FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

“There’s fat in the proposed budget . . .” An opinion

By City Commissioner
Mike Lednovich
September 15, 2020

There’s fat in the proposed budget, so why can’t the city lower your taxes?

For the past six months I’ve been preaching about “non essential” spending by the City Commission. Mostly what I’ve heard in response, including last Tuesday’s public workshop on the proposed 2020-2021 millage rate, has been crickets.

In order to fund the proposed 2020-2021 city budget, the City Commission is being asked to reach into the City’s piggy bank — it’s reserves — to the tune of several million dollars. That will get us thru one year. What happens in 2021-2022?

There’s about $450,000 in budget cuts that need to be made to get to the true rollback rate.

The most uttered question when discussing lowering property taxes is: “What would you cut from the budget?”

It’s asked as if every single line item in this budget is essential to delivering services to city residents and visitors. My pushback remains they’re not all essential.

To answer the “what would I cut” question, I’ve gone line-by-line examining the 492-page detailed budget document. Here’s what I’ve found:

The City Commission’s budget is $314,800. A large chunk — $185,000 — pays for City legislative lobbyist Buddy Jacobs ($85,000), City Commissioner salaries ($60,000) and the Main Street organization ($40,000).

But there’s another $70,000 that easily can be eliminated for the short term.

– $20,000 for miscellaneous under professional services. I’ve dealt with enough organizational budgets in my lifetime to recognise that budget items labeled miscellaneous is code for ‘fat.’

– There’s $5,500 for a ‘visioning’ facilitator and food. Our city is populated with many former business consultants, one of whom I’m sure would volunteer their time/expertise to lead City Commissioners for its one day January event to identify key priorities for the upcoming year. The 2020 visioning session was led by City Manager Dale Martin. On the food front, I’m quite capable of buying my own coffee and bagel and going out for lunch.

– $15,000 for 4th of July fireworks. The City is not in the entertainment business. It’s here to provide police, fire, water, emergency medical services, stormwater relief, etc., etc. Shouldn’t Main Street and the Tourist Development Council be reaching out to local business sponsors to fund this?

– Almost $10,000 to pay for City Commissioner ‘team development’ and money to attend the annual Florida League of Cities meeting. I team build with my fellow commissioners at every City Commission meeting and workshops. And, I attended the 2019 FLOC meeting in Orlando. Frankly, I believe that conference was a waste of taxpayer money.

– Economic development/opportunity consumes another $15,000. What’s been the bang for the buck so far? Can someone provide me a viable example of return on investment?

– The City Manager has $87,283 budgeted for a Comprehensive Plan Revision Manager that’s now going to be used 100% to hire an outside consultant under the guidelines of “what can we get for $87,283?” How about we cut it half and start the process with $40,000.

For those keeping score at home our tally is now $110,000 of the $450,000 we need.

– Under the non-departmental category there’s $50,000 on the line item “City Hall Assessment/Design.” This much I know, our current city hall needs repair and it’s bursting at the seams with people. The solution is to start relocating some departments to the Peck Center which has plenty of room. Let’s spend $20,000 on how to do that and save $30,000.

– There’s $40,000 budgeted in the Tree Trust account for a Bosque Bello Cemetery Master Tree and Landscape plan. How about using that money to actually plant real trees.

– Have the cellphones of city staff stopped working? Because there’s $26,080 to purchase 46 new cellphones in this budget. Also on the technology front is $17,325 for new desktop computers. That’s a total of $43,000.

– The City has three vehicles – each with about 55,000 miles driven – slated to be replaced for about $110,000. No, keep them in the fleet until they hit 100,000 miles.

Now we’re at $293,000 in savings thus far.

There are two big ticket items listed in the Capital Improvements.

– $225,000 for expansion of the City Marina mooring field that will take years for the City to recoup its investment. Is it essential now, no.

– $250,000 to remove utility poles on Front Street and bury the lines underground. This also can wait.

Our total is $768,000 saved, more than enough to meet the $450,000 threshold to operate under the rollback property tax rate while making a small dent in the amount we take from reserves.

The City Commission will set the millage rate at its Sept. 22 meeting. There is a public hearing prior to the vote.

So “what would you cut?” There’s the answer.

What say you crickets?

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