Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Will a Community Redevelopment Agency Work For Midtown?

Before any discussion of a Community Redevelopment Act here is the State Statute Title XI, Chapter 163,

Given the history of midtown, the recent easy manipulation of tax increment funds(TIF) in the Pier debacle, the City has absolutely no business creating a CRA for midtown. Here are some reasons why.
  • The CRA is an independent authority. It will be quickly riddled with special interests and the opportunity for fraud and mishandling of funds is almost a certainty.
  • Look at the fine job the City has done managing the Housing Authority. This is the Housing Authority on steroids.
  • The big question is will tax rates be increased in the CRA to provide the tax increment funds?
  • How much will the City borrow against the tax increment funds?
  • Who will pay the interest?
  • What happens when the Midtown CRA goes bust. Who picks up the tab?
This section of St. Petersburg has never responded to redevelopment efforts and it is unlikely it will until it is policed better. It won't be policed better until the current Police Chief and most of his assistant chiefs are gone.
You have to start where the problems are: drugs, prostitution, crime and begin to solve those issues without worrying about the next riot. Throwing Tax Increment Funds into some huge bond effort in an attempt to somehow build our way out of these problems is unlikely to work.
Unless Mayor Foster is ready to make some long needed changes at the PD this whole effort is merely good money chasing the wrong problems.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How Can The St. Pete Administration Cut The Budget?

For the past few years the City administration has used the traditional budget balancing methods of reducing capital expenditures, eliminating training budgets and reducing general operating expenses. There have been a significant number of staff reductions including eliminating positions, resignations and retirements. But the administration has run out of quick fixes.
There have been calls to use the City's massive reserves to defray operating expenses, but Mayors and City Councils have generally shied away from this as a bad business practice since it really just pushes the problem down the road.
The private sector for decades has used a combination of plans to incentivize people to leave the payroll. These plans allow those at or near retirement to leave early or if they have just been hanging around, like a lot of City employees, it encourages them to leave.
Three steps To Transforming the City Administration
1. Determine the total amount of savings necessary to bring both the 2013 and estimated 2014 budgets into balance.
2. Look at the entire MANAGEMENT team and reduce the number of supervisors and managers, Majors, Captains, Assistant Chiefs, District Chiefs and administrators to meet that goal. As a general rule of thumb reduce:

  • 2 senior administrators, and their support staff such as secretaries and assistants
  • 1 manger in every 5 and their support staff such as secretaries
  • 1 supervisor in every 8
  • Public safety must participate but only with senior staff such as Assistant Chiefs, District Chiefs, and Majors, Captains, and civilian managers and supervisors.
  • Once identified these people must leave the organization.
  • No cut and shuffle leaving them hidden away on the payroll.
3. How?
  • Put together a viable incentive program that adds significantly to the normal termination pay and will encourage people to leave.
  • Don't worry about people walking away with large sums of money. This thinking is a holdover from the David Fisher Administration and is last century's thinking. These payouts are investments in the City's future.
  • Identify those whose positions are being cut, inform them of the decision, and they will have 1 month to take the incentive package or simply be removed from the payroll.
  • Take whatever amount is necessary to fund the incentives and termination pay from the reserve funds.
  • This approach creates permanent solution to the problem, blunts the argument against using reserve funds, because this program is a onetime effort that resolves the problem going forward.
  • The pay back on this investment should be 100% in less than three years.
  • Do not hire a consultant to study or do this - just do it.
  • Maintain a hard hiring freeze for at least 24 months.
Draconian? Insensitive? Uncaring? Perhaps. But if Bill Foster had had the courage to take similar steps when he came to office, there is a good chance the budget would be balanced and maybe even running a slight surplus.
Two administrations, Baker and Foster, have tried to wait this thing out hoping something magical would happen. There is no magic bullet, it's time to act.
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The St. Pete City Budget Round 2

In what could easily be called a rare show of wisdom the City Council voted down the Fire Fee.

Ill conceived, as an attempt to load budget responsibility on the fire fighters, who by the way did not support the mayor's election bid, and would not have benefitted from this fee, it created yet more unneeded controversy and division in the City. To say nothing of the cost of the "consultant" brought in to give the administration some cover in this debacle.

Council agreed to a millage increase, the right way to go if the City really needs more money, and then started asking some budget questions. The Mayor could not provide any answers simply because he has no clue what is going on in the budget process.

A public records request for the third quarter numbers and year end estimates resulted in the two documents above you can look at for yourself.

The Third Quarter shows a $5.2 million deficit and a yearend surplus of $12.5 but the Year End only reveals a $2.66 million deficit a bit short of the Mayor's $10 Million number.

Council wanted some questions to ask so here are a couple:
1. Where is the other $7.5 Million? The LENS Maybe.
2. Is the bond fee for the LENS financing included in the 2013 Budget?

Council is looking for some recommended budget cuts here are a few:

Eliminate the Assistant Chief of the Administrative Services Bureau ($162,000), eliminate 3 crime analysts (about $200,000), and if the City started moving the Police dispatch to the Sheriff there is several million dollars in recurring savings. We don't know how much because not one City official will ask the Sheriff for a cost estimate.

City Development Administration  
Could likely be eliminated $652,000. What do they really do?

Planning & Economic Development
If you can find $3.2 million dollars worth of value in there send me a note. This is likely where LENS money is buried. A $1 million dollar cut here probably would not affect any citizen.

Public Works Administration/Engineering
With a combined budget of $6.2 Million there has got to be some room here for some house leaning now would be the time. Let's get $750,000 out of this area, and the City will be better off.

Budget and Management
I am still trying to figure out how this department runs a $2.6 Million dollar deficient. Someone help me.

The problem is all of these cuts involve eliminating jobs. The Mayor and his administration have not had the stomach for that, but it needs to be done. Still plenty fat, the staff has got to be cut and City council will have to hold the Mayor responsible.

Council needs to be very specific that cuts in police officers, and fire fighters, that are designed to enflame the public, will not be accepted.

These cuts designed to stir up the public and engender things like this millage increase and are the oldest tactics in the political playbook book. It is way past time to recognize them for what they are - political theater.

Look through the documents above and come up with your own ideas and send them to your District Council person. If you don't want to do that, just copy this and forward it to them.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Where Did all of Those RNC Bucks Go?

Now that the RNC is over and most of the clutter is cleared up we are starting to see local
merchants and businesses carp about how little business they did during the RNC. How the RNC revelers didn't patronize the local businesses like the RNC and local politicians said they would.

Alarmingly, and apparently surprisingly, the RNC folks did not drink as much, shop as much, or cavort as much as the local business folks expected.

Fearing the worst for South Pinellas County, I took a drive down the beaches on Wednesday of RNC week and was amazed at what I did not see. Hotel lots were empty. Right below the WELCOME RNC signs the Vacancy sign was on.

If you listened carefully to the convention, only Clearwater was mentioned as a delegate site. I did not hear St. Pete mentioned after the welcoming Party.

Even the famous "Gentleman's Club" on St. Pete Beach had the "WELCOME RNC" sign out along with an empty parking lot. This group of Republicans were truly a conservative lot.

More and more often these days, large events promoted by the Politicians as great money makers turn out to be duds for the local business owners. You may want to think about that before you make a major donation.

For many, the GOP Convention and St. Pete "RNC WELCOME PARTY" turned into a local business debacle. It should not have come as a big surprise, since many of the delegates who showed up for the welcome party were bussed in bussed out and had no way to get down to Beach Drive, the real heart and soul of St. Pete. The weather didn't help much either.

On the Saturday before the Convention started, I saw one downtown moderate sized bar with 5 beer trucks lined up outside unloading kegs of beer. Probably as much beer as they sell in a month or more. Wonder how that worked out?

Small business owners are not the only ones that may end up hoodwinked by the RNC Convention. Apparently there is a bill at St. Pete City Hall for over $500,000 that somebody, most likely the tax payers, will have to foot. I did note that the Mayor seemed to have a good time.

There is a message here. If you're a small business person you need to carefully evaluate any of these large scale events promoted by the County or City as a "big economic benefit". Look at where they are, when the events are scheduled, how attendees are transported, how they affect your customers access and the nature of the attendees.

Some local business people always benefit. But they are usually the ones who know the "right" people.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Charlie Crist - Republican, Independent, Democrat, Chameleon

The first time I met Charlie Crist was at what is now Tropicana Field, then the Thunder Dome. It was a brief meeting short introductions, couple of questions about what we were working on. For the next few years every time I ran into Charlie he went out of his way to say hi.

I supported Charlie for Governor, was there at the Vinoy victory party, and I thought Charlie would make a really great governor.

Sometime during the second year Charlie seemed to become weary of being Governor. It is a tireless and somewhat thankless job. The problems never end, you can't put them all in jail its probably not that much fun. It seems to take someone with the tenacity and conviction of a Jeb Bush to really do the job and enjoy it.

Charlie started looking around for a high profile political spot that didn't have all of that grungy detail like unions and budgets to deal with. The US Senate was perfect.

But the party had grown weary of Charlie, dumped him for a better looking Marco Rubio so Charlie took the Republicans money ran as an Independent and lost.

Now Charlie is courting the Democrats. And boy are they interested. They are especially interested if they can snag a little of that John Morgan money and influence.

Could Charlie beat Rick Scott? Good possibility if the Democrats can rustle up some serious cash. It would be a brutal campaign against Scott. If he didn't win, Charlie would be done in Florida politics.

But what if Scott decided not to run? Impossible you say, but maybe not. How would you like to get up every day facing an almost impossible task, where everything you read and hear about you, your efforts and your family is trash talk. Where you can't trust anyone including your own staff, and you're doing it all on your own dime?

Rick Scott is far from a quitter, but even you harshest Scott critics have to admit it will have been a grueling 4 years. The real question may be how much of this is Rick Scott willing to put his family through?

What would Charlie do? Run as a Democrat and risk another defeat? Come dashing back to the Republicans with John Morgan in tow begging forgiveness? All good questions.

If I were the Democrats, I would watch Charlie very carefully. This mad rush to get him on the speakers list at the Dems Convention may be another indication of just how good a politician Charlie Crist really is. Who is really being showcased during this speech? Charlie Crist not Barack Obama.

Charlie's party may actually be the POM Party(Party of the Moment).

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