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.

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