Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Final Budget Statement

I would like to once again thank everyone for their hard work and great input regarding the proposed budget. At the end of the day, none of us can live up to everyone's expectations, but we have all expressed our opinions, provided our input and made our positions very clear.

The bottom line is this...although we have not all agreed, we do have a working budget and it’s taken us a short while to get here. This was my first budget that I have worked on since being elected as commissioner and it was an enlightening, time consuming and difficult process to say the least. My sacrifice of time and research has definitely been great, I hope that all of us have learned much, and I trust that we will continue move forward to make our city even better than it already is.

At times, I know that city business meetings have become cantankerous, raucous and downright attacking. Most of the time, it has stemmed from two things, misunderstanding and extreme political maneuvering. I also think that a lack of communication has played a major part in it also.

We have all attempted to correct this problem to no avail and as city leaders, we have failed, as we have been all talk and no action. It has become more apparent to me that someone must on the dais must step up and call for an end to the attacks and division that we on this dais have encountered. I have done so to no avail.

That’s what leaders should do, that’s what they are expected to do and how they are expected to conduct themselves. It seems that we have gotten into an endless cycle of attacks followed by vicious retaliation. I know, because I have been on the giving and receiving ends of both! I even heard recently that one of the current candidates, who is up for election or re-election, was again bad mouthing me to many of our residents while on the campaign trail. I was told about it and had to laugh as I considered the source of the attacks and their long term ramifications.

Even though my resignation has been called for, I’m not resigning, and I’m not up for re-election! My intention is to continue to work for the residents to improve the conduct of our business meetings, and I fully intend to serve out my term. Unfortunately, political correctness does indeed allow other people to trample all over you.

Last week, I was also attacked by many for something that I said which was misconstrued by others to mean something else. And I reacted in a way that may have been inappropriate from this dais. For that, I offer my apology. For my part and for what I contributed to the attacks both on the dais and on my website and this Blog, I’ve heard you loud and clear. I also heard Mr. Farrell loud and clear regarding morale and the pay cut debacle. I agreed and it immediately died right then and there but some chose to spin the issue for political gain.

Going forward, I would hope that any present or past member of this administration or any citizen who wants to know how any of us here feel about certain issues contact the one for whom you question instead of orchestrating an attack on them. I have attempted to make myself one of the most accessible Commissioners through not only the standard means but also electronic media yet it was unfortunate that it has not been taken advantage of.

I say, don’t believe innuendos, rumors or make assumptions. That goes for the upcoming election also! Don’t take at face value what you are told about another candidate, especially by those who are running or who are up for re-election or from those who run their campaigns.

Talk to them directly, question them, spend time with them and then make your decision. You may just find that what you may have heard about them is very different than what you hear from them!

The view from the dais is definitely different than the view from the floor or on TV. This looks easy, but its not, and it’s easy to sit out there and say ‘I can do that’ but few of you have.

A friend of mine was asked if he would run for a commission seat and he responded, “Why would I want a low paying job where someone is going to take shots at me, my family and friends all the time?” Touché!

Those simply are the cards that we are dealt as elected officials. The truth of the matter is that everything personal and political appears to be fair game when it’s really not. The last election proved that! That’s not right but it’s just the way it is here in Cooper City and we need to drastically change that or our city will never recover from its negative publicity. We are not responsible for what someone else says to us or about us, but we are judged by what we say at every turn, even when it is misconstrued and twisted by the political opposition.

Tonight, I am recommitting myself to be a voice for the people of Cooper City and for my constituents. I will not initiate or respond to personal or political attacks since it would be an exercise in futility and detract from my real purpose and goals, but make no mistake and let me be clear...I will not back down from issues that I think and know are important to the values, well being, civil rights, health, welfare and safety of our city, and its Citizens. My voice for the people and for this great city is now stronger than ever, and that will continue.

To each and every one of you on the dais, to those in this Administration, to those who work in this city, and to those live in and do business in our city; whether you agree with me, support me or not, I vow to work together with all of you to help our city go from being in the 'top ten places to live in the United States', to being number one on that list! I hope that all of you are there to support me and the entire Commission, to make Cooper City number one and work with me to help make that happen. Thank you.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Why I Oppose The Proposed Budget

I felt it was necessary to publish this statement on why I have decided not to vote in favor of the currently proposed Budget.

I specifically campaigned on restoring Cooper City’s financial integrity and emergency reserves. I also requested that we make a valid attempt to reduce our ten year budget projections by 20 to 25%. I even went so far as to request 10, 15 and 20% proposed reductions of our current budget without any response whatsoever by the administration. I asked to create more financial support for seniors, and to support them with our many existing youth programs to no avail.

Yes, I also campaigned on improving our existing recreational programs. That doesn’t mean that I want to eliminate them, but we need to carefully choose which programs are successful, and which are not successful, not just those in Parks and Recreation Department, which are currently costing this city’s taxpayers lot’s money. It is not logical to think that no changes need to be made to the proposed budget. Compromise is necessary and the only time to make a consensus is now since we have failed to plan our budget approval process accordingly.

Some members would like most the time spent focusing on such small items and not on the more important ones. It’s not that I don’t agree with the ‘fun stuff’ in our budget, but we need to look at our return on the investment regarding some of our programs. To the contrary, regarding my thoughts on non-essential services and programs, its called duty and fiscal responsibility, which I am committed to.

Over the last year, there has been an uproar over local property taxes. Over the past few years, there has been a windfall in property tax revenues. The legislature has reacted by imposing mandatory roll backs, placing on the ballot a constitutional amendment to cause property taxes to be cut even more severely. The first phase is costing this city millions. The constitutional amendment will cause an additional and speculative few million. Several Legislators, voting in favor of the January 29 referendum, are publicly stating they are asking the public to vote against it. That is not the issue at this point in time, nor is the issue of which is the right exemption the issue here tonight.

The problem is not only with the appropriateness of spending in the City of Cooper City, but also in the broken, unfair, inequitable tax structure that has been created in the State of Florida. It is just wrong. Granted, the people who have remained in their homes for many years pay low taxes, but in return, are trapped in their homes. Those not covered by the homestead exemption and also new residents are forced to pay an unequal excess of taxes to make up this difference, but they can freely move around.

Compound this with State Legislature’s unfunded mandates, unfunded city liabilities, the lack of supporting material, the lack of openness, the unanswered questions, the invalid explanations, the unjustified numbers, along with the uncontrollably spiraling cost of city government waste and unnecessary non-essential services, and you can begin to see the situation. It isn’t the few thousands of dollars most people comment on or are concerned about. It’s the millions of dollars in forced and unknown expenses and liabilities that are the source of our long term stability problem. It isn’t the city that entirely created this problem, but it is the city, this Commission and ultimately the residents and businesses that will suffer for it. But I can say this, it certainly is the city’s job to fix the budget problems, no matter how small. It is this Commission’s duty to be responsible and ethical regarding our budget, not defend the status quo.

In response, the City of Cooper City has put forward the proposed budget you now see. I must compliment the Staff and another Commissioner for addressing many of the concerns of the city; given the extraordinary restrictions that have been presented. Many crucial and essential services will indeed suffer at the hands of this Commission. The budget seemingly attempts to meet those concerns while avoiding as much pain as possible, though there are several key critical areas that I disagree with and that I am very concerned about. Many will be hurt by this budget, but not nearly as many that ultimately will be hurt in the future if this present budget process continues forward.

Spending in our city is spiraling out of control. It’s time that our city officials become more fiscally accountable and responsible. We need to implement and abide by a Zero based budget. That simply means that means that every line item and every program be justified from the ground up each fiscal year. The budget needs to be tighter, so that our 6 month review won’t be as painful. The gist of debate has been shifted from the big impact items to the little ones these past few months.

My vote against the budget is a vote of protest. I protest the inequitable process and the specific inequities of the proposed budget, the unnecessary and non-essential services funded by the city by your tax dollars, and a broken system created by the Legislature that has hampered our ability to serve the people. This is also a protest of things to come. If no one stands up to voice these valid concerns that affect each and every one of us, no one will ever take the necessary steps to fix them.

At such time in the future that someone starts to address the underlying, inherent problems in our budget and in our tax structure, and forcefully holds the city to adequately address its budget, critical and essential needs in a responsible way, only then we will be able to properly see to the needs of our residents, businesses, and other shareholders, which I can then support.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cooper City Budget Priorities

The deadline is most definitely drawing near for Cooper City's annual, and the most massive of all time, budget approval. We were facing cutting millions and having to deal with a state-mandated budget cut, and our Commissioners still need to pull out their red pens. It's clear that the majority's budget choices reflect personalities, non-priorities and past incompetent budget behavior. Just look at the steep climb in spending per the Finance Director's charts!

Cooper City incumbents are willing to stop sorely needed road repairs, eliminate code enforcement officers, terminate school crossing guards and squeeze out School Resource Deputies from the city budget and expenditures, and at the same time, support more than a dozen 'free' (yeah right!) community events. Such events include the Teen Twilight Egg Hunt, the Community Book Swap and the Valentine's celebration 'Say I Do Again'. Make no mistake, they will go on and be paid for by you, at a total cost of over $42,000.

And I quote the Herald, "That's the heart and soul of this city, to be able to have our Founder's Day, to be able to have our `Light Up Cooper City,' to be able to have our annual trick-or-treat event," Mayor Debby Eisinger said. "That's what gives us that attractive hometown community atmosphere."

As public budget hearings continue through the end of September for our city, specifically on this coming Monday the 17th and 24th, the Legislature's directive to reduce property taxes is drastically affecting our city budget. As usual, our previous levels of spending are out of control, and it is supposed to be forcing us, as elected officials, to decide what truly constitutes budget fat. Too bad the People are going to be totally ignored along with the fact that certain Commission members are being completely ignored by the current Administration.

Unfortunately, for the sake of the future of our great city, the Mayor puts 'PR' events before the essential services, health, safety and welfare of the residents when she cuts essential services in lieu of cutting these questionable events, or should I say events that probably won't even be questioned in the upcoming budget hearings.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How Safe Are We In Our Own Homes?

This morning, I received a very unnerving telephone call. The information it contained is not found in the Herald or the Sun Sentinel. It could very well be in the paper later today as "breaking news" or show up tomorrow in a small sidebar.

It pertained to long-time residents who are family and friends who live in our city. This couple has been married for just over 40 years, so they are up there in age. The other evening, while they were preparing for bed, they heard a terrible crashing sound and a loud thud. Wondering what it might be, the husband went to find where the noise came from because he said it sounded like it was "right in the house."

He was surprised to find out when he entered his living room that several strangers had crashed through his back door. Yes, this elderly couple were going to be the latest victims of a home invasion robbery.

He immediately feared for his life while standing in front of these heavily armed home invaders, then thought of his wife and best friend in life who was in their bedroom and unaware of the current dangers and situation. “What do these invaders want”, he thought?

They wanted everything! Promises of "we're not going to hurt you, if you give us what we want" were amazingly granted. The couple was not brutally harmed because they had the courage and knowledge to do exactly what they were asked of them.

In a little unassuming home, within a rather quiet neighborhood where the "welcome" mats line the front doorsteps of almost each and every home, gun toting criminals, home invaders, shattered the quiet of the night and took more than just money, home electronics, valuables and jewelry. These home invaders stole the safety and security these families in this particular neighborhood took for granted for too many years.

We all have come to know and love this family. They have worked very hard all of their lives for everything they have. At 60-something, the husband still works daily to support himself and his wife, while she is a homemaker.

The husband has taken an excessive and undetermined amount of time off of work to stay home with his wife, because she is so upset about the invasion. He also has had to spend lots of time and money that they didn’t plan for to put up a new back-door, door frame and re-plaster the inside walls to try and erase the terrible memories of that evening. A total disruption of their privacy and their lives.

These victims are a couple who within the last several months celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. It isn't the fact that the robbers took their televisions, their VCR and DVD players, heirloom jewelry or money that the wife is so upset over. It is the fact that the two things that she and her husband cherished the most, the security in her own home and their dignity, was ripped from her heart by this scum of the earth.

The husband tells us that since the police left late that night that his wife has not been to sleep. She has been up cleaning, and re-cleaning the empty locations in the home where these thieves of the night ravaged. She has also been constantly washing the hand that these thieves touched when they stole her wedding band, washing so harshly at times that blood is coming to the surface.

How safe are we in our own homes? It doesn't appear that we are as safe as we believe. The police are only required to protect the community at large, not us as individuals.

So what does this have to do with Cooper City or Broward County?

As I look around, I can see the same things happening here within our beautiful surroundings over and over again, just as incidents are escalating to our north and to our south.

We have had explosive growth over the past couple of years, bringing in thousands of people. We have had to deal with an unprecedented number of questionable houses, an influx of very questionable youth and gang activity, and yes, we have experienced a perceived increase in crime. The alleged crime increase that we may be experiencing may not be on the same severe level as other cities or counties, but it is slowly creeping into our daily lives.

How can we stop it? Personally, I don't know.

Maybe the answer is just as simple as ‘getting to know your neighbor’ in order to retain our quiet serenity and to maintain the peaceful existence of our neighborhoods as we once knew them in order to maintain a sense of security.

Maybe it is as simple as removing the "welcome" mat from the outside of our front doors and borders. One of the answers to this question may be to stop all new developments within our area because we are all aware that statistics state that with an increase in population, an increase in crime occurs.

It may be that the only course of action we have before us, as this invasion of our lives is occurring, is to become more aware of our surroundings. Knowing what is happening in our neighborhoods and taking action before it controls and directly affects us.

I do know this. We can't ever turn a blind-eye towards increasing crime, no matter how petty or serious. Once we become complacent, it will fester and boil up to an ugly head, leaving a massive scar. When that occurs, we will never again be able to regain the honor, innocence, beauty, reputation and safety of our city that we all hope and pray will remain ‘Someplace Special’.

This fictitious scenario [Ed: Clarification for the snipers, fictitious for Cooper City, but this was a true story in Port St. Lucie] is why I support an increase in BSO Deputies. We simply need ‘more feet on the street’.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Cooper City - BSO Public Safety Budget Concerns

Based on my blog entry yesterday, some of you may have misinterpreted my comments regarding BSO and the budget. I feel I need to clarify the BSO 'takeover' comment for anyone that didn’t attend the budget meeting so that you are fully informed about what I requested, my thoughts and my statements regarding BSO, so they can in no way be misconstrued.

I referred to the fact that Cooper City has actually lost public safety personnel due to the ‘takeover’, as what Cooper City residents are terming the change from the Cooper City Police Department to BSO. It was sad to learn that many residents objected to the BSO contract, which may be somewhat inadequate, and have informed me that it was an apparent 'done deal' without much concern for public input.

At the budget workshop last Tuesday, I requested that the Commission consider additional funding (from $1.3M to $2M) and we should put the money in the upcoming budget for more police and more firefighters (headcount of 8 to 10, and 4 to 5 respectively) so that our number one priority department, public safety, can be fully staffed. There are budget surpluses anywhere from 2 to 20 million dollars depending on who you talk to...We certainly need to discuss it further!

I have always been a great supporter of Chief Hale, Commander Stoner, Chief Campbell and the entire Cooper City BSO District 16 team. Chief Hale is a top notch individual and you can read some of his comments and concerns here. I am 100% behind BSO and in no way have I ever ‘bashed’ them, although I have questioned some individuals' judgment.

We need to seriously look at why the Monterra Fire Department won't be built now. We can't afford to wait and also we can't afford to delay police department staffing increases.

I have, and will continue to always commended BSO personnel for the job they perform, and I simply want to make their job easier and safer with more feet on the street. We won't tolerate crime and loss of life, or property in Cooper City! Our police force is stretched thin as it is and residents demand more protection. If you have any questions, you can contact me as always or view my website.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Cooper City Budget Workshop Synopsis

Last night’s budget workshop was somewhat of a disappointment. Not only because we have had 3 months to address budget issues and haven’t done so yet, but also due to the fact that the meeting was not advertised properly in my opinion. Also disparaging is the fact that the budget is not posted on the city’s website for all to see.

It is apparent that certain city leaders don’t want you to see the current proposed budget without having to take time out of your busy life and go to city hall to check it out. The city is really behind the eight ball and the numbers were attempted to be justified solely by the GPI and private surveys.

I feel that our local government must change their ‘Spend it or lose it’ attitude and they must immediately tighten their belt like all of us have had to do in the recent past. The question that all of us should be asking is “What does this proposed budget specifically do?” We just don’t know. There is a severe lack of backup material and an apparent lack of fiscal responsibility in the air.

The current proposed vs. requested budget is approximately a 20% difference. The City Manager needs to respond to our needs, as he has been left pretty much unchecked in the past. Regardless, the Commission’s ultimate power is in approval or disapproval of the budget, and I have a feeling it will be a 3-2 approval.

In light of my valid concerns, our Contingency/Emergency fund has suffered a decrease of 45%, the Commission Pay raises slated for Stirling Road improvement is not addressed, the Utilities Master Plan and related issues were cut -88.5% in the capital improvements portion of the budget. Very scary!

The Commission received an already ‘cut’ budget, a budget completed by the City Manager which received no input by the Commission or residents before its submission. One Commissioner even gave away the fact that this was a set budget, not a proposed budget. Not one Commission member ever asked any real pertinent or pressing questions except for myself and Commissioner Mallozzi. The incumbents really did nothing but comment and continually defend the Manager and Staff, attempting to fully justify their actions and decisions.

Other grave concerns are unfunded liabilities, possibly to the tune of millions of dollars, not budgeted for nor were they fully discussed. Discretionary Bonuses should also be eliminated from this budget since department head salaries have increased by 30% since 2000. My proposal was a 10% across the board pay cut (for upper management). The top salaries can certainly support it. The blue collar workers need the rasies more than ever.

We have approximately $7M to $8M in reserves per the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Since we all know our police services have perceptively suffered somewhat since the BSO ‘takeover’, we should use some of it for police & fire services headcount and repairs and upgrades to our utilities infrastructure and its capital improvements.

Some city leaders bragged about decreased Millage rates yet the city has had a windfall in Ad Valorem tax revenues. We have no additional business foundation or valid long term sources of revenues (i.e., SMART Growth, Additional Revenues, etc.).

One item that was not planned for is the proposed ‘Super Exemption’ and its direct effects on our city revenues and services rendered. If the exemption passes, we could be in real trouble as we have nothing to offset the possible future losses in Ad Valorem revenues.

Regarding the Monterra P&L statements, I disagree that we are helpless as to the information and projections from the developer. We, at this point in time, simply don’t know about the impact of the development, the capital impact or the percentage of any possible losses or recovery. One additional source of questionable revenue discussed was City Park and sports complex ‘sponsorship’ advertising. I can see it now, a Victoria Secret advertisement in the sports complex!

Regarding the Attorney’s office budget, he stated that he knows nothing. The labor issues, costs of lobbying and associated issues, costs of litigation, etc, are handled by other contracts and departments, and when asked about the costs and responsibilities, the city attorney stated he knows nothing. Oh well…

As conveyed by one resident, the safety of the kids at sports complex should be a top priority. We need to go ahead and spend what we have to on the health and safety of our kids and park users, regardless of the costs. The money is there, let’s fix it now before someone is seriously injured or killed. Hopefully, the upgrade to the lightening system is already mandated and in progress.

Many residents are appalled at the city’s level of customer service. We have cut essential services but have not cut the exorbitant salaries. We have decreased level of services, and the general perception is that the public’s needs are less than average.

Budgets should reflect the desires and relevant issues of the community, not that of those in power. As I stated in my public commentary, politics must be completely eliminated from the budget process. We need open, honest government in Cooper City. The question is, do we continue to support the status quo or do we vote in positive change come January? We require and demand a Commission that works together for the will of the people!

Unfortunately for the benefit of, and on behalf of our city and the residents, I was not able to convey all of the positive issues that I had hoped to succinctly convey during my budget concerns commentary. Also unfortunate, aside from the fact that the sharing of notes on issues discussed, faces were made and statements by one Commissioner were made that some questions were ‘a waste of time’, is the fact that this budget and supporting documentation is not readily available or out in the open for all to scrutinize. Certainly, questioning or scrutinizing the budget is certainly not a waste of time by any means.

Further frustrations ensued when the Chair got defensive, answered for the Manager, cut me off when I directly addressed the Manager when asking for a response, and made the budget workshop a personal political platform. I didn't seek the opinion of the Chair, I sought the facts from the Manager.

Not only did the Chair make a feeble attempt at controlling speech, it responded with personal and political views with attacks and insults, and did not allow opening statements by the Commission. Regardless of the Chair’s antics, I am grateful that I am not the resident expert in unethical campaign and political practices…

Please be sure to tune in to, or attend the next budget hearings on Monday, 9/17 & 9/24 at 7:30 PM, City Hall.