Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Bitter-Sweet City Council Meeting

I must confess the council meeting previously held on March 3rd was bitter-sweet for me as a resident of Palm Bay, and a citizen of a Constitutional Democratic-Republic, respectively.

On the one hand, Councilmembers voted 4 to 1 against a Budget Workshop Group, where each councilmember would have selected citizens to become part of a committee that would have worked specifically on the municipality's budget.

There were several reasons given as to why such a group is not necessary. One of them is: we elect coucilmembers and they elect a city manager. However, if that were the case, all other committees would not be necessary, either. I am of the opinion, however, that our City's dire economic situation may be one culprit, as I explained in a previous blog.

Although our financial books are out in the open to the public - as it should be - the question is how many people understand their local government financial circumstance beyond the tax rate they're paying? Government accountability is not only about lowering and raising taxes, it's also about how the money is spent, as well. As you all know, fiscal responsibility and accountability ensures that taxes remain low while essential government services remain sound (at minimum) or improve (at best).

A budget workshop group where each councilmember chooses one or more vigilant citizen from Palm Bay would have brought more involvement from the public. Then again, that's just my opinion.

On the other hand, I did see a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. In my last blog, previous to this one, on March 1st, I wrote about "5 Great Ideas For Palm Bay." One of my ideas, "No. 3: Emphasize Government Services on Public Works and Utilities," I spoke about how good roads attract businesses. I believe the Mayor said it best when he said, "If you don't have good roads, nothing works." I couldn't agree with him more.

(See Video Below)

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By a unanimous vote, councilmembers agreed to increase the portion out of total millage that is allocated to road improvements from a 0.6413 millage rate to 1.00 millage rate.

Let me emphasize, THIS IS NOT A TAX INCREASE.

We still have the same tax rate at $7.50 per $1,000 (albeit the second highest in the county), only within the same tax rate (or millage) the portion pertaining to road improvements was bumped up a little by 0.3587 millage.

Time will tell whether or not this new re-allocation will be significant enough for our roads. But at least a first step was taken to use the money already going in, AND NOT A PENNY MORE RAISED IN TAXES OR ASSESSMENTS OR OBLIGATIONS.

To view the March 3rd City Council Meeting and choose the specific segments you'll like to watch, please click here

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

5 Great Ideas for Palm Bay

There is certainly a lot going on these days: civil wars in the middle-east, gas prices rising, the U.S. Dollar devaluating further-and-further, and local governments going broke and shutting down services. As if these issues weren’t enough, the real estate market is still declining, and there are yet more bank failures.

What about the City of Palm Bay? Aren’t there enough problems here locally? I spoke about them in previous blogs – among them are rising debts.

Nevertheless, we all have enough of our share of bad reports. I’d like to, instead, shed some light with some solutions that can benefit us, locally, while Washington D.C. implodes. I call them “5 Great Ideas for Palm Bay.”

No. 1: Cut Tax Rates By At least a third

Palm Bay residents are undergoing one of the worst economic times with unemployment rate above 12% locally. Moreover, our home values have been crushed to prices not seen since the early 1990’s. Yet, our City has the second highest property taxes in Brevard County, with a millage rate of $7.50 per $1,000. A 33% cut in millage rate would put us at approximately $5.00 per $1,000, reducing the average homeowner’s tax-burden from $562.50 a year to $375.00 a year – based on $125,000 home price minus $50,000 homestead. That’s a $187 annual savings that every hardworking family can use to buy other necessities, such as groceries and fuel.

No. 2: Reduce Government Expenditures to Pre-Real Estate Bubble Era

There is no doubt that certain decisions made by the “unholy alliance” between our federal government and big banks have created an artificial bubble that, unfortunately, much like the tech-bubble of the 1990’s, probably won’t return. After all, you don’t see investors buying up shell companies with empty promises of innovative technologies, anymore. The same is true about real estate: ridiculously low interest rates, non-stop paper dollar printing and crafty default-proof loans are what spurred the housing bubble.

Suppressed home values mean lower revenues and by default results in a smaller government. To put it frankly, when there’s no money… there’s no money. That’s what the big hoopla in Wisconsin is all about, and Palm Bay is not immune. We simply can not keep spending like we’re in the real estate bubble of 2005 and not pay the price for it.

Since the bubble began around the year 2000 and current home prices are similar to prices in the recession of the 1990’s, I believe expenditures should be around the range of $38,000,000 to $40,000,000 annually. That’s over 50% reduction from 2009’s total expenses of over $82,000,000. And in case anyone is wondering if this is possible, think about this for a moment: over 50% of our municipality’s total expenditures are salaries – the lion share which belongs to a handful of our “public servants” which receive a handsome six-figure annual wage that would make upper-management in most fortune 100 companies envious.

No. 3: Emphasize Government Services on Public Works and Utilities

There is the old adage in the real estate business: Location… Location… Location. The same is true about attracting businesses, except to create an exceptional location, the focus have to be on: Infrastructure… Infrastructure… Infrastructure. Let’s face it, who wants to set up a business where there are dirt roads, miles away from the nearest highway exit, and no available essential utilities.

No. 4: Suspend All Business Fees, Impact Fees, and other anti-business ordinances

Creating an environment conducive to success is essential to attracting new businesses and inevitably new jobs. But cutting taxes is not enough. Removing all other hindrances, like revenue-grabbing fees that serve no public safety purposes and absurd marketing-prohibitive rules will give our small business owners room to breath and be creative as they struggle to pay the bills.

No. 5: Remove Red-light Cameras

Here is another revenue-grabbing initiative that has little to do with public safety and more to do with lining the pockets of the few at the expense of the general public. Moreover, red-light cameras are intrusive and unconstitutional. It violates our fourth amendment rights to be “secured in our persons… against unreasonable searches and seizures… ”

Well, there you have it. 5 great ideas, which I believe can alleviate some of our financial and regulatory burdens in today’s tough economic climate. Whether these things can get done in one year or over a reasonable period of time, is up for debate, but I think most people won't argue that they need to get done, eventually.