Posted Under: Eco-Friendly "Green" Suggestions,Important Issues for Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale’s Spending Addiction and High City Employee Salaries
Last year, in the middle of a horrible economy, City Manager George Gretsas grew the City’s budget from $600M to $605M. He called it a “zero-based” budget, when everyone at City Hall (including Mayor Jack Seiler) knew that description was a complete fabrication.
This year, City Manager Gretsas has presented to the Commission a budget that continues to swell, from $605M to $612M! It provides even higher salaries and pay raises. Today, HUNDREDS of city employees receive total compensation well in excess of $100,000 per year. Mayor Jack Seiler, who approved last year’s bloated budget, (as well as salary increases for these City employees), appears to be on track to approve yet another swollen budget this September.
If Mayor Seiler approves this budget without making significant cuts, he will be making a big mistake. The rest of our available reserves will be used up. Our City will be faced with an even worse revenue shortfall next year and will be forced to raise property taxes. We are fast approaching a financial cliff that will negatively affect everyone who lives in Fort Lauderdale. Yet for the last year, the only advice from our Mayor has been: “Don’t lay off any City employees”.
We see homes in foreclosure, people losing their job (or are having to accept lower pay to keep their job), and housing values almost half of what they were a few years ago. How bad does the economy have to be, Mayor Seiler, before you start to cut the budget?
For the last six years, Fort Lauderdale’s Budget has been set based on how much revenue was coming in through property taxes, not on what it actually cost to provide services to residents.
Since property values increased, the budget was simply pegged at whatever the expected revenues would be. Rather than reduce the millage rate and control the budget, the budget grew at almost 10% per year. Most municipal budgets grow annually at around 1-2%. City spending went “out of control”.
In six years, our budget grew from $345 million to over $600 million. If our city ran well on a budget of $345 million six years earlier (with essentially the same population we have now), why should it cost us almost twice as much today?
With today’s swollen budget, we now have a larger-than-necessary bureaucracy. City Departments have grown from 8 to 18, each with more overpaid managers than we need. This over-staffed bureaucracy has impeded, (rather than improve), city services to residents.
City Manager Gretsas has not asked for cutbacks from a single Department this year. Why? Because our Mayor did not want him to make any cuts!
Examples of Budget Mismanagement:
Longevity bonuses (merit raises) and 5% annual pay raises for City employees are continuing unabated. The total compensation for the average City employee today is almost double what the average Fort Lauderdale resident earns!
There exists an almost $400 million debt in pension liabilities that we tax payers will have to pay City employees, yet it does not even appear in the budget.
The City continues to spend money lavishly on city vehicles that are not needed. Other cities usually get almost twice as much use out of their vehicles (before they trade them in) than we do. Why?
Most cities our size have an employee base of 1,600 city employees. Our city seems to require 2,600 employees, year after year. Why?
There continues to be a disconnect between the real world, (where taxpayers live) and the stratified world of City Management, who continue to ask for pay raises, higher pension benefits, and larger Department budgets. Our current budget must be reduced significantly THIS YEAR, or you will be paying more in property taxes next year. Either our Commission must do it, or we must do it ourselves.
Compare our City’s budget to a fiscally responsible budget:
Attached below is a graph showing the budget growth of the City of Fort Lauderdale (red bars), coupled with a typical black growth line of a fiscally responsible city. The green bars are what we are suggesting, starting this year:
Proposal for Fiscal Reform:
1. A 10% reduction in the proposed $612 million dollar budget be made to bring the Total Operating Budget (General Fund and Enterprise Fund) back down to approximately $550M. (This would still be an increase over the 2007-2008 budget).
2. Thereafter, we suggest an annual 2.5% budget reduction in the Total Operating Budget (General and Enterprise Funds). This will serve two purposes:
a. It will force City Management to start to cut the fat, to carefully plan for future reductions and make the necessary operational changes with minimal impact on employee staffing.
b. A five-year period of gradual cuts will insure that the police & fire and general employee’s unions understand that their next round of salary negotiations will probably include salary cuts or other concessions.
3. Cutting the General Fund Budget will insure that property taxes are either cut or are held steady (no future tax increases).
4. Cutting the Enterprise Fund Budget will insure that taxes and fees can be reduced in utility bills, parking fees, etc. It has been those pesky and ever-rising fees and taxes in our bills which have hurt businesses, homeowners and tourism in our city. And cutting the expenses and reducing the fees by an equivalent amount should have no negative impact on our financial ratings.
We believe that with aggressive action taken this year by our Commission, we can stave off even more dire cutbacks next year and insure that fiscal responsibility returns to our City, hopefully under new more professional management.
What do you think? Should our Mayor start to look out for our interests, instead of just overpaid City employees? Should we start a grass-roots effort to bring the budget back under control (and reduce our taxes and fees), if our elected officials won’t do it?
Let me know.