Mayor Seiler’s “State of The City” message tonight.
Finally, after 14 months as Fort Lauderdale Mayor, Jack Seiler is finally speaking publicly about the health and welfare of our City and what his goals for our City are. Even though his previous lack of initiative here has created many lost opportunities, I nonetheless applaud his efforts to explain what he wants to accomplish over the upcoming year, to make Fort Lauderdale a better place to live, work and play for ALL of us.
Here are my suggestions to him on what he should focus on tonight:
The Budget, The Budget, The Budget!
After bungling last year by approving the same bloated carcass of a budget we had the year before, Jack has one last opportunity to show some real fiscal responsibility. Our City’s budget has grown at an unsustainable rate of 10% a year from 2004 (about $345M) to 2009 ($605M), with no measurable improvement in services and a declining population. Budgets have been set each year, NOT on what it actually costs to run our City, but by how much revenue our City Manager could collect from us taxpayers. And with property values increasing dramatically during that time, he collected a lot!
Now our City needs to make serious budget cutbacks, just as every small business and family is being forced to do. Mayor Seiler’s recent approval of another 5% pay increase in Police and Fire personnel (they just had one two years ago!) indicates to me that he may still not understand the severity of the economic downturn. Our budget could easily be trimmed $50 million to $100 million and we’d still have additional fat that could be cut. Here are some specifics:
· Why in the world do we still have this overpaid albatross of a City Manager (George Gretsas) here? We should have removed him over a year ago. We could already have a new fiscally prudent City Manager in place by now, making the necessary improvements to our Administration. Our Mayor did nothing to make the change when it would have had a positive financial impact; now we’ll have to wait two more months before Gretsas’ contract ends and he leaves.
· Get rid of those ridiculous Assistant City Managers. They are way overpaid as well and do nothing but “gum up the works” of individual City Departments.
· Get rid of the excess managerial layers in our Police and Fire Departments. We have too many Assistant Chiefs in the Fire Department; too many Lieutenants & Captains in the Police Department. We have over 30% more personnel and over 45% more costs in both Departments than a typical City our size.
· In fact, where most Cities our size have (on average) 1,600 employees, our City seems to need 2,600 employees. Why do we need to have 1,000 more employees than other Cities our size? Has anyone on our City Commission ever asked that question? Apparently not.
· Cut City employee salaries 10% to 15% across the board. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Cato Institute, public and municipal salaries are 30% higher than those in the private sector. And public sector benefits are 70% higher than in the private sector. You could cut salaries here by 15%, yet the employees would still be making more than their private sector counterparts! If our Mayor cannot make the tough cuts that are necessary in this economy to reign in these salaries, then we the residents may have to take action ourselves.
Stimulate more local business activity.
· Our Mayor needs to understand that he can help local businesses and residents (and help keep tourist dollars here) by reinforcing the concept of “Economic Destination Zones”. Las Olas Boulevard (our only true Destination Zone) needs help. Our Mayor could help keep costs down for those small business owners by providing property tax relief to property owners there who reduce rents for their tenants.
· We need additional Economic Destination Zones in our City! Streamlining the permitting process for developers and contractors and providing property tax relief for property owners and businesses that create jobs in these zones is a great way to stimulate our local economy. Areas that would be perfect for new Destinations in our City:
o A defined “Green Zone”. A specific area for businesses to come together that cater to recycling or selling eco-friendly products and services (solar panels, water harvesting systems, low energy light bulbs, etc). A perfect place for this would be along the 13th Street corridor, just east of Dixie Hwy.
o An ethnically-sensitive Destination zone for the Sistrunk. How about small shops where local residents can make and sell hand-crafted goods; a Farmer’s Market selling fresh produce (something that is needed there), and maybe even a couple of jazz clubs. Promoting these types of businesses in this economically depressed area is much better than the Commission’s recent approval of another cheap “strip mall”.
o How about a performing arts/museum destination zone for South Andrews? Helping small artists by bringing them together in a defined area (just south of the New River and west of Andrews) would enable them to make and sell unique works of art in one location that tourists and resident alike would visit.
o A “maritime destination zone” for the Convention Center? Most tourists who come here to enjoy our beaches never get the chance to go on board those large yachts they see; most yacht owners who come here don’t have one specific place they can go to for year-round provisioning and outfitting. The Convention Center is a perfect place to incorporate a new yacht/maritime destination zone, giving tourists an opportunity to see large yachts up close and maybe go aboard (for a fee), and to encourage new businesses into the commercial shopping area there that could cater to large yacht owners.
· Our Mayor needs to understand that these and other ideas cannot come to fruition by waiting for developers to do it on their own (as has been historically the case here); our City must incent and manage developers to build in specific areas like these, and help promote the creation of businesses that define the flavor of each of these Destination areas for Fort Lauderdale. Let’s use some of those tax dollars to help generate more economic vitality for all of us!
Other Quality of Life issues, such as:
· Defined and marked bicycle routes in our City, to help get people out of their cars.
· Better marked crosswalks (with reflective paint) to help protect pedestrians, especially along Las Olas.
· More local events that can draw tourists and residents to the beach. The upcoming “Where the Boys Are…” event coming up on the beach is fine; how about scheduling an event there each month, designed around a specific “theme”?
· Better control the proliferation of “pain clinics” here, that bring criminals and drug dealers into our City.
In short, there is much our Mayor can be doing to help set a new direction for our City; a new direction that could reduce spending along with actively generating new business opportunities, making our City a better place to live work and play.
Let’s see what he has to say tonight.