Synopsis of 9/14 Budget Hearing

Click HERE for Channel 20 Video of the meeting.

Palm Beach County held the first of two public hearings on the 2011 Fiscal Budget on 9/14. The county chambers were filled to capacity and many people either watched on monitors in the anterooms on the 6th and 5th floors or in the lobby to the building. People were turned away and those who arrived after discussion had begun were unable to submit cards to speak or have their positions read into the record.

Note for future reference: At all PBC Commission meetings, once discussion has begun on a topic, no further cards may be submitted. This meeting was no exception. The topic for the county budget was IV E 1 and for Fire/Rescue – IV E 4. Many people arrived late and thus were unable to participate.

Most of those who spoke represented groups unhappy about cuts in the budget – primarily cuts to the Cultural Council, Palm Tran, the Drug Farm and the Eagle Academy. Even after the Commissioners made it clear that the Drug Farm and Eagle Academy were the Sheriff’s decision, speakers continued to come forward on it.

Thanks to those on the Palm Beach County Taxpayer Action Board work groups who spoke: Shannon Armstrong, Ed Fulop, Jim Donahue, Karl Dickey, John Parsons, Christina Pearce, Michele Kirk, Sherry Lee and Fred and Iris Scheibl. Carol Hurst also spoke on behalf of the TAB proposal. Also speaking – although not specifically on the TAB proposal was Dionna Hall. There were several other people who did not speak but submitted cards stating that they were in support of the TAB proposal. I’m sorry if I missed anyone who also spoke – I was not taking notes. It was unclear whether the Commissioners had received any phone calls or emails; if they had, they did not acknowledge them.

Many speakers left the long meeting after their 3 minutes, so by the time the Commissioners got to discussion of the budget the chambers were almost empty. To view the commission debate – advance to the 3 hr 8 minute point in the video accessed by clicking: HERE

Discussion lasted over an hour. The Commission voted 5:1 (Steven Abrams opposed) to keep the 4.75 millage rate as a maximum (as it appeared on the trim notices received by all property owners). Attempts would be made to bring the number down – potentially to 4.72 or 4.70. But the majority of the commissioners out right rejected the TAB proposal of roughly $30M in cuts plus an additional $20M which would be required by PBSO to retain flat millage. The target they gave County Administration was anywhere in the range of $4M ($2M from both PBSO and County) to $15M – all predicated on steep cuts by the Sheriff. It was totally unclear whether any further spending cuts whatsoever would be presented at the next hearing on September 28.

Following is a rough outline of the discussion and questions asked by the Commissioners:

Chairman Aaronson started the debate with a motion that 4.75 millage be made the ceiling. It was seconded and then discussion began.

Commissioner Marcus started going through the TAB proposal, exploring various aspects with Administrator Weisman responding:

  1. Blue vs Green pages: All Green pages done; none of the Blue cuts were made.
  2. Fire/Rescue: union approached on postponing increases – outright rejection
  3. Maintain PBSO cut: PBSO cut or returned revenue in amount of $28M
  4. HR programs: outright rejection of any of the Clerk’s suggestions of $1M
  5. Cut almost $10M in ad-valorem capital – rejected as necessary
  6. Stop or defer $91M in non-ad-valorem capital – rejected since it didn’t affect ad-valorem

Commissioner Marcus pursued capital some more – wasn’t a drop-off expected this year? Response was no – actually this coming year was going to be pretty bad with Max Planck debt coming in.
Commissioner Marcus raised the topic of the PBSO Mobile Data Project debt service on $35 million in bonds – raised by TAB members Iris Scheibl and Jim Donahue in their talks. Joe Doucette confirmed that the capital had not been drawn down as would be expected and discussion ensued around paying off the debt to eliminate around $6M in debt service. Marcus wanted a status on the project.

PBSO Budget – Commissioner Marcus and PBSO COO George Forman discussed civilian longevity and step raises and whether or not a Florida Statute would allow them to cancel or defer up to $11M in increases from occurring. While Mr. Forman stated that the $11M applied across the board (uniformed and non-uniformed staff) – Marcus replied that if 40% of staff wasn’t sworn – then wouldn’t it be true that about 40% of the $11M applied to civilians. Back and forth on the statute written to apply specifically to PBC and no other counties. Discussion on whether or not Fire/Rescue or PBSO contracts could be opened due to ‘exigent operational necessity, eg: financial catastrophe. It was unclear what kind of status report or response from PBSO would result from the querying other than direct response requested on the status of the Mobile Data Project.

Chairman Aaronson brought the conversation back to overall budget discussion. Aaronson favored cutting CCRT (Countywide Community Revitalization Team) and management of environmentally sensitive land $$ for a modest cut of $2-3M. He was absolutely against blue pages cuts or layoffs of ANY COUNTY EMPLOYEES. Ridiculous discussion then ensued stating that to cut $30M (TAB proposal) would result in a 750 person lay-off (when TAB proposal was actually 268). Aaronson said that any lay-off would hurt the Palm Beach County economy, result in further defaults on homes, so OUT OF THE QUESTION. After much discussion they concluded that they were only talking savings to the taxpayer of $8 if cut the spending.

Commissioner Abrams didn’t agree with the whole approach. Felt that we needed to do large scale reductions (eg the blue pages without closing the pools). That the county should do outsourcing. He rejected comparison to cities that have kept their millage rate flat, however – stating that the County doesn’t control PBSO and that Fire/Rescue isn’t in the county base millage rate.

Commissioner Santamaria was looking for a target; he would accept the motion of 4.75 millage if a $$ target were set. None ever was.

Commissioner Aaronson said that no way would $36M ever be cut and no matter how many people groups like TAB brought in, more could be brought in to say they want continued services and $$ spent. He could fill the chambers with them.

Commissioner Marcus would support the motion if the $6M in the Mobile Data project was pursued for a total range of $5-$15M in cuts.

Commissioner Vana was willing to postpone some capital (eg Mobile Data) and referred to a discussion from another meeting on jails vs ankle bracelets. She also suggested looking into contingency audits for the next budget to find low-hanging fruit – but absolutely no lay-offs or privatization. Looked directly to the TAB folks and said you won’t get to 4.34 millage this year – but maybe some of these actions would get us closer in the future.
Commissioner Taylor spoke against any attempt to outsource, citing an issue of Government Magazine. She also stated that one can’t compare cities to counties and that the Commission only does what the people want. And the people wanted Scripps and Max Planck. There was a lot of discussion with Commissioner Aaronson and Administrator Weisman on the history of the jails, Scripps and Max Planck – after which Commissioner Taylor said that the people want these things and then they have to pay for them.

There was a small amount of additional discussion on targets and then the Commissioners had their 5:1 vote on the Aaronson motion. The remainder of the meeting was to go through approval of all the other MSTU millage rates and transfers. Fire/Rescue was not touched. The meeing was adjourned.


4 Responses to “Synopsis of 9/14 Budget Hearing”
  1. Randy says:

    PBSO needs reduction in budget…for example The wild lands task force

  2. Randy says:

    they are protecting an area west of the north county airport with 3 brand new ford f250 trucks with lift kits and after market rims,probably 70,000 dollars each and 7 new atvs about 8 to 12,000 dollars each and I ask for what? where are the crime statistics why can’t we cut this out of PBSO budget ?

  3. Rick Popp says:

    Check out the commissioners tax bill and see that Aaronson pays almost nothing in property taxes. Please let everyone know he cares about Palm Beach County with everything but his Wallet.

  4. Rick says:

    Why do the firemen have to go to Publix for hours on end ??? They leave the truck running while they are in the store shopping for the finest food.

    Is it true that the firemen pensions will pay out over $7 million when you consider widows benefits and all the increases???????????????

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