Exigent Operational Necessity?

Writing in the Palm Beach Post on Friday, editorial writer and columnist Rhonda Swan makes the case that salary reductions for government employees in these troubled times are justifiable – even for administrators like Bob Weisman who takes home $251K / year.

She is also the first in the local media (to our knowledge) to raise questions about the Sheriff’s plan to give raises to the newly unionized civilian employees of PBSO. Citing the protection of the “PBSO Career Service Protection Act” – passed in 2004 to prevent a reduction in benefits for sworn law enforcement and corrections officers, Sheriff Bradshaw claims it now applies to the civilians.

The escape clause in the bill, “exigent operational necessity” has in the past been interpreted by County Attorney Denise Neiman as meaning “the county is out of money and the reserves are gone”. Ms Swan suggests an alternate view – that the Sheriff can invoke “necessity” within PBSO in light of county forced budget cuts. An innovative interpretation and we applaud the concept.

For the entire article, see: Administrators not immune

TAB is referenced in the article for our study on county pay and benefits.

Should the Sheriff be Subject to the Ethics Ordinances and the Inspector General?

Over the last few years, Palm Beach County has taken a great leap in establishing ethical standards and implementing a watchdog function that is helping dispel the reputation of “corruption county”. First, by ordinance, the County Commission and staff included themselves under the jurisdiction of a Commission on Ethics, and the Office of Inspector General. Then, in November of 2010, 70% of the voters supported a charter amendment to extend the umbrella to the 38 municipalities of the county, and the Solid Waste Authority brought themselves under it by inter-local agreement. By May of this year, the new ordinances (including a Code of Ethics and Lobbyist rules) were fully implemented.

There are still pockets of county government that are exempt from all this however. The school board is considering the question and may take the plunge at a later time, but the Constitutional Officers (Sheriff, Clerk, Tax Collector, Supervisor of Elections, Property Appraiser, County Attorney and Public Defender) are specifically excluded. The most significant of these of course is the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office with its 4000 employees and $500M annual budget.

TAB believes if it is good for the county and cities, it should be good for the Sheriff, particularly given the wall that exists between PBSO and the public regarding disclosure of information. Very little financial (or other) information is readily available for scrutiny, and Chapter 119 (Open Records Law) procedures are needed to obtain anything not specifically mandated for disclosure under statute.

Just as the SWA took this step voluntarily, it has been proposed that the Sheriff enter into an inter-local agreement with the county to become part of the county ethics process. To this end, Chairman Karen Marcus formally requested that they do so.

“No Way, No How” was the synopsis of the 9 page response.

Responding for the Sheriff, Colonel Joe Bradshaw in the department of Legal Affairs, explained that they asked for a legal opinion from the General Counsel of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, R.W Evans. In Mr. Evans opinion, the “…County Code of Ethics cannot be applied to the Sheriff under any circumstances, because the investigation of law enforcement and corrections officers is preempted by Florida Law. Further, any oversight of the Sheriff’s Office by the Commission on Ethics and the Inspector General exceeds the County’s authority and improperly encroaches upon the constitutional office of the Sheriff.”

Based on this opinion, Colonel Bradshaw concludes “.. the Sheriff cannot enter into an interagency agreement with the county to extend the jurisdiction of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics and the Inspector General to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.”

In Mr. Evans response, he notes that “This issue is critically important to FLorida Sheriffs..” and that this is “.. the position of the Florida Sheriff’s Association of which I am General Counsel.”

In the opinion, several Florida Statues and case law are cited, pointing out that the Legislature has drawn a protective moat around law enforcement agencies which excludes interference from local elected officials in any way. In a sense, PBSO is “above the law” as far as the county is concerned and no public influence on PBSO is possible without changes in Legislation. We see this time and again – if the county asks the Sheriff for budget cuts he threatens to go to Tallahassee to overturn them. If existing benefits are questioned, the “PBSO Career Service Protection Act” is cited. There is effectively no local control over the Sheriff’s office save the ballot box.

Given the above, is there no other choice but to accept the opinion of the Sheriff’s Association? The voters of Broward County did not think so, and recently passed a charter amendment with 72% of the vote, placing their constitutionals (including the Broward Sheriff) under the County Code of Ethics. To date (to our knowledge), this has not been challenged in court on constitutional or other grounds, although Palm Beach County Attorney Denise Neiman has stated that Broward has crossed the constitutional line and a challenge would succeed. We shall see.

So what can be done about this? There are groups out there that are critical about the way PBSO spends taxpayer money (among other things – see pbsotalk.com). We have no way of knowing if information from those sources are accurate, but much of it appears to come from insiders. In fact, there is currently no outside oversight of PBSO such as the Office of Inspector General brings to other parts of county government, and we think that is a dangerous situation.

We support Chairman Marcus’ call for an inter-local agreement with PBSO. If there are legislative roadblocks then we should work through them with the delegation. We should also have a serious discussion of charter changes which would tear down the constitutional barriers to public oversight of PBSO.

For the full text of Colonel Bradshaw’s response to Karen Marcus, including the opinion of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, click HERE.

New County Grassroots Organization becomes TAB Coalition Partner

TAB welcomes its newest coalition partner, the Palm Beach County Tea Party. The group, formed by past leaders of SFTP that want to go in a new direction, was announced on Tuesday, June 21, and will initially have chapters in Jupiter and Wellington.

Local issues will have a more prominent role with the new group, including the county budget. In a question and answer video, group founder Pam Wohlschlegel said regarding the county budget: “We need to be fiscally responsible and part of that is budget cuts. Our founding group feels very strongly that the TAB proposal has a lot of good things in it and hope that our commissioners will accept it.”

For more information about the newest TAB partner, click HERE.

Genesis of a Collective Bargaining Agreement

On June 16, at the Chief Herman W. Brice Administrative Complex on Pike Road, negotiators for County Fire / Rescue and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF local 2928) met across the table to reach agreement on a new contract which will replace the current agreement expiring in September.

As it was a public meeting, advertised on the county meetings calendar, and we at TAB are interested in how public employee union contracts are negotiated, we decided to attend and observe. There has been very little public participation at these meetings in the past, and when we arrived there were no seats anywhere but at the table, but they very graciously found us some. Chief Jerauld told us later that occasionally, fireman who may not agree with the union position will attend the meetings, but public participation is rare. That was disappointing to hear. Much of the budgets of Fire / Rescue, PBSO and other county agencies are driven by personal service costs, mostly established in these multi-year collective bargaining agreements. If we as citizens want to influence the way our governments spend our money, we should be willing to attend these meetings and understand how the contracts are set.

For our part, we were impressed with the professionalism displayed on both sides of the table, and the respect the sides showed to each other. For the first hour and a half or so, the attorney for management walked through the lengthy contract, pointing out changes from previous versions. A lot of the sections at issue related to work rules and compensation arrangements that need practitioner context to fully understand. Three items that we found particularly noteworthy though were:

  • Elimination of employee performance reviews. The implication was that the current system does not achieve anything so it is better to scrap it altogether.
  • A 22% reduction in starting salary for new employees. It was said the it was an attractive enough place to work that high starting salaries are not needed to attract recruits.
  • A 3% employee contribution for insurance. This compares to 10% in the county departments.

On the latter two there was silence from the union side of the table and it is safe to say that did not mean concurrence. Several times, the phrase “unreasonable in the current times” was used to explain why a benefit was being reduced. From our limited perspective (and not having copies of the document we have not seen the new salary grid), it appears that the Fire / Rescue management is making a good faith attempt at bringing their contracts into line with economic conditions, and we find that encouraging.

When the document review was complete, management and the public (us) left the room so the union could confer privately. After about 10 minutes, word was relayed that the meeting was ending and would continue at a later date to be determined. For whatever reason, they needed more time to consider a response.

TAB is planning to follow the progress of this contract and will attend the followup meeting when it occurs. Stay tuned.

Reduce Govt Overhead, Not Essential Services: BOC, Constitutional Officers and particularly the Sheriff

Editor’s note: This post was sent as an email to the County Commissioners and Constitutional Officers by Dale Gregory on June 13, 2011.


I support in concept the proposals of the Palm Beach TAB advocated at the June 13, 2011 Budget Workshop.


I am appalled at the County Administrator’s appeal to emotion by proposing to increase Palm Tran rates, reduce life guards, and the like.  I pray that you will vote “NO” on any increase in taxes or reduction in essential services! This applies to the Sheriff’s response that he is going to reduce essential staff if the BOC doesn’t approve his budget demands.

In 2010 Martin County implemented a one day per month furlough (unpaid day off) as a means to balance their budget.  The County has also reduced staff levels.  Has Palm Beach County used this as a tool to balance the budget?

I have volunteered on a number of initiatives in Palm Beach County and learned early on:  If the County Administrator doesn’t take a personal interest, forget the initiative no matter how much it may benefit the community.

If the County Administrator could effectively collaborate with the Constitutional Officers we could dramatically improve the efficiency of government operations.  Examples include sharing information technology, telecommunication services, purchasing, human resource administration, real estate planning, logistics, and other back office functions.

There are similar collaboration and shared services opportunities between the County, Palm Beach School District, South Florida Water Management District, Children’s Services Council, Palm Beach County Health Care District, Library District, Port of Palm Beach District, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations.  Trust me, it works.  Take a trip to Martin County to learn more.

Collaboration is happening elsewhere in the United States, and taxpayers are benefiting immensely.  Unfortunately Palm Beach County’s reputation of corruption and insider deals impedes such collaboration.  County Administrative leadership is not a “poster child” for advocating trust, shared values, and change.

Elected officials need to leave their ego’s at home and start thinking about being better stewards of the combined “spend” of taxpayers – state, county, schools, municipal, and other taxing authorities.  This includes Constitutional Officers.


Most private sector and nonprofit organizations would not tolerate strategies that have been proposed by the County Administrator.  The most successful organizations would make changes at the top to transform their culture and develop a winning strategy to achieve organizational objectives.  Early 20th century thinking simply doesn’t work in today’s world.

If the Administrator cannot develop a strategy to balance the budget without increasing taxes while maintaining all essential services, the BOC should find someone who will.


I recently talked to a Commissioner from another Florida county.  I explained how the Palm Beach Sheriff appears to ignore the Palm Beach BOC, operating without sufficient checks and balances.  I was told that this would never happen in their county….. that the BOC would force the issue.

You were elected to serve the residents of Palm Beach County.  This includes a fiduciary responsibility to manage the use of all of our tax dollars.  It is time to put the Sheriff on notice:  Cut expenditures and maintain service levels.  This includes freezing  compensation of all who are not part of collective bargaining agreements.  If the Sheriff has the option to appeal his issue on funding to Tallahassee, go for it.  It is time to break the mold.

Marathon Session for First Budget Workshop

Last evening, starting at 6:00pm, the first steps in the annual county budget dance were performed before a large audience. The meeting did not end until around 11:00pm

County Administrator Bob Weisman, along with OFMB chief Liz Bloeser and Budget Director John Wilson, explained the high points of the 4.75 millage $588M tax proposal, and explained why he’d really like to see it raised to “rollback” millage of 4.922.

While Weisman maintained there were no “Washington Monument” cuts and all were feasible, several commissioners pointed out that many of the “green page” cuts were in areas that were both visible to the public and in areas that would raise significant objections from the public. Commissioner Abrams went so far as to point out that the “green pages” even contained service impact notes listing the dire consequences that were about to befall the county as a result of taking the cut. If the expectations were so dire, then why take these particular cuts? He referred to the comments in the budget document as “advocacy” and we couldn’t agree more.

After a brief pitch by Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, requesting more money to “compensate” for the new law limiting the length of early voting (shorter time means she needs more facilities, equipment and overtime – who knew?), Sheriff Bradshaw went through his budget presentation.

The Sheriff made some interesting claims.

Much has been made of the growing percentage of the county budget that goes to PBSO – we estimate their portion the ad-valorem equivalent county-wide budget is now 59%, up from 46% in 2003. Not so fast, says Sheriff Bradshaw. If you look at the core operation of the agency, removing the aspects that are state mandated or are county responsibilities (the jail, crossing guards, etc) – his spending is only 25% of the county budget. We find this argument interesting but not very relevant.

Another claim has to do with the way the county is accounting for the “savings” from the retirement system (FRS) changes passed by the Legislature. (TAB estimates the savings to be about $20M for PBSO, $15M for the county departments and other constitutionals, and $11.6M for Fire/Rescue). Don’t call them “savings” he says – it is simply a change in rates that he will now use to calculate his budget. The change in rate from last year amounts to $18M by his calculation and he takes it directly off his budget. The county contends that this amount should be “shared” with the county departments – it is a windfall from the state that needs to be used to fill their overall budget hole. Since the Sheriff, with many “special risk” employees gets a much bigger “savings” than the county with “regular risk” classes, he should “share the wealth”. In this one, we believe the Sheriff occupies the moral high ground, and the FRS “savings” that occur in PBSO should stay in PBSO. After all – it is a net budget reduction.

This is a serious dispute that will need to be resolved before a clear view of the flat millage budget can emerge, and it appears that both sides have dug in their heels. There are other issues as well, including the $5M credit the Sheriff wants to take for FRS savings he will realize in the period before the new budget year on October 1.

The way the county allocates their FRS “savings” is much more convoluted. Complicating things is that the county staff is divided up between departments that are not funded by ad-valorem taxes (eg. airports) and those that are fully or only partially funded by tax dollars. Our estimate of $15.4M savings is reduced to a little less than $8M that can be used to offset the ad-valorem levy according to Budget Director John Wilson.

Even so, this $8M plus the Sheriff’s $18M in “savings” ($26M total) should be more than enough to plug the “hole” between the $603M adopted tax of FY2011 and the $588M that flat millage will collect in 2012. John points out that there are other “holes”, like decreased interest earnings that make the actual “hole” $45M, so cuts are necessary. Unfortunately for us TAB analysts, none of the budget materials provided to the public provide the documentation necessary to see the whole picture, but John has promised to provide us with what we need shortly. Watch this space.

With the conclusion of the Sheriff’s budget, public comment began. As with most budget meetings, we saw a parade of supporters of the various programs on the chopping block. By our count, there were about 40 speakers. Three spoke to keep the rates low for Palm Tran Connection, one to restore manatee protection, 5 for the nature centers, a couple for community revitalization, four for Small Business Assistance, and ten for victims’s services. The support for the latter was quite moving as victims of rape, shootings and other mayhem came forward to tell their stories. Given that the amount of the cuts to Victims services is a relatively minor $320K or so and 4 positions we would guess they may get restored. All of these areas amount to a couple of million out of $25M in cuts, so we will see if their advocacy will prevail. Other constituencies in jeopardy (eg. lifeguards, FAA) did not turn out at this meeting.

Fifteen spoke in favor of the submitted, flat millage budget. These included Fred and Iris Scheibl of TAB, Meg Shannon of Tea Party in Action, Shannon and Doug Armstrong, Ed Fulop, Victoria Thiel and Dr. Richard Raborn of South Florida 912, Phil Blumel of RCCPBC, Mayor Gail Coniglio of the Town of Palm Beach County Budget Task Force, Pat Cooper of the PBCA, Dick Clyde of the PB City Council, Dionna Hall of RAPB and several others. Other TAB coalition partners who could not attend the meeting but sent emails to the commissioners included Hal Valeche of Taxpayer Action Network, Mayor Dan Comerford and Councilman Chip Block of Jupiter Inlet Colony.

At the end of the meeting the commissioners discussed what they had heard. Although they did not vote or take positions on the budget proposal, by their comments we would assess commissioners Abrams, Marcus and Burdick as leaning towards accepting the flat millage budget, and commissioner Aaronson as wanting to raise the millage. Commissioners Santamaria, Vana and Taylor seem to be hedging their bets at this time.

For media coverage of the meeting see: Palm Beach County Commission balks at cuts — or raising taxes in the Post, and Palm Beach County’s proposed spending cuts prompt citizen backlash in the Sun Sentinel.

The next step in the budget process is the workshop on July 11 at 9:30am. There is also an off-site retreat for the commissioners where budget strategy and objectives will be discussed. That will be held on Thursday June 30 at 10:00AM at the Lake Okeechobee Outpost in Pahokee.

BIZPAC Review:County budget a Weisman trick-expect tax increase

The Kabuki Budget

“Kabuki”traditional Japanese popular drama performed with highly stylized singing and dancing.

Yesterday, the county released the budget package for the June 13 workshop. While this preliminary document is lacking in detail (it doesn’t show the department rollups or make it possible to assess what the FRS savings were), it is predictive of the course of debate.

To their credit, the Board of County Commissioners directed Administrator Weisman and staff to prepare a budget this year with no tax increases. The submited budget meets that requirement. However, Mr. Weisman states in his cover letter that he wants them to approve a tax increase “to reinstate some of the less desirable budget cuts”.

Let the dance begin. Anyone who follows the county budget hearings knows how this works. The administrator wants to spend more. Some board members agree, some don’t, but they first need to listen to “the people”. Within the county, there are well organized special interest groups that are reliable and can be expected to come out and argue passionately for their slice of the pie. These groups include riders of Palm Tran and the Palm Tran Connection, the county lifeguards, directors of charitable organizations that get handouts from the county (Financially Assisted Agencies), the Cultural Council, and (when the Sheriff’s budget is threatened), lots of folks in PBA shirts and PBSO boosters from the Sheriff’s neighborhood programs. It used to include former Drug Farm residents, but they lost the fight last year.

Guess where the cuts come in the submitted budget. From these groups of course! Does anyone expect that the board will listen to groups of people in wheelchairs and not restore funding for Palm Tran Connection? Or turn away 150 young lifeguards who feel their way of life is threatened by closing pools? My guess is that these funds will be restored and the only reason they were offered up is to perpetuate “the dance”.

Of the $21.5M of specified county department cuts in the cover letter, the bulk comes from social service (including FAA), Palm Tran, ERM – including manatee protection, pavement and traffic signal repair (EPW), parks and recreation (pools and lifeguards), animal control, youth affairs and victim services. These are designed to sound “draconian”. Strangely enough, the detail provided shows actual increases in two of the areas – Palm Tran sees an actual ad-valorem increase of 25% ($3.9M) in its subsidy due to declining revenue, and Engineering & Public Works (EPW) grows by 10%. Nowhere in the submission can you find the amount saved by FRS reform (we estimate it to be $15.4M).

Likewise, the Sheriff (who asked for a 4% increase in his budget) is being told he will get a $22M cut. On Monday we will probably hear that this will result in the removal of patrols around the largest senior centers and other “constituent sensitive” areas, resulting in catastrophe if the money is not restored.

We could try to second guess the Administrator on where the cuts “should” be taken (we all have our anecdotes about waste and inefficiency), but that is hard to do without an insider’s knowledge. Instead, we say – go ahead and restore the funding to the squeeky wheels – but do it in a budget neutral manner. For every dollar restored, there needs to be a dollar cut somewhere else. The millage needs to stay at 4.75.

Do the right thing.

The TAB Proposal and the County Budget

The county has published their initial budget package for the June 13 workshop. It is a flat millage budget, with cuts of $13.6M from county departments and $22M from PBSO over FY2011, and would seem at first reading to be in line with the first two points of the TAB Proposal, “Don’t raise the millage” and “take more of the cuts from the Sheriff”.

Upon further reading, it is clear that many of the cuts are intended to provoke a response from the user community. If you remember the horde of lifeguards and community recipients of FAA (charity) funds that showed up last year to protest, you can expect the same from the proposed $4.8M cut to Parks and Recreation which will close pools and reduce lifeguards, and the $1M cut to the FAA funds. Not to mention who will turn out to protest the $2.4M increase in Palm Tran fares.

In his cover letter, Administrator Weisman says: “I recommend the Board set a millage rate at rollback, which is currently estimated to be 4.922 mills. This would allow the Board to reinstate some of the less desirable budget cuts.”

Rollback represents a 3.6% increase in tax rates. Unless TAB partners and like minded citizens turn out to support the TAB proposal and ask the board to accept the submitted flat millage budget as stated, we can surely expect the special interests to push it to the rollback rate or beyond.

To recap, the TAB proposal is:

  1. Maintain the county-wide millage at 4.75
  2. Take the majority of cuts from PBSO, not the county departments
  3. Take action to reduce the inventory of county property and reduce the debt

We also want to see a charter amendment for a county version of “Smart Cap” placed on the 2012 ballot. Detailed arguments for each of these can be found later in this article.


Last year, TAB was formed in July, after the county budget process was well underway.

After researching the growth in county spending for the period 2003-2011, we concluded that it had grown 11 times the population growth and 3 times the rate of inflation. For FY2011, the proposed budget raised the millage by more than 9% on top of an increase of more than 15% in the previous year. Although the ad-valorem equivalent (and the total amount of collected taxes) declined in the 2011 fiscal year with the steep decline in property valuations, those with homestead properties saw their taxes go up. Overall spending, propped up by state and federal stimulus funds, continued to increase in 2011. (See chart below).

With the weak economy and double digit unemployment in the county, we thought another tax rate increase was wrong, and argued for keeping the millage flat at 4.344. As part of the proposal, we went through the staff’s “green” and “blue” pages, and made specific spending cut proposals totalling over $50M, argued for deferring raises in Fire/Rescue and PBSO, and listed $100M in capital projects that could have been deferred.

In meetings with the individual commissioners, we made our case and had a productive dialogue, but were not persuasive enough to carry the day against the hordes of special interests (including PBA members supporting the Sheriff’s budget) that flooded the meetings and lobbied the commissioners to keep the taxpayer money flowing. The final budget passed with a 9.3% rate hike on a 4-2 vote, with commissioners Abrams and Santamaria voting against, and the district 2 seat vacant after the resignation of Jeff Koons.

This year we are starting earlier and have focused on educating community groups about the budget history, preparing them to join the discussion armed with the proper facts. The actual budget has just been released to the public and we are just beginning our analysis. These are some aspects of the environment in which it is being created:

  • The county administrator submitted a 4.75 flat millage budget as directed by the BCC, yet he is really asking for a rollback rate of 4.922 which would be a 3.6% increase over 2011, “to reinstate some of the less desirable budget cuts.”
  • The Sheriff submitted a budget request with spending that is 4% higher than last year, mostly to cover raises under the collective bargaining agreements in place until 9/2012. In the flat millage budget, he is being asked to cut 5% more than he saves with FRS.
  • The property appraiser, who had been projecting a 6% decline in valuations this year, has softened his outlook to a 2.3% decline.
  • FRS reform, passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, will result in savings to the county departments, PBSO and Fire/Rescue of $15.4M, $20.6M, and $11.6M respectively (by our calculations). Note: The county shows the PBSO savings to be $18M.
  • Adam Playford’s article in the Palm Beach Post on May 21 gives some indication of the direction various players would like to go. Administrator Bob Weisman would like to see rollback millage to prevent any cuts in service. Commissioner Shelly Vana suggests we have not properly determined our priorities. The county is “saddled with debt”. The interest payments take 14% of what the county collects in property taxes according to Budget Director John Wilson. “Some of the county’s current fiscal squeeze is because it didn’t save enough earlier in the decade when tax money was flooding in” (during the boom) according to Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock.

The following is an outline of the “TAB Proposal” for 2012:

The 2012 TAB Proposal – preliminary

  1. Maintain the county-wide millage at 4.75
    • County-wide property tax rates have risen 25.6% in the last two years alone
    • Although the total taxes collected have declined over the same period, those with homestead properties saw double digit increase in their county taxes
    • This year, the reduction in valuations has slowed from an expectation of -6% to a more modest -2.8%, reducing the pressure on the budget and millage rate
    • TAB estimates that reforms to the Florida Retirement System (FRS), passed by the Legislature, will result in a $48M savings to the county this year ($20.6M in PBSO, $15.4 in county departments, and $11.6M in Fire/Rescue). This should be used to hold or reduce the millage, not for new spending on programs or salary increases.
    • The commissioners directed the County Administrator to submit an initial budget with no change to the millage rate and he did. Bob Weisman’s request for rollback at 4.922 (a 3.6% increase) would seem to exceed his guidance.
    • The county is still experiencing double digit unemployment and slow economic growth. This is not the time to be raising taxes.
    • We expect the Fire / Rescue and Library MSTUs to also avoid a rate increase, but that has already been included in the submitted budget and so far no one has asked to exceed it.
  2. Take the majority of cuts from PBSO, not the county departments
    • County-wide ad-valorem taxes pay for the county departments and the constitutional officers, including the Sheriff. In the last 8 years, PBSO has grown from 46% of the budget to 59%.
    • Most of the growth in the PBSO budget has been in personal services costs (salary and benefits), and PBSO deputies are now compensated more than 30% above the national average for similar positions.
    • Measured against a hypothetical population+inflation cap since 2003, county departments are now comfortably under the cap (although they exceeded it in the boom years by a cumulative amount of $50M). PBSO has greatly exceeded the cap in each year, with a cumulative overspending (versus the cap) of $500M in the 8 years. (See charts below)
    • The Sheriff provides only the statutory minimum of budget data to the county (and the public) so it is difficult to see where the money is being spent. Through Chapter 119 (open records law) requests, TAB has determined that almost all the spending growth has been in salaries and benefits for employees covered by collective bargaining agreements, not in operating costs.
    • The reduction to PBSO from $470M to $448M in the submitted budget would meet our criteria if allowed to stand.
  3. Take action to reduce the inventory of county property and reduce the debt
    • Florida TaxWatch is conducting a study funded by the PBCA and others, that will inventory underutilized land and other property owned by the county, and compare our debt and capital programs to our peer counties. This study can be used as a blueprint for action to reduce the debt (currently $1600 per county resident with interest costs estimated at 14% of taxes collected) and make plans to sell off assets like Mecca Farms.
    • The Clerk and Comptroller has identified the debt as being significant already, and it is about to be increased even further with the building of the waste to energy facility by the Solid Waste Authority and the convention center hotel.
    • During the boom, windfall tax receipts were used to start projects that committed the county to long term debt that is difficult to justify now that the boom has ended. We need a plan to correct the problems caused by earlier bad decisions.
    • TAB has obtained a list of vacant properties owned by the county and has begun comparing the current value of these parcels to what was paid for them. As long as these properties remain on the books it is a double liablility – there is a carrying cost associated with them and they are held off the tax rolls. Many of the over 2400 properties listed in the PAPA database as belonging to the county should be sold, even at a loss.

Separate from the TAB Proposal for the FY2012 budget cycle, but important for long term budget restraint is a charter amendment to bring the state level “Smart Cap” proposal (SJR958) to the county. This will be a separate track, aligned with the charter review process, but if you agree with it, please mention it in the context of the budget discussion.

Adopt a “Smart Cap” charter amendment for county government

  • The state-wide “Smart Cap” (SJR958) will be on the ballot in 2012. What is good for the state is good for the county.
  • “Smart Cap” limits the revenue that can be collected to last year’s cap plus an adjustment factor that reflects inflation (change in Consumer Price Index) and population growth – an objective measure of “appropriate spending”.
  • Although the decline in valuations has currently dampened the large increases in county spending that occurred during the boom, spending has continued to rise, even last year. When “normal” returns to the real estate market, a cap could prevent the out of control spending that occurred during the bubble.
  • Unlike Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), a smart cap is based on last year’s cap, not on last year’s revenue. That prevents the “ratcheting down” of the cap that caused problems in that state during a recession.
  • A well designed Smart Cap can provide emergency override (Supermajority BCC vote) and exemptions for unfunded mandates and other areas identified by the League of Cities as as problematic.

This year’s TAB Proposal is really not asking that much. With the smaller decline in valuations and the large savings from FRS reform, there should be very little difficulty in making the modest cuts that will be necessary to avoid an increase in the tax rates.

Growth in ad-valorem equivalents compared to hypothetical “Smart Cap”