County Commission votes to penalize West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach over Inspector General Lawsuit
The two county budget workshops for this year are Monday 9/9/13 and 9/23/13 at 6:00 PM.
South Florida 912, a TAB coalition partner, was a co-sponsor of this event.
Back in June, the County began public meetings about its ongoing Charter Review. See my post
here. If you recall – the County Charter is its ‘constitution’ and describes Home Rule. There are 20 Home Rule or Charter Counties in Florida. Palm Beach County does not have a formalized Charter Review process, and this is the first comprehensive review to have taken place.
The Charter and the county’s charter review website can be found here. While there are a few changes that the Commissioners would like, citizens can input their own suggestions via the County Website. Suggestions are limited to 300 words per suggestion. Here is a link to the survey page. You can make as many submissions as you like.
Personally, I am not in favor of a few changes favored by several of the Commissioners – a) changing the county commission makeup to include a few at-large commission districts, and b) to have non-partisan elections for County Commissioners.
I have a few changes that I am submitting in order to make for better governance without bogging down the document or specifying so much detail that the slim charter becomes unmanageable. You may have others. If you would like to submit any of the ones listed below, just click on the [copy] to the right of the suggestion you would like to copy, and then cut/paste from the text that comes up and submit that to the survey link above. Each of my submissions are shorter than the 300-word limit per submission.
Friday, August 26, is the last date on which submissions will be accepted on the county website.
The following is the May TAB update sent to the coalition partners. South Florida 912 is a founding member of TAB.
Since our last update, much has happened on the county level.
County Capital Projects: The County Commission voted to proceed with the convention center hotel, projecting that 35% of the costs will be provided by new general fund debt, and later (acting as the Solid Waste Authority Board), picked Babcock and Wilcox to build the $500M waste-to-energy facility (for which the bonds have already been sold). For the details see the links below.
TaxWatch Study: With this new debt looming, the County Clerk and Comptroller’s team made their annual financial report today. In the debt guide document, we can see that the total outstanding debt for the fiscal year ending last September is approximately $2.1B, an increase of about 61% since 2001. This was already about $1600 per county resident, before accounting for the burn plant. Luckily, we will get an independent evaluation of the situation through the auspices of Florida TaxWatch. Funded by the Palm Beach Civic Association and individual contributions raised by task force member Jere Zenko, TaxWatch has begun a study of county capital projects and debt as it compares to their last look in 2006 and our peer counties, and an evaluation of underutilized county land, buildings and other assets. TAB assisted in the definition of this project, and we hope to see the results of this work some time in June. For details see Palm Beach Civic Association Sponsors TaxWatch Study.
Ethics: Also today, the Commission voted 7-0 to approve the new Ethics and Inspector General ordinances, extending their scope to all 38 municipalities in the county. After a long and contentious battle over the scope of the oversight, the work of the drafting committee was accepted mostly intact. For details, see the Post story: Palm Beach County passes sweeping ethics reforms.
Budget: We are working on a TAB proposal for the 2012 budget, but there are a few balls in the air. Only a month ago, the working assumption on valuation was a decline of 5%. Since then, the Property Appraiser is re-evaluating and may come in at the 1-2% level. The Legislature passed significant FRS reform (see Pension Reform – the Final Bill) that we estimate will be worth about $40M to the county this year, counting PBSO and Fire/Rescue. Both of these things should take significant pressure off the millage rate unless there is a move to restore some of the pension take-aways to employees. We have questioned the county Budget Director about this and are awaiting a reply. We expect the answer has not been determined yet, but will be evident before the first budget workshop on June 12.
Smart Cap: The Legislature passed SJR958, which will put a “Smart Cap” (similar to TABOR) constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot, applying only to the state budget. While county government has shown some restraint over the last few years in the downturn, with real estate values bottoming out we may again be “off to the races”. One way to prevent this would be a local version of Smart Cap, implemented as a Charter Amendment. See Smart Cap – Good for the State, Good for the County.
Finally, we have been having an interesting conversation about Fire/Rescue spending with a South County Firefighter / Paramedic on the TAB website. For an insider’s viewpoint, see Conversation with a Firefighter / Paramedic
Thank you for your interest in responsible government spending.
The TAB Team.
Throughout our analysis of the county budgets, we have been somewhat critical of Fire / Rescue. We observed that the growth of their budget (even adjusted for service area size) was significant over the last 8 years, and the firefighters in the county are compensated more than 50% above than the national… [Read More…]
On Friday May 6, the conference committee put the final touches on FRS Reform and sent SB2100 to the Governor. Although it is not as far-reaching as the Governor wanted, it is significant, both in the precedent it sets (employees must now contribute to their pensions) and in the budget savings for both… [Read More…]
As the Legislature winds down the session, there has been much progress on the bills we have been tracking that relate to county budget issues. The following is a status:
SB2100/HB1405 having emerged from conference on Friday May 6, has been sent to the governor. From the House bill,… [Read More…]
The Palm Beach Civic Association, in conjunction with the Town of Palm Beach County Budget Task Force (CBTF), is engaging Florida TaxWatch to perform a study of Palm Beach County capital expenditures, debt and reserves, and inventory of underutilized land and buildings. Funded half by the Civic Association… [Read More…]
The Florida Legislature is moving forward on a constitutional amendment for the 2012 ballot to limit state spending to a “growth factor” tied to inflation and population growth. A previous attempt in 2009 had included county and municpal governments in its scope, but that has been omitted this time…. [Read More…]
The Taxpayers won again – just barely.
After a 9 1/2 hour marathon meeting at the Solid Waste Authority auditorium on Jog Road, the SWA board upheld their selection committee’s choice of Babcock and Wilcox to build and operate the $600M waste-to-energy plant that is the biggest taxpayer-funded project… [Read More…]
This morning, the Board of County Commissioners voted 4-2 (Marcus/Aaronson/Vana/Burdick in favor, Abrams/Taylor against, Santamaria absent) to “conceptually approve” a county subsidy of $27 Million to The Related Companies to build a 400 room Hilton next to the convention center. They also approved $200,000… [Read More…]
The town of Palm Beach County Budget Task Force (like South Florida 912, a TAB coalition partner), hosted a meeting of elected officials of towns and cities throughout the county yesterday, asking them to join with the task force and TAB to advocate against another year of tax increases on the county level.
The attendees were given a presentation of the TAB work on budget trends by Fred Scheibl, as well as the prelimnary “TAB Proposal” for the 2012 budget which includes no tax hike, probably requiring about $60M in spending cuts or dipping into reserves. The proposal is preliminary because the county has not published a budget estimate and doesn’t expect to have one until May, prior to the first budget workshop on June 13.
The proposal also includes suggestions for Charter changes (including a county “Smart Cap”) and has analysed the likely savings possible with FRS reform requiring employee contributions. See the chart package for details on the proposal.
See Mayor Gail Coniglio asks help to pressure Palm Beach County to not raise taxes for the Palm Beach Daily News Story by William Kelly.
County taxes and spending have been a concern for a number of groups and individuals over the years. Many have taken action and tried to slow the growth of spending, pointing out that it was dishonest and irresponsible to take advantage of inflated real estate valuations and homestead caps to run up double digit increases year after year. On balance, these efforts went nowhere. Those who benefit from county spending, whether they are richly funded special interests with something to gain, or loosely organized “user communities” of taxpayer funded programs, have pretty much controlled the agenda. No one who attempted to speak for the taxpayer has gained much traction.
In the most recent past though, conditions have begun to change. In four years, four county commissioners have been arrested and punished. An ethics commission and an office of Inspector General has been established. The community has begun to take notice of what happens in county government, just as they have awakened to the serious challenges we face from the unchecked growth of the federal government.
We are at a tipping point – almost half of Americans don’t pay income tax, but receive benefits from the other half who do. Government employees at all levels receive much higher salaries and benefits than those doing similar work in the private sector, and they are almost totally immune to layoffs when the economy turns sour for the rest of us. This is a trend that will not end well.
There is something in the air – something afoot. People are taking an interest, going to meetings, getting involved in political campaigns. There is a feeling that we are on a precipice and that if we don’t move quickly we will be swept into the void, that the country, the communities in which we live, are about to be irrecoverably changed. And some of us are resisting.
The tea party movement, which is a generic term, encompassing many different groups, large and small, has raised the banner of fiscal responsibilty, smaller government, and free markets. At the local level, we believe that this energy can be directed at righting the ship – at raising the awareness that something is wrong, and convincing the elected leaders of the community that the time has come when we must look at things differently.
It is against this backdrop that TAB has formed to try yet again to get some traction on county spending that has grown much faster than the local economy. The real estate bubble raised valuations so high that the temptation to follow them with government spending was irresistable, though foolish in hindsight.
This is a starting point. We are well aware of the budget issues that exist with the School Board, the Children’s Services Council, the Health Care District, the myriad other taxing authorities that for years have had a free hand. They are all on the TAB radar. For now though, we must focus on the budget under the control of the County Commission.
It must be emphasized that we are concerned with SPENDING, not taxes, fees, transfers, grants, or other sources on the revenue side. It is excessive SPENDING that is the problem – SPENDING within our means – solve that and the revenue side will take care of itself.
Our approach has 4 components:
- QUESTION – assumptions, staff, program recipients, other jurisdictions
- PUBLISH – our findings, analysis, speculation, conclusions
- ENGAGE – staffs, commission, constitutionals
- SUPPORT – provide cover and support for leaders who share our goals
WE WANT TO BE AN INDEPENDENT RESOURCE FOR LEADERS WILLING TO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO
WILL YOU JOIN US?
Public Meeting, September 2, 6:30PM, Lantana Road branch of the County Library. pbctab.org
UPDATE: The Budget Workshop meeting will allow public comment. “(Revised Agenda – Public Comments to follow Board discussion with no time certain)”
Monday, July 12th – is the next PBC Board of County Commissioners’ Budget Workshop. While it will be difficult for most working people to attend the meeting – it’s important that you get your opinions voiced to your commissioners. The grass-roots group – Palm Beach County Lower Taxes Now has published an informative newsletter. There’s a place on the web-site to sign up for the newsletter too.
The group provides links to a Sun-Sentinel article on the budget as well as last month’s budget workshop package. The package has blue and green pages of proposed cuts. Please find and skim through those and then I encourage you to write to your commissioners and let them know, as suggested in the newsletter, that they must do both the blue and green cuts as well as more salary cuts before they resort to additional tax increases!
Take a few minutes and write those letters! Or don’t complain when you look at your next Property Tax bill.
The county budget page with schedules can be found here. UPDATE: The new budget workshop package for the 7/12 meeting has also been posted on the same page.