Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Four St. Pete Budget Cuts that Don't' Touch the Parks, Libraries or other City Amenities

The Mayor is trying to drum up support for a millage increase. Before we do that let's take a look at some possible budget reduction opportunities.

Here are four specific budget cut suggestions:

The Business Assistance Services Department
The 2012 Budget is $880,000. Eliminate Business Assistance completely and pass responsibility to the Chamber of Commerce.

The Economic Development Department
The 2012 Budget is $684,000. Eliminate Economic Development completely and pass responsibility to Chamber of Commerce or a citizens committee

Engineering Department
If you look at the detailed budget for the Engineering Department, you will see millions of dollars in salaries and other costs offset by something called "Burden Capital Costs". This approach is a clever way of hiding costs in an over bloated less than effective department by getting the revenue from capital projects. It just shifts the cost from one bucket to another. Let's get $750,000 to $1 million dollars out of the Engineering department by reducing costs and staff. Trust me as one who has been a recipient of their services, no one will miss what's cut and we can out source what may be needed.

The Police Communications Center
The 2012 budget is about $ 6.8 Million. Outsource this effort to Sheriff, eliminate one assistant chief, put the remaining civilians under Chief's office. Conservative estimate of the actual annual savings would be $2.75 to $3.25 million.
Using the conservative numbers, right there in four City departments is over $5 million dollars in savings or almost half of the short fall and we have not touched a library, park, pool or other amenity. In fact we have probably improved service to the organization and the public in several areas.

There is more to be found, a lot more.

These must be genuine budget cuts where the people are removed from the payroll and costs eliminated. No changing titles, no shuffling around no cutting unfilled positions, real cuts that produce real recurring savings.

These are tough decisions and they require courage and leadership, things that are in short supply at City Hall.

e-mail doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is Light Rail Really the Answer?

What we are now calling Light Rail has a rich history in the United states dating back to 1832.

The basic form is a small gauge railway, placed in public right of way and on private property often by easement. The Light Rail system runs from point A to point B often with branches and numerous stops along the way.

The question coming to the table is simply "is Light Rail a viable mass transit alternative for Pinellas County"?

Let's look at some issues. First, Light rail is big business. What is big about it is its design, procurement, right of way deals and construction. Looking around, you find that the only people who ever got rich from Light Rail were the realtors who cut the land deals, the politicians who helped them, the company who sold the train and track and the construction company that installed the system.

Notice who is missing here? The government or authority that is stuck running the system. That government by the way is you.

Politicians love Light Rail. It is a one stop simple answer to all of those complaints about roads and traffic. It provides a lot of places for plaques with their names on them, and a good source of campaign contributions while the thing is being approved and built. And if they or someone close to them just happens to have property along the right of way, then that's just gravy.

Pinellas County is the most densely populated County in Florida. We are built low, dense and spread out with multiple concentrations of commerce, retail, tourism and entertainment. Light Rail cannot directly serve all of those centers of interest, so by default the system becomes intermodal. That means we must use busses or some form of ground transportation to feed the Light Rail system.

So ask yourself this question. Will you go somewhere to get on buss, to ride to a train, to take you to some station, where you will in all likelihood have to get on another buss to get where you want to go? Then repeat that process to get back home? People do it every day in New York, Atlanta and Chicago, but the real question is will they do it in Pinellas County? It will take some serious retraining, and the reason a lot of people retire here is to get away from just that kind of hassle.

Once built there will be never ending pressure to acquire more property, build more miles expanding cost and operating expenses.

The politicians and Light Rail supporters say commerce will redevelop around the Light Rail routes and stations. That will take decades to happen in this County, and if your business is not located on or near the rail line how does that work for you?

The proponents say we are building for the future, the problem is we have to pay for Light Rail in the present, and it is a long shot at best. Before we start a tax that will never end and spend a lot of time and money studying, analyzing and trying to sell Light Rail to the public, we should look at some alternatives.

Hillsboro County got it right.

e-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Where was the St. Pete PD Command Staff

Sunday, Bubba the Love Sponge and his foundation hosted their 4th motorcycle ride to support law enforcement injured or killed in the line of duty. The event started and ended at Jim's Harley Davison in St. Petersburg.

Over 600 hundred or so riders showed up, the Pinellas County Sheriff showed up, couple of the surrounding County Sheriffs had staff representatives there, the Lakeland Police Chief was there, even Mayor Foster showed up.

Who did not show up? Not a single command staff representative of the St. Petersburg Police Department. Not the Chief, not an assistant Chief, not a Major, no one.

The Motorcycle Unit was there along with several others to lead the ride. Patrol helped with traffic, a couple of officers who regularly ride in these events were there as was one guy from the PD building maintenance Department.

I don't know about everyone else, but as someone who just retired from the PD, and was there when we lost three officers, I thought it was a bit of a snub, and downright embarrassing.

The boys on the third floor at the PD didn't have any trouble snuggling up to Bubba a couple of years ago when they had a need, but now not so much. Let's hope they don't need Bubba's help any time soon, but then I think Bubba's heart is a lot bigger than his memory is long.

This is typical of the Harmon, Williams, Gordon, DeKay mentality, it's all about me and the moment. Nice day for golf, church, hanging with some friends, who would want to hang around with a bunch of bikers when you don't need them?

Alone on the stage Mayor Foster made some very appropriate comments, but did not once mention the St. Petersburg Police Department by name. If it bothered him it did not show, but he has been covering for the poor leadership at the PD for a while now. It has to be wearing thin.

e-mail doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net