Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cooper City FY '09 Budget Synopsis

While we all are a bit down on free markets this week, and as we hear local governments complain about tight budgets, the case for lower taxes and limits on new government programs still makes sense for all levels of government, particularly at the local level. Officials close parks because it's easier than fighting fraud, unable to say no to unsustainable pension plans for their employee/supporters or choosing to fire their overpaid friends, thinking it will provoke a backlash of folks screaming for higher taxes....yes, that is how out of touch our 'leaders' are these days.

It really is simple. The taxpayers must make them hold the line on spending as next year’s budget deficit will be much larger, and make no mistake about it, we will have to look at real cuts right here in Cooper City. The problem is exemplified when only 4 of our constituents showed up at the final budget hearing and only three objected to the excessive and unnecessary planned spending. Yikes!

Has any critical review determined that a park, teen egg hunt, mommy-son/daddy-daughter day or any of the other 'fun' programs, paid for by your hard earned tax dollars, constitutes a "valid municipal purpose," one that promotes the health, safety and welfare of the city? It’s not a question of how much it costs (it really is very minimal) or why Cooper City' s 'fun programs' exist, or why they may make Cooper City “Someplace Special” or why we intend to keep it that way. I believe it is a flawed opinion by a misguided commissioner and a department director that state that these types of services are for a 'valid municipal purpose'.

It truly makes me question the priorities of this Commission and staff, that our previous city manager strenuously reminded each of us about. And, it is most definitely a question of priorities. Is there is any doubt that these programs do not promote the health and welfare of the city, are not directly related to a valid municipal purpose and that there is no doubt the provisions of those programs are not in any way related to a municipal purpose? Are they rationally related to the health, morals, protection and the financial welfare of this municipality?

Maybe a certain commissioner along with some employees should stick to other ways of justifying the haphazard utilization of very hard earned tax dollars, not utilizing flawed arguments and ad hominem attacks to justify their fundamental lack of knowledge of the ‘how and why' government exists.

I was also somewhat dismayed at the waste of valuable time and taxpayer’s money at the budget hearings, particularly the excessive time spent to entice a department director to facilitate an opinion and to join in a fallacious attack on me (subsequently along with a prominent resident) which had nothing to do with the logical merits of my arguments or assertions that directly related to our next budget. Yet, that director can't seem to get a handle on sub-par performance by a contractor.

I suppose he was too busy supporting the attack and justifying a flawed position rather than finding out how to correct poor performance or how to terminate the 'contract' for nonfeasance. Any future contract with the city should have a cancellation provision or two for non-performance and/or poor performance of contracted work. Yet, it should be clear to all that the purpose of the characterization offered was to discredit my offering of logical arguments, and specifically, to invite others to gang up and discount my arguments regarding the prioritization of how we must begin to implement new ways in which we spend the taxpayers' dollars.

I believe that it is irresponsible fiscal management to pursue such 'fun' things and new programs until we can assess our financial state in more comprehensive terms. There may be a questionable degree of integrity here, and I believe there still may be a hidden agenda. This is why I believe that my motion to order a forensic audit (at a very miniscule cost) should have been supported in order that we would all know exactly where we stand at this point. No second was even offered yet the rumor was that others on the dais wanted the same opportunity.

This is the first time that this city commission has faced a deficit and has chosen to tap into reserve funds in a very, very long time. The current commission and manager didn’t create the problem but were compelled to address it. I am not yet convinced or quite sure that increased tax dollars spent on landscaping, new park equipment, grand parties for founder’s day, increased mowing and tree trimming and all of the ‘fun’ stuff, along with new programs, are the answer to our future financial stability and success.

My priorities for this budget year were the big ticket items; abolition of the 'records building' at the cost of a quarter-million dollars, a three-hundred thousand plus dollar water conservation program, at least four automatic contract renewals to the tune of multi-millions of dollars and a 'code re-write' at the potential cost of up to one-half million dollars, among others.

A preliminary search & review of the minutes of the P&Z since January 2007 reveal the following: Since Jan of 2007 P&Z has only had to address 10 variances. How many came before the Commission are unknown because that information is for some reason not readily available. Most of the variances that came before the P&Z are minor in terms of the magnitude of the requested change. The amounts of variances have been trivial except for the Chevron station.

It sounds as though $350k + (more like $500K before it’s all over and done with as stated previously) to rewrite the many ordinances involving zoning or other minor issues, including any barber pole colors or design, seems totally unjustified. What I would like to know is, why didn’t staff do an analysis and a complete justification on this matter before recently asking us to approve this matter and place it on the budget agenda? How many of the ten items for a variance were brought before the Commission?

I would also like to know why P&Z cannot handle this issue, particularly when it consists of land use attorneys, litigation attorneys, ex-commissioners and others, including seasoned staff, who are fully capable of addressing this particular issue on an as needed basis, along with one of the biggest law firms in the county, if not the state, Weiss-Serota now working for us! They even state that they have 'decades of collective experience' in the constantly evolving area of land use and zoning law.

They further espouse that 'As counsel to local government entities, [their] attorneys possess knowledge of the local government planning and zoning process. Their work includes the drafting and preparation of state mandated comprehensive land use plans and land development regulations, as well as the representation of boards and commissions considering development decisions within a wide variety of local government environments.'

If P&Z cannot handle this germane and seemingly trivial and non-invasive issue as far as workload goes, this commission needs to immediately and seriously look at re-appointing members of the P&Z board who can indeed handle the issues. I would like to have kept the money in reserves and direct the Manager to do his homework and come back to us with full and complete justification for spending upwards of up to a half million dollars if not more. Now I tend to really wonder why they were hired, being touted as the best available and how much research was (claimed to have been) done, and here we are not taking full advantage of a fully capable in-house counsellor/contractor on this subject matter. Again, priorities are not apparently a concern, and there are definitely personal agendas involved here.

One question posed by me was 'Is the proposed budget consistent with the Commission's recent goals and objectives?' I think not...yet I am happy that the manager chose to support my contention that all contracts should be send out for bid under an RFP process. Not only are we more likely to get the best mix of quality and price, but the residents can have more faith that the commission and administration are conducting city business and spending our money efficiently and honestly. The process will also better enable Cooper City residents and businesses a full opportunity to bid.

I also believe that we have businesses in Cooper City that can provide these services. If they are competitive, I would feel much better about our own residents and business owners getting the work that is paid for by Cooper City taxes. There has been a lot of rhetoric at commission meetings about supporting Cooper City businesses, entrepreneurs and working folks. It is time to put our money where our mouth is. There is no guarantee, of course, that businesses in town would win the bids on price and/or quality evaluations. However, providing a 120 day bid period would provide for sufficient notice and time for local people to compete.

Cooper City, its commission, employees and residents need to be ahead of the curve regarding the current economic situation and how it directly affects our great city. We should be way ahead of the situation, not lagging behind and spending every dime we have, and then some. There should exist very clear objectives and checkpoints, every 90 days or so, in order to be apprised of the real time costs, and we must take action where and if appropriate.

Governments should seek ways to cross-train employees, or seek other efficiencies to compensate for the loss of revenues instead of raising fees and taxes. In any event, local governments have few other options, and they should be doing everything possible to cut expenses.

In closing, I fully agree with a comment at the 8-14-08 P&Z meeting which stated, "Everybody is feeling the crunch and you [the current commission] are spending our money like it is yours and not ours, it’s ours." My feeling is that it's too bad that this person didn't attend the budget hearings, or contact me in order to voice his concerns...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cooper City Strategic Issues and Project Goals for 2008-09

Cooper City Strategic Issues and Project Goals for FY 2008-2009

The Cooper City Commission met on July 24th in a 'goal setting workshop' to discuss strategic issues in regards to the future of the city and its Strategic Plan. These are long term issues for which either a discussion opportunity for the Commission will be scheduled or which staff will prepare a recommendation for Commission consideration or possible future action.

The full Commission, senior staff and directors participated in the workshop and agreed on the following priority issues for Commission discussion:

1. Community safety
2. Ensuring that the distinctive features of the City are retained

The Commission, senior staff and directors agreed on the following issues approved for Commission discussion:

1. A strategy for Monterra
2. Support and expansion of the business community
3. Promotion and support of the community schools
4. Balancing efficiency and effectiveness to ensure quality services are provided at reasonable cost.
5. Management and measurement systems such as Management by Objectives, Workload Measures, etc?

The Commission, senior staff and directors agreed on the following issues to be assigned to staff for initial planning:

1. Community and public engagement
2. Measures to assess our progress and impact
3. Redevelopment
4. Common transportation (public or privately operated)
5. Maintaining and developing infrastructure
6. Naming rights for public facilities
7. Bike paths/greenways
8. Internal communications
9. Employee outsourcing

The Commission, senior staff and directors participated in the workshop and agreed on the following priority goals:

1. Establish Cooper City Marketing Committee
2. Establish cameras as red light

The Commission, senior staff and directors agreed on the following endorsed goals:

1. Update Hurricane preparedness plan
2. Review needs for city equipment
3. Improve web-cast capacity
4. Report to community on status of school facility plans
5. Hold meetings with HOA directors
6. Review car take-home policy
7. Examine increase in user fees for recreation
8. Revise citizen survey

The Commission, senior staff and directors agreed on the following discussions to be scheduled at a city public presentation, workshop or meeting:

1. Senior Advisory Group
2. Utility Advisory Council
3. Outsourcing options for internal services

If there are any ideas and comments that you may have in regards to these issues, feel free to contact me and convey them so that I, along with the rest of the Commission, can formulate a successful plan to implement these goals and objectives.