnel Systems Inc. of Walnut Creek, California, the final cast of candidates took several tests that matched their leadership, oral communications and problem analysis/decision making skills with a nationwide sample of private and public managers. George Kolb, the City/County Manager of Augusta, Georgia, and a Harvard graduate, scored a stellar 90%. Michael K. West, the Johnson City, Tennessee City Manager and a legacy from Fort Lauderdale’s budget office, scored a healthy 77.7%. Thomas Hoover, former City Manager of Worcester, Massachusetts, scratched out an average 59.3%. Our new City Manager scored a weak 33.5%. Apparently, either Gretsas doesn’t test well or, as he asserted, the tests were based on old management theories. He might be right…after all, high scorer George Kolb’s city is facing a deficit and he recently dodged receiving a pink slip from Augusta…the vicissitudes of life.

    Commissioner Cindy Hutchinson
    Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson
    Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson, Gretsas’ prime supporter, minimized the disappointing test results, exhorting that “we already know the way we’ve done business in the past ain’t working”. She says that Gretsas’ research into the position impressed her. For instance, to sample the frustrating permitting logjam in the Building Department experienced by city dwellers, he pulled a permit to build a deck. Justifying his support for Gretsas’ goal-oriented intensity, Mayor Naugle imparted, “I feel he has the greatest ability to change the organization”. Trantalis, while staunchly supporting one of his “top picks”, echoed Moore’s reservations owing to Gretsas’ poor test results. The Commission downplayed the importance of standard evaluation techniques, expressing that the City needs qualities that aren’t easily demonstrable in the usual formats, traits that the tests don’t measure. Reservations notwithstanding, Commissioners agreed that they weren’t seeking the typical bureaucrat. Test results were out, vibes were in.

    Fort Lauderdale City Commission
    FORT LAUDERDALE CITY COMMISSION
    While intuition is a universally recognized and generally accepted component of any evaluation process, it has produced mixed results in our City’s fiscal history. There is certainly enough blame to go around when investigating the reasons for the City’s financial woes. While the former City Manager made the decisions about resource collection and management, the Mayor and the four Commissioners spent the money. They also were in a position to question the efficacy of the “funds in - funds out” imbalance during the annual budget realignments. At a Galt Mile Community Association Advisory Board meeting, Commissioner Teel disclosed that suspicions proliferated around City Hall that something was amiss during the end of Floyd Johnson’s reign. That the five City Fathers and Mothers suspected impropriety inures to their credit, that they didn’t investigate these feelings of foreboding until the budget bomb exploded covers them with a cloud of doubt. They relied entirely on their “vibes”. Some serious research into the City’s books, even one year earlier, would have lightened or averted the ultimate disaster. These same Commissioners are relying on these same “vibes” to select our City Manager.

    White Plains Mayor Joseph Delfino
    WHITE PLAINS MAYOR
    JOSEPH DELFINO
    There are real causes for concern. Mr. Gretsas has never before worked in a City Manager-run municipality. He was the executive officer to the mayor in White Plains, N.Y., a city one third the size of Fort Lauderdale, when he read Fort Lauderdale’s ad for a City Manager in the New York Times. Gretsas served as the competent right arm of Mayor Joseph Delfino, actualizing the strong Mayor’s vision while avoiding the spotlight. Surprisingly, Gretsas has negligible experience with budgeting and did no hiring or firing in White Plains. The Mayor, not Gretsas, made all the management decisions in New York. He never composed a municipal balance sheet or navigated the tenuous route from budgetary mayhem to fiscal health. His major focus centered on luring developers to participate in the renaissance of a dysfunctional downtown district.

    Fort Lauderdale City Manager George Demetrios Gretsas Speaks Out
    George Demetrios Gretsas Addresses Commission
    His duties here will be the antithesis of those performed in White Plains. He will not be a part of a municipal machine, he will be the engine. He won’t reflect someone else’s plan for the future, he will be the architect. For the first time in his career, his success will depend on the consensus he creates, his untapped budgeting skills, intelligent hiring and firing, and the coherence of his as yet untested management decisions. His proven practical strength, enticing development, will be only marginally useful. The main campaign distinction separating winning and losing candidates during the last municipal election was their respective plans for reining in development, not encouraging its proliferation. As per Mayor Naugle, “I think there (White Plains) his skill was promoting development, and here he’ll have to control expenses, because we have development coming out of our ears.” In Fort Lauderdale, he’ll need to beat off developers with a stick.

    Prior to the past six years Gretsas spent as Mayor Delfino’s Executive Officer, he served on the Park Ridge, N.J. School Board and operated the press office for the county legislative board. Gretsas has been characterized as a taskmaster, a tough boss, motivated by a desire to accomplish things quickly, goal-oriented and a workaholic. White Plains Officials and employees generally agree that while unpopular, he was effective. Intolerant of excuses and seemingly comfortable without the adoration of his peers, Gretsas takes solace in John F. Kennedy’s famous epithet, “If a man has no enemies, he’s no good.” Gretsas elaborated, “I don’t feel I’m in the building to win a popularity contest. Ultimately I serve the elected officials.” Reflecting on his position in the municipal food chain, Gretsas said, “I don’t believe the bureaucracy is in a position to set policy, and that includes me. It’s way inappropriate.”…Music to the City Commissions’ ears!

    Mr. Gretsas was never a City Manager...until now. Absent experience in this capacity, it behooves one to ask, “Why was he selected as our City Manager?” Gretsas’ unfailing loyalty to his ex-boss may hold the answer. The City Commission is acutely aware that Gretsas believes that elected officials, not City employees, deserve the loyalty of the City Manager. Gretsas explained, “Some employees think they’re smarter than the elected officials. But ultimately you have to respect their authority.” The dogged allegiance that Gretsas displayed to his boss in White Plains offers a measure of comfort to City officials picking up the fiscal pieces of the former City Manager’s administration. How Mr. Gretsas intends to distribute this previously singular loyalty to five masters is enigmatic.

    Alan A. Silva - Acting City Manager
    ACTING CITY MANAGER
    ALAN A. SILVA
    After the City Commission pinned the budget disaster on the tail of Floyd Johnson, they awoke to the realization that they were next in line for ambient culpability. Installing a strong budgeter, such as Alan Silva, as Acting City Manager gave the appearance that the City Commission was staunchly dedicated to repairing the damage. While publicly supporting Mr. Silva’s tough decisions, the Commissioners miss the “don’t ask - don’t tell” years of budgetary pliancy in the City Manager’s office. The layoffs, cutbacks, threats to services and impending fee and/or tax increases have understandably upset the gastric stability of our City Commission for the past six months. Realizing that this discomfort will continue unabated for at least eighteen months more is extremely disconcerting. City Commissioners’ currency derives of delivering improvements to the lifestyles of their constituents. If they are repeatedly told, “We can’t afford it” when requesting these benefits, their campaign platforms will be limited to “we helped rescue Fort Lauderdale from the budget fiasco.” While this is certainly a laudable achievement, making good on a few civic improvements would be just what the campaign doctor ordered. A City Manager whose credo is, “Ultimately I serve the elected officials,” is political Prozac.

    We do need a highly motivated City Manager with the courage to fend off the pressure to spend money we don’t have and the ability to hold the City together during this painful realignment. The strengths necessary to accomplish this aren’t easily revealed through test scores. While the new City Manager has little demonstrated experience grounding his selection, the Mayor and the City Commissioners are rolling the dice that Mr. Gretsas possesses the internal fortitude to ride out this challenge. They are betting on his character, integrity and intensity, not on his resumé. They are, however, betting our chips. Let’s hope they’re right!

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    New City Budget Unveiled


    23.7 % Increase in City Property Tax to Rescue City

    Alan A. Silva - Acting City Manager
    ACTING CITY MANAGER
    ALAN A. SILVA
    KA-BOOM... That’s not the construction noise emanating from the concrete restoration next door. It’s the other shoe dropping. It has taken the form of a 23.7% municipal tax increase, the largest in 14 years. Fort Lauderdale residents have tasted the service cuts and fee increases following the budget crises. Anyone with “city business” has experienced the acrimony that permeates city hall. City employees have been feeling the sting of a short leash. The municipal work force took the pummeling that accompanied downsizing. Job titles were swapped or eliminated, forced furloughs were mandated, schedules became moving targets and morale tanked as the City of Fort Lauderdale continues to perform a balancing act to stay fiscally afloat. Now, it’s our turn to feel the pain.

    Fort Lauderdale City Commission
    FORT LAUDERDALE CITY COMMISSION
    Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva unveiled the new Fiscal Year 2004 - 2005 Proposed Operating Budget for the City of Fort Lauderdale to Mayor Jim Naugle and the City Commissioners on July 15th for consideration at the July 20th Commission Conference Meeting. (Click Here to get the details of that July 20th City Commission meeting). Should the proposal for budget year 10/1/2004 to 9/30/2005 be approved, two things would transpire. Our taxes would increase and the City could pay its bills. The smoke and mirrors budgets that were historically floated in City Hall had lulled Fort Lauderdale residents into believing that it was reasonable to continually lower taxes while increasing services. This expectation came to a crashing halt last December as the City admitted that its fiscal policies were inherently unsound and required immediate budgetary CPR. The time has come to pay for past indiscretions.

    In summarizing his “Guiding Fiscal Philosophy”, Mr. Silva expressed, “Being fiscally conservative and prudent means the realistic funding of requirements to restore fiscal sustainability and provide the level of services that citizens have come to expect and may or may not result in tax cuts. Re-establishing fiscal balance, correcting the excesses of the past, maintaining credible service levels, and responding to new demands for services do have costs. This message provides a ‘reality check’ for municipal finances.” Describing the foundation upon which he crafted this budget, he offered his “observations during nine months of profound changes and cutbacks:

    • The highest priority must be the restoration of fiscal stability and sustainability, which requires steps to provide adequate funding of reserves and resolve the insurance deficit situation;
    • We need to realistically estimate revenues and project expenses;
    • We cannot “grow” ourselves out of out a fiscal problem (the new growth in valuation does not even cover the built-in salary cost of merit/step increases);
    • The workforce base has been dramatically reduced and further reductions will impact service quality and/or the existence of certain services/programs; and,
    • Past budgets have created certain unrealistic illusions: greater expectations for salary increases by employees and questionable expectations for low, unsustainable, millage by taxpayers.

    The unfortunate truth is that we need to pay for fiscal stability and the services we receive. History has shown fiscal decisions postponed become fiscal problems compounded. It is extremely difficult for a fiscal conservative to propose property tax and fire assessment increases; however, given the City’s financial condition and the City Commission’s articulation of program priority and service levels, there are no other viable alternatives. We need the leadership to act decisively with the fiscal dilemma that confronts us. Learning from the unfortunate experiences of July 2003, we need to advertise a millage that funds the appropriate level of services and allows public debate on how we provide for fiscal stability, what services we provide, and how we organize effectively and efficiently to provide them.”

    The proposed all funds budget, which totals $416,424,311, is 10.4 percent higher ($39.2 million) than the budget adopted for the current fiscal year. The General Fund Proposed Budget is $248,881,059, which represents a 15.7 percent increase ($33.8 million) over the current year’s General Fund budget. This plan warrants an 11.5 percent increase in the millage rate from 5.1970 to 5.7951 ($5.79 for every $1000 of assessed value). This represents an increase of 23.7% above the rollback rate (the rate that would yield the total revenues collected last year). Excluding debt service, the proposed operating millage is increased from 4.8288 to 5.4319, or 24.8 percent above the rolled-back rate. Mr. Silva asserts that these strikingly large increases are a direct result of the City’s previously unrealistic budgetary policies. He states, “We must confront the reality that our situation is based on a cumulative imbalance of $37 million over the past four years as follows:

    • $21 million in insurance deficits that should have been funded in previous years;
    • $7 million in precipitous draw downs of reserves that allowed an artificially low millage;
    • $4 million in capital outlay and improvement deferrals (in FY 2004 alone);
    • $4 million in foregone revenues created by the untimely assessed value adjustments made by the County Property Appraiser’s Office and the Value Adjustment Board; and,
    • $1 million in one-time, non-recurring, short-term revenue “fixes” in FY 2004.”

    Silva continues, “Over the past four years, had the City set the millage at realistic levels, rather than reducing it each year, the rolled-back rate would have been closer to adequate this fiscal year. Rather than the 24.8 percent increase over roll back we are considering, the increase would have been 15.8 percent. Indeed, the Proposed Budget could have actually reduced the millage by 0.0929. Given the twin goals of re-establishing fiscal stability and funding Commission priorities, this analysis is important as it shows how budget decisions today affect funding options in future years.”

    The $199,920 average valuation of Fort Lauderdale properties will command a property tax increase of $123.99 for homesteaders and $264.01 for non-homesteaders. The $227,992 average market value condominium will shoulder an increase of $143.50 for homesteaders and $301.01 for non-homesteaders. The single-family homeowner, whose average market value property is assessed at $327,881, will pay an additional $212.93 with a homestead exemption and $432.99 without one.

    The City’s levy represents about one-fifth of the overall tax bill. Broward County, the Broward County School Board and others also impact the final totals. Over the last ten years, the City’s tax bill for the average homeowner claiming a homestead exemption has increased 11 percent. This is barely a 1 percent increase per year. Broward County, with a millage that is currently 27 percent higher than the City’s, has gone up 3 percent (over ten years) for the same category of homeowner. The School Board, with a millage 56 percent higher than the City’s, has gone up 2 percent. Over the ten year period, taxing entities levying against Fort Lauderdale properties with lower millage than the City have charged tax bills reflecting greater increases than those charged by the City. The South Florida Water Management District increased by 36%, the Florida Inland Navigation District by 22%, the North Broward Hospital District by 30%, and the Children’s Services Council by 37% over a four-year period. Under the proposed budget, the City’s portion of the tab would increase from 22% to about 26% depending upon how other taxing entities set their millage. In comparison to other Broward Cities, Fort Lauderdale, with the county’s largest population, resides in the lowest third for charged millage.

    The FY 2004 - 2005 budget proposal assumes the passage of an 89% Fire-Rescue non-ad valorem fee increase from $63 to $119 to address 100% of Fire-Rescue’s operational expenses. This adds another $56 increase to the tax bill. Non-passage of this increase will add another $8,355,000 to the property tax requirement, raising the combined millage rate to 6.2307. It also proposes to remove the exemption that non-profits and governmental agencies have historically enjoyed, demanding instead that they pay for services received. The proposal increases Water and Sewer Rates by 6%, costing the average customer $3.36 more per month. While a 6% stormwater management rate increase will only cost an additional 15 cents per month, Parks and Recreation user fees will rise by 10 to 15 percent as an alternative to additional property taxes. The Occupational License Fee, unaltered since 1997, will jump to its 5% annual statutory limit.

    Had it not been for almost $800,000 in savings realized from hiring and expenditure freezes, the City projected ending the last fiscal year with a paltry $86,330 in the General Fund or approximately 0.034 percent of operating expenditures. In contrast, 12 percent of operating expenditures is a generally accepted benchmark for minimal reserves. This fiscal disconnect drew the attention of leery bond rating agencies. Responding to Fort Lauderdale’s peculiar fiscal history, Moody’s Investor Service lowered the City’s general obligation bond rating from Aa2 to Aa3 in the past year; the rating for non-general obligation borrowing is even lower. The budget proposal contains a three-year plan to beef up reserves to 5% of the General Fund in order to bolster investor confidence. Working Capital Reserves will be increased from $2 million to $3 million, a $1 million appropriation will be made to the Stabilization Reserve and the Emergency Reserve (the City’s “Rainy Day Fund”) will receive $2 million. Despite the additional $4 million in reserve appropriations, Fort Lauderdale will continue to lag behind other Florida municipalities in that category. Hollywood’s 2003 fund balance of $5,640,766 represents 5% of their budget, Coral Springs’ 2003 balance of $16,406,549 was 27% of their budget and Miami’s 2003 unreserved fund balance of $136,905,142 was a whopping 40% of their municipal budget.

    Fire-Rescue Station 13
    FIRE-RESCUE STATION 13
    Funds were also allocated to address $6.3 million of the City's health insurance fund deficit, $1.6 million in other insurance increases, $5 million in contributions required to the City’s two defined benefit pension plans and $1.5 Million in Termination Pay for employees participating in the DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan) program. $4 million was appropriated for capital improvements and $3 million towards capital outlay (mobile reporting equipment for FLPD, Fire-Rescue bunker gear and hose packs, computers, paint for the Kinney Tunnel and the beach Wave Wall, street fixtures, etc.). $5.4 million was assigned to “Commission-Articulated Priorities”. These include expenses reviewed and discussed by the hard-pressed City Commission during the past year. Projects important to Galt Mile residents such as restoring Engine 13 to adequate operating levels by hiring 8 firefighters for $562,000 (thereby reducing overtime) and expediting the permitting process by hiring 1 administrative assistant for $71,000 will be funded.

    George Demetrios Gretsas - New Fort Lauderdale City Manager
    NEW CITY MANAGER
    GEORGE GRETSAS
    The recommended increases in the proposed budget are statutory maximums. While the City Commission can lower the various rates and fees in the fall, they cannot be raised after the maximum millage rate is set (by August 4th). This allots several weeks for the Mayor and the City Commission to formulate a public sweetener to help the medicine go down. It also provides adequate flexibility for new City Manager George Gretsas when he takes the reins on August 2nd. Mr. Silva anticipates that the public will be afforded an opportunity for input during the September 8th and September 21st City Commission meetings. He elaborated, “The Proposed Budget will be presented to the Budget Advisory Board for its comments and suggestions, as well as any citizen group that would like to discuss these recommendations.” The Budget Advisory Board provides input regarding the taxpayers’ perspective in the development of the annual operating budget, advising the City Commission on service levels, priorities and fiscal solvency. Their report is due by August 15th. Acting Manager Alan A. Silva has made it clear that the budget should reflect Fort Lauderdale’s commitment to sound fiscal planning in addition to offering the incoming City Manager Gretsas all the tools required to run the City efficiently.

    Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle
    MAYOR JIM NAUGLE
    Inferring that the budget was harsh, Mayor Jim Naugle stated, “I think we need to do some cutting and I won’t vote for it. I want to work with my colleagues on the commission to bring the number down without sacrificing public safety.” The Mayor might be alluding to some of the financial advantages anticipated from the strategic outsourcing of certain services. For instance, discussions with the Broward Sheriff's Office about assuming Fire-Rescue Dispatch (a potential $800,000 savings) are underway. Mr. Silva stated, “City staff has evaluated and the Commission has reviewed opportunities for alternatives to using City employees for service delivery. A staff recommendation on potential outsourcing/privatization opportunities was approved by the Commission on May 18, 2004. The most viable options are being considered by the new City Manager. The City has a strong track record for outsourcing with the private sector and partnering with other public agencies where the City’s best interest is served by doing so.”

    All efforts directed toward lowering any tax bill would be most welcome, as long as they don’t involve smoke, mirrors, rabbits, hats, etc. Fort Lauderdale residents have become wary of promises to deliver services absent the visible resources to pay for them. Although nobody relishes paying taxes, most people like a delayed 911 response even less. Fort Lauderdale should never again be forced to decide which critical services need to be weakened (i.e. Station 13 Medical Transport) in order to survive on a weekly basis. The Fort Lauderdale electorate, after watching the City’s finances crumble, has become highly sensitized to the adequate funding of our services and responsible government oversight. A word to the wise…


    July 20th City Commission Budget Meeting

    Commission OKs 33% Property Tax Increase

    The Fort Lauderdale City Commission agreed with Alan Silva that the time has come to face the realities that confront our city. The illusion that one can buy more by paying less was finally dispelled. For years the Commission spent money on a growing litany of services while creating the illusion that clever budgeting, not money, could pay for them. Governmental agencies culling out “waste and abuse” are often rewarded with some combination of cutting taxes or holding the line while improving services. Fort Lauderdale resorted to a less traditional method to sponsor its tax cuts and service improvements. They used magic. Our municipality hypnotized itself into believing that it was viable to pay for last year’s bills with next year’s growth. As Mr. Silva pointed out, “We cannot ‘grow’ ourselves out of a fiscal problem (the new growth in valuation does not even cover the built-in salary cost of merit/step increases)”. At the July 20th Commission Conference Meeting, Commissioners voted to pass Mr. Silva’s $416,424,311 budget, 10.4% higher than this year’s budget, which is consistent with his mandate to put Fort Lauderdale back on its fiscal feet.

    The Commission also decided to further increase property taxes in lieu of passing an 89% Fire-Rescue fee increase. The 11.5% increase in the millage rate (from 5.1970 to 5.7951) contained in the budget proposal will jump to a 19.5% increase (from 5.1970 to 6.2098) under the new configuration. This is about a 33% increase over the rolled back rate as opposed to the 23.7% increase in the original budget proposal. Although the additional property tax increase will fully fund Fire-Rescue operations to the same extent as the proposed non-ad valorem fee increase from $63 to $119, the Commission balked at some of the provisions accompanying the fee increase. Under the proposed fee increase, non-profits, governmental agencies and charitable institutions would have pay for “services received” from Fire-Rescue. The increased property tax would relieve them of that responsibility.

    It will also afford incoming City Manager George Gretsas additional flexibility. Mr. Gretsas assumes the driver’s seat on August 2nd, at which time he will have to decide how the city’s resources should be distributed. The accepted budget numbers are maximums. They can be lowered in the fall. They cannot, however, be increased. During the public hearings on September 8th and September 21st, Commissioners, Gretsas and the Mayor can make adjustments to the budget based on feasible input gleaned from the electorate. Anticipating the public pressure to lower the property tax, the additional increase provides a buffer designed to absorb some of the political heat. It will allow city officials to lower some of the budget numbers without subverting the municipality’s ability to pay the bills.

    The Alarm Registration Ordinance, a money-raising tactic that yielded disappointing results, was reconfigured to concentrate on response rather than registration. After a one-time $50 registration fee, residents will be charged escalating fines for police/fire response to tripped alarms. The first response is on the house. For homeowners, the second, third, fourth and fifth response will incur fines of $40, $75, $100 and $200. For businesses, the amount assessed will depend upon whether the Police or Fire-Rescue responds. After the first free response, the assessment for police response will be $100, $150, $200 and $400 for the second through the fifth alarm. Should Fire-Rescue answer the call, assessments of $100, $200, $400 and $400 again for the second through the fifth occurrence. Other fees, including a 10% to 15% increase in Parks and Recreation fees, were essentially approved as proffered in Mr. Silva’s proposed budget This will increase funding of these services to about one-third of their actual costs.

    Acting Manager Silva asserted that the service levels were skirting bare minimums. The work force has been trimmed to levels that have elicited concerns from Police and Fire officials. Many top positions have been abandoned by high level employees responding to the beating that municipal morale experiences on a daily basis. While this year’s budget will do little to ameliorate the concerns of veteran employees immediately, it will neutralize a $38 million deficit that needs to be cured before the City can improve on its existing employment obligations. During this two-year period of adjustment, employees will continue to contend with the stress resulting from years of budgetary mismanagement. Residents will have to pay increased fees and taxes for the “sins of the past” in addition to the current services received while enduring barely acceptable service levels. Once this obstacle is overcome, there’s no reason why Fort Lauderdale couldn’t resume being “the Venice of America”.

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    Love Hits the Treasury


    Fort Lauderdale fiscal sleuth Renee Foley of Director Allyson Love’s Internal Auditing team (operating under the auspices of the City Manager) uncovered additional cracks through which the City’s money seems to fall through on an alarmingly regular basis. In a recent audit, Love’s department shed light on a plethora of “inefficiencies” in the Parks Department including unclocked overtime paid to employees during the same week they took sick leave, compensatory leave or vacation. The auditor also uncovered a history of overbilling and questionable costs by a contractor used by the City on a regular basis. The contractor charged extra for items already included in the contract as well as for unverified pass-through overtime expenses. They also requested (and received) reimbursement for undocumented invoices. Each audit report resulted in a commitment to correct major flaws in the way the City does business or the systems it deploys to control or manage its finances. The current audit focuses on “severe deficiencies” in the way the Treasury Department tracks and handles money.

    Fort Lauderdale Finance Department
    FISCAL FIX FOR FINANCE DEPARTMENT
    The Treasury Department, a division of Terry Sharp’s Finance Department, misplaced a January 9th draft made to the City. It wasn’t discovered that the check was undeposited until March 23rd. During the unsuccessful attempt to locate the missing check, Ms. Foley encountered a series of gaffes in the City Treasury’s internal controls. Her report concludes that, “No reliance could be placed on the systems to safeguard the city’s assets.” The lack of restricted access or a viable “chain of custody” for the missing resources rendered tracking the check a frustrating futile effort. In addition to recommending “immediate monitoring” of the money controls, her report states that record keeping systems “were severely deficient”.

    Keeping tabs on money collected from inspection fees and parking citations falls to the Treasury Department, a division of the City’s Finance Department. Foley indicated that the problem stemmed from the failure of the Department to reconcile bank statements on a timely basis. Foley reported that it can currently take up to five months to research a bad check. The check’s “missing” status persisted for two and a half months until the pertinent statement was finally reviewed, revealing that it had never been deposited. A request by the Treasury Department for help in locating the missing funds triggered the audit. Because access to the funds isn’t adequately restricted and there is no chain of custody mandated by policy, it is virtual impossible to ascertain responsibility for the error.

    Unrestricted Access to City Safes
    CONTROL ACCESS TO SAFES
    The audit report notes that there is dire need for a written policy governing procedures and job responsibilities in the Treasury Department. Internal controls on all levels required creation, clarification or enforcement. Certain cashiers, for instance, were allowed to verify their own cash drawers for shortages and overages, effectively undermining the reason for verification. Signing for cash payments received was conducted in an extremely casual manner. Signatures and initials were often illegible and documents that required two signatures were occasionally signed by the same employee twice. City safes are anything but! Keys to safes weren’t tagged with a “do not duplicate” admonition. The City maintains no record of personnel who possess keys or the combinations to the safes. Non-supervisory staff personnel have the combination to a safe where the keys to lockers, change boxes, cash register drawers and other safes were stored, providing anonymous general access to all of them. Cash was found in an open envelope in the safe, again offering easy access to anyone utilizing the safe.

    Finance officials have agreed to implement most of the recommendations contrived in the audit. Finance Director Terry Sharp, however, discounted the recommendation to reconcile bank statements and research returned checks expeditiously as currently beyond his department’s capability, stating that, “with our current staffing, it would not be possible to reconcile the bank statements and outstanding items like bounced checks each month and still perform the department’s other duties.” Personnel problems owing to the budget dilemma aside, if Allyson Love’s audit adventures continue to encourage the City to straighten up and fly right, when the City does get back on its feet, it will have an excellent chance of remaining there!

    Allyson Love’s Internal Audit is in the Acting City Manager Alan A. Silva’s offices. They are located at 100 N. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 and his telephone # is (954) 828-5013, Fax is (954) 828-5021 or Click Here to e-mail Mr. Silva.


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    From The Desk of
    Commissioner Teel

    August 1, 2004 - It's that time of the year when, by Charter requirement, the City Manager must propose a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. It has been no secret that the City has faced serious financial challenges during FY 2003/04 as a result of many years of underfunding, overspending, and poor management. Last year was my first opportunity to participate as a Commissioner in the budget process and I resolved that I would not be a collaborator in this history of financial irresponsibility. As anyone knows who has tried to manage a budget, whether at home or in a municipality, if expenses are not kept in balance with income, it eventually catches up with you.

    Commissioner Christine Teel
    DISTRICT 1 COMMISSIONER
    CHRISTINE TEEL
    During that period, I spent many long hours toiling over reports, financial statements, and any other documents I could find that would give me a better understanding of our true financial situation. When the true extent of the City’s fiscal instability became clear, the Commission took swift action. The resignation of the City Manager was requested and, on October 9th, we appointed Alan Silva to act in his stead. In short order, Mr. Silva was able to perform a thorough analysis and, with the assistance of valued staff, bring forward a plan to stabilize our finances and put us on the road to long-term sustainability. This included a Budget Reallocation Plan to achieve salary savings and shift resources to critical areas of service delivery, while reducing spending by $12 million to meet the requirements of the already-adopted 2003/2004 budget.

    Although we are headed down the road to recovery, the journey cannot be completed without a long-term strategic plan and a determination to make hard, sometimes unpopular, decisions. That has taken ten, long months and, as we approach the upcoming fiscal year, we cannot waiver in our insistence on continued discipline.

    The City’s financial issues, although stabilized, are far from resolved. Current issues include the insurance fund deficit, accumulated over three years, of $20.6 million; the depletion of $7 million in reserves from 2000-2004; a $4.3 million revenue loss due to valuation adjustments by the County Property Appraiser’s Office over the last four years; the ever-increasing City contribution to the Police and Firefighters' Retirement System (from $6.4 million in 2003 to $12 million in 2004 to $16.4 million in 2005 – a 167% increase over 2 years); the similar situation regarding the General Employees’ Retirement System, which grew from $9 million (2003) to $12 million (2004) to $14 million in 2005 – a 56% increase over 2 years. These are just some of the issues we face in determining the upcoming budget.

    Mr. Silva presented the proposed FY 2004/2005 budget on July 20, 2004 and it continues the austerity program begun this year. Despite its tight controls and inclusion of only the most critical increases, additional resources will be necessary to meet our current and previously unpaid obligations. Mr. Silva, a fiscal conservative, has stated that it is most difficult for him to propose a property tax increase but – balancing the City’s financial situation, program priorities, and required service levels – there are no viable alternatives. Many have suggested that our problems will be alleviated as the numerous buildings under construction enter the tax rolls. New construction in 2004 added $1.6 million to the revenue stream in our City. Please be aware that only 20% of your total tax payment will make it’s way to the City coffers since the remainder goes to other taxing authorities, i.e.: Broward County, School Board, Hospital District, etc. Although new construction will help somewhat, it will not be a panacea, as new occupants will place corresponding demands on City services and resources. We must deal with the reality of the here-and-now.

    Mr. Silva's proposed budget for FY 2004/2005 would increase the millage from 5.1970 to 5.7951 (approximately 11.5%) and result in an increase of approximately $124 per year for the average homeowner based on a homesteaded property assessed at $200,000. The "roll-back" rate – computed on the basis of the millage the City would have to charge in order to raise the same amount of money as the previous year – would have been 24%. However, because some of my colleagues on the Commission wanted the option of funding part of the increase for Fire-Rescue services through taxes (rather than increasing the direct-funding fee we already charge), they voted to establish the millage at 6.2098. This corresponds to a 33% roll-back rate, which will appear on your annual TRIM notice. It should be remembered that this is a tentative, maximum rate and is subject to reduction based on the final budget approved in September. I did not agree with or vote for the higher rate, as I do not believe it is the prudent course to follow. I will keep an open mind as plans, priorities, and financial strategies are discussed but, as your representative to the Commission, I take very seriously my responsibility to represent the interests and needs of District 1. I believe those interests are best served by approving a responsible increase, tied to our long-range plan, while maintaining a tight financial rein.

    Please contact me if I can provide any additional information. I am available by e-mail at cteel@fortlauderdale.gov or by phone at 954-828-5004.

    Have a safe and enjoyable summer

    Christine Teel                

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    Budget Circus

    September 21st City Commission Meeting - Budget Approved

    September 26, 2004 - The Fort Lauderdale City Commission held a September 21st mandatory public hearing to accrue input from residents, employees, taxpayers and anyone else with an opinion about the proposed fiscal year 2004 - 2005 municipal budget. The $415.2 million compromise version of the $426.7 million budget created by former Acting City Manager Alan Silva and reshaped by new City Manager George Gretsas, was proposed during the September 13th Commission meeting that served as the first of the two opportunities afforded the public for comment. The second and final public meeting was seasoned with drama, comedy, misdirection, farce, irony and action - all the ingredients of a Neil Simon style tragicomic screenplay - starring the Mayor, the Commissioners and the City Manager.

    Commissioner Hutchinson, Mayor Naugle and City Manager Gretsas hammer out new budget!
    CITY COMMISSION BUDGET MEETING
    HUTCHINSON - NAUGLE - GRETSAS
    Mayor Naugle opened with a preface that laid the groundwork for the show’s first comic misunderstanding. Apparently, local papers subscribe to a news service called “Wolmer” that collects information by eavesdropping police and fire-rescue radio chatter with a scanner. It released an item intimating that the Mayor intended to recommend outsourcing all law enforcement to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, dissolving the Fort Lauderdale Police Department as a cost cutting measure. Despite the Mayor’s angry discounting of the rumor as completely unfounded, concerned citizens made impassioned pleas to save the Police Department. Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis reinforced the Mayor’s official denial, stating that there has never been any intention of eliminating the FLPD. Trantalis’ clarification didn’t seem to register as horror stories accusing the Broward Sheriff’s Office of fraud and worse proliferated. A substantial contingent of FOP (police union) members wearing “No to BSO” pins permeated the packed house. Finally, to stem the prepared speeches of support for the Police Department and redirect participants’ attention back to issues that actually exist, the commissioners passed a resolution against the merger, promising the gallery that this measure wouldn’t receive consideration. Speakers mildly disappointed by the sudden absence of an issue that they were psyched to tackle grudgingly assented to again focus on decrying the need to raise taxes.

    Members of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) protest BSO Merger rumor
    Residents and Fraternal Order
    of Police Protest Merger Rumor
    Act I opened with the Mayor and the Commissioners patiently listening to redundant supplications to neither increase taxes nor reduce services. Others objected to the threatened removal of Snyder Park’s manager, a potential cut-back victim. Several speakers acknowledged the connection between taxes and services, encouraging the Commission to continue guiding the city to sustainable fiscal health. After allowing the scheduled speakers the opportunity to vent, the Commission opened the floor to the gallery, inviting any attendee to offer their opinion. When former Acting City Manager Alan Silva addressed the Commission as a private citizen, the “police privatization” dogma re-emerged. In what he termed “out-of-the-box thinking”, Silva created a list of ways to lessen the budget’s tax impact. Silva sent a memo offering the merger as a possible $15 million savings of which $4.2 million could be folded back into the budget and $10.7 million used to relieve the tax burden. In response to the passionate outcry against the idea, Silva declined to propose the merger upon reaching the podium, acknowledging that the proposal would probably fail. In what seemed to be a bitter overreaction, some of the commissioners took the opportunity to denigrate Silva (who stepped down as Acting City Manager on August 2nd). Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson castigated Silva for revealing this inflammatory suggestion at the last minute, rhetorically asking why he hadn’t offered the merger proposal while still in office. “It comes on the heels of our budget hearing and now we’re in chaos again. I gotta tell ya, I’m sick of being in chaos. That’s where we’ve lived for the last year.” New City Manager George Gretsas agreed, stating that, “The timing is absurd. He (Silva) wasn’t willing to do this when he had to live with the consequences as city manager, but now all of a sudden it’s OK.” Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis described the proposal as “off-the-wall” and Commissioner Carleton Moore, a longtime Silva critic, said, “I always thought that he was a loose cannon, and he just proved it.” Police union president Tom Mangifesta impugned Silva’s motives, stating “It’s just sour grapes because he didn’t get the city manager’s job.” Mayor Naugle, a proponent of outsourcing city services, regretted the timing of the proposal, stating, “Logistically, I cannot imagine how it could be a factor in this year’s budget. It would just be too late.” While Silva held the fiscal reins, he resisted constant pressure from the Commission and employees to spend more than provided for in the budget. While the Commissioners publicly supported the effort to “live within our means”, many of them resented Silva for refusing to approve budget-busting proposals. The first act, a light farce, heralded the impending entertainment.

    Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis
    Vice Mayor
    Dean Trantalis
    Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis opened the second act with some facts supporting the new budget. A popular budget criticism derived of the $83,639 (including budget problem is unnecessarily inflamed by the City’s misplaced generosity. Trantalis explained that the need for additional revenues wasn’t dictated solely by salaries and benefits, but by a $21 million insurance debt, spiraling pension costs, termination pay for departing employees, the complete absence of reserves and special items considered to be “priorities” by the Commission. Trantalis then implored the Commission to present a united front, a unanimous vote endorsing the “softened’, yet controversial, budget. Cindi Hutchinson further requested that anyone voting against the measure explain their rationale. Trantalis also turned up the political heat, declaring that he couldn’t support a budget that didn’t have the unanimous support of the Commission.

    Mayor Naugle and Commissioner Christine Teel indicated that they couldn’t support the budget. When Trantalis asked why, Commissioner Carleton Moore interjected that the Mayor couldn’t be depended upon to deliver the unanimous decision sought by Trantalis. Drawing from Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra for literary perspective, Moore stated, “This is déjà vu all over again,” repeatedly disparaging the Mayor for his “lack of leadership” and allegiance to certain “special interests”. Moore was referring to the Mayor’s stated rationale for not supporting the budget - his disappointment with the Commission’s earlier decision to move half of the Fire-Rescue fees into the property tax (approved at the September 13th Commission Meeting).

    Commissioner Carleton Moore
    COMMISSIONER
    CARLETON MOORE
    Alan Silva’s original budget recommended an increase in the Fire fees from $63 to $125 to fully and independently finance the Department of Fire-Rescue. At the September 13th Commission meeting, Moore characterized flat fees as regressive taxes because they disproportionately impact poor families, insisting instead that the funds be collected through the property tax. Naugle, however, supported the full fee increase to avoid further elevating the property tax millage rate. New City Manager George Gretsas offered the $94 fee as a compromise - half the indicated increase would be collected as a fee and half through the tax.
    Mayor Jim Naugle
    MAYOR
    JIM NAUGLE
    Although Moore was placated, Mayor Naugle strenuously objected to the plan, requesting that the issue be tabled until the next (this) meeting. It wasn’t. As a result, the issue couldn’t be revisited. The statutory maximum for the Fire-Rescue fee was set at $94. Despite Vice Mayor Trantalis’ repeated pleas for the Mayor to support the budget, Naugle remained intransigent. Moore continued to pound away at Naugle, criticizing Naugle’s motives and implying he was playing politics with the budget. Naugle objected to what he termed “Commissioner Moore’s personal attacks” on him and angrily asked the gallery, “How many of you plan on paying the [tax] bill?” - referring to a lien placed on Moore’s property for not paying his taxes for two years running. “I don’t think that somebody who doesn’t pay taxes should be making rules for taxpayers,” exclaimed Naugle. Moore responded that he made an expensive mistake. Owing to a temporary inability to pay his property tax, he ultimately had to repurchase a tax certificate that resulted from the ensuing lien - a much more expensive proposition. Naugle retorted, “During the time that you neglected to pay the taxes, you bought new cars and fancy clothes.” Finding this continuing war of words to be a barren source of amusement, Moore acknowledged, “Yes, that’s true, but I always look good! Now...let’s vote.”

    District 1 Commissioner Christine Teel
    COMMISSIONER
    CHRISTINE TEEL
    The focus then turned to Commissioner Teel, the second dissenter to approving the new budget. Responding to Cindi Hutchinson’s demand that dissenters explain their “reasons”, Commissioner Teel raised a general objection to Manager Gretsas’ overall reorganization as “ill-timed”. Trantalis explained that the reorganization actually saved the city money, dispelling the basis for her opposition. Teel then painted the employee salary & benefits structure as a “runaway train”. When pressed for specifics, she objected to the hiring of ten new employees (including 6 police officers) under the existing pension arrangement, questioning the wisdom of expanding the employee base during the budget crunch. Politely declining to endorse the tax hike, Teel commented, “We can’t keep relying on the taxpayers to pay these horrendous rates.”

    George Demetrios Gretsas - New Fort Lauderdale City Manager
    NEW CITY MANAGER
    GEORGE GRETSAS
    The stage was set for the last act. With the scorecard appearing to indicate a 2-2 tie, Trantalis’ threat to submarine the budget if consensus couldn’t be achieved took on ominous significance. To titillate the riveted onlookers, attorney Harry Stewart was asked what would happen if they didn’t pass a budget that night. He explained that the city would then be left without a budget for the 2004-2005 fiscal year. Adding that under certain circumstances, the City could temporarily be permitted to continue to operate under the previous budget, he quickly clarified that this situation did not meet the criteria required to invoke that option. Anticipating the prospect of throwing Fort Lauderdale into irretrievable fiscal chaos, he insisted, “You must adopt a final budget.” Seemingly dumbfounded, Commissioners and the Mayor suspiciously ogled one another until George Gretsas broke the dramatic hiatus with, “The fact of the matter is you’re at a crossroad...and you must decide where you want this government to go.” Gretsas continued, “You can make cuts, add money or leave the budget the same - only you have to do something.” In a final attempt to simplify the issue and refocus the Commission’s attention to their shared responsibility, Gretsas admonished, “I will steer the ship where you want it to go, but I will tell you, if we don’t repair the ship, it will sink.” The City’s fate then settled into the hands of Dean Trantalis. While Trantalis seemed comfortable with Gretsas’ compromise budget, he indicated earlier that he wouldn’t support a budget beclouded by the Commission’s lack of unanimity. After another pregnant pause - during which Trantalis seemed to be considering whether or not he would allow the City to self-destruct by killing any chance for budget passage - Trantalis finally voted to approve the budget.

    The gallery took a collective deep breath after the 3-2 budget passage. Even those that came to plead with City Fathers (and Mothers) to lighten the tax burden realized that a “no passage” vote would have straight-jacketed the City. The show was over. Fort Lauderdale, for better or worse, would survive another year! The Gretsas version of Alan Silva’s budget keeps Fort Lauderdale on the road to recovery. The surgery that Gretsas did on the budget to make it more universally palatable was a multi-step procedure. In addition to locating $4.8 million in spending cuts, the fledgling City Manager designed a sweeping reorganization of city departments to improve efficiency and save money. The reorganization provides for several additional “hires” to relieve the service burden that the budget crisis precipitated. His plan slows the paydown of deficits in the City’s insurance accounts and stretches out the time that it will take to fully replenish our vacant reserves. As in all things political, it is a trade-off. He alleviated the immediate pain by extending the overall painful process.

    WHAT! You don't believe it? Well...see for yourself. Click Here to access the video feed for the September 21st regular Commission Meeting. Windows Media Player is required. (Actually - whatever Media Player that is installed on your computer will probably do the trick!) Click Here to review the meeting minutes of the September 21st Commission meeting.

    How it Affects YOU!

    The new millage rate for city property taxes will jump from 5.1970 last year to 5.77 or $5.77 for every $1000 of assessed value. This 11% millage rate increase translates to a 24.22% increase in revenues to the city, primarily due to soaring property values and a broadening of the tax base. Homesteaded properties protected by this year’s “Save our Homes” valuation increase cap of 1.9% are shielded from the full impact of the increase. The $321,000 median value of a Fort Lauderdale single family home will elicit a $236 increase in property taxes if the property is homesteaded, $454 increase if it’s not. The average Fort Lauderdale property of $200,000 will experience roughly a $150 increase in taxes. The real pain will inure to commercial property owners and non-homesteaded properties, such as those comprising the rental market. Several landlords offered testimony threatening rent increases of $30 - $40 per unit upon passage of the budget. The annual Fire-Rescue fee will be increased from $63 to $94 for a residential property. The average residential customer will pay an additional $3.36 per month for Water and Sewage services along with an added 15 cents for Stormwater fees, the most allowed by the 6% statutory limit.

    City to Privatize Waste Collection

    Waste Management Inc.
    WASTE MANAGEMENT - SOLE PROVIDER
    Scheduled for an October 19th final determination by the City Commission is the proposal to fully privatize Fort Lauderdale’s trash collection operation. The City currently shares the responsibility with Waste Management Inc. on a 40% - 60% basis, with the city servicing 15,281 customers as compared to 18,650 customers serviced by the private company. By dividing the work, the city is able to compare costs and quality of service. The estimated annual savings of $890,363 would be warehoused in a reserve fund pending the success or failure of the effort. Should Waste Management’s service levels deteriorate, the city wants to be able to reinitiate in-house collection. Mayor Naugle, always seeking favorable outsourcing opportunities, stated “It’s just too much of a savings to overlook.” To ease the transition, Waste Management would hire the 14 current city employees, although with a smaller benefit package. They would also purchase the city’s collection equipment and fleet of sanitation vehicles for $565,000. While Commissioners Moore and Trantalis have expressed concern for municipal employees affected by the measure and maintaining acceptable service levels, City Manager George Gretsas seems comfortable with the arrangement. He said that Waste Management got “high marks” from those he consulted with. The $4 million savings realized over the first 5 years would approximately equal the startup costs should the experiment fail and require the city to reassume control.

    By the way, if attending the City Commission meetings at City Hall is inconvenient, you can also see them on the tube. Cable Channel 78 carries the meetings live and repeats the broadcast again on Friday and Saturday nights. The meetings are also available through a live video feed on the City’s excellent web site (www.fortlauderdale.gov). The Fort Lauderdale web site archives videos and the meeting minutes for past meetings as well. They can be seen at your convenience - 24/7. I suppose we’ll have to tune in again next week to learn what new surprises are in the cards for “The Venice of America.”

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