Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Today's Headlines in Cooper City Newspapers

Today's headline -- "Broward exploring hike in property tax rates, Officials question ability to cope with another major budget deficit". Why doesn't it read "Budget shortfall forces Broward County Government to make long delayed cuts to useless, unneeded services"?

Also in today's headline was the comment that "The Federal Reserve expects unemployment will stay high over the next two years because recession-scarred Americans are likely to stay cautious, making for only a moderate-paced economic recovery."

Against that backdrop, the Fed said that it expects the economy will grow between 2.8 percent and 3.5 percent this year. They also believe that growth will pick up to between 3.4 percent and 4.5 percent next year and have similar growth in 2012. Analysts say the economy would need to grow by at least 5 percent a year to make a dent in the unemployment rate.

I’m a deficit watcher and I hope you’re one too. Somehow though, I have my reservations since only two people showed up at this year's Cooper City budget hearing to officially protest a 24% tax assessment increase by your city officials. But, if you are, it means you want to see our gargantuan government put on a strict diet. I believe that the government belt needs to be tightened by more than just a few notches, just like you and I have had to do.

We all want to force government at all levels to live within its means rather than borrow trillions of dollars, or to irresponsibly use your hard earned tax dollars that you are forced to give up. It is irresponsible for all levels of government to spend your money on ‘feel good’ items and unnecessary special interest programs that we don’t want or need, rather than using those dollars to supplement health, safety and welfare of the public (government’s sole purpose under the Constitution) or to take care of your own family’s needs.

What about all of the years of boom surplus revenues? Nothing is apparently left in reserve for times like these, which is astounding! My property is still assessed higher than the current market value and Broward County wants to raise taxes which seems like it may be based on their mismanagement and lack of foresight, not to mention the new courthouse debacle. It seems to me that lack of proper management and maintenance created the problem, and a new building is not the current economic solution.

Some blame the budget deficits on Amendment One or Save Our Homes which really have nothing to do with this current budget problem. The responsibility squarely rests with the public servants, who after years of unprecedented, sky high tax revenues, now cry poor mouth because they simply can't seem to manage your money.

The article continues to characterize the real "shortfalls" which are government health insurance and pension programs. These scams, or ponzi schemes if you will, are whereby the government worker is somehow 'entitled' to better benefits than you are. Yet, the real intent seems to work to mask the cost of big government and a growing union public employee base from your average voter while benefitting only the patrons of the political class.

I wonder if someone in the county manager's office has proposed an across the board ten percent cut of all salaries and spending, which would probably take Broward County out of the deficit? It seems like a reasonable and shared sacrifice in these tough times. In Cooper City alone, our Police and fire costs are sixty percent of our total budget. Another thirty to thirty five percent is employee salary, wages, benefits and operating costs. The rest is left to hopefully provide quality ‘services’ to the resident.

Of course when Cooper City recently cried 'poor mouth' and I proposed the same percentage of cuts across the board, no viable discussion or executive summary was put on the table other than the ‘we will have to lay off employees rather than submit to cutting discretionary expenditures’ mantra. When I also proposed a ‘zero-based budget’ and the method of going over the budget line by line, yet again I was completely ignored by the majority on the commission. How irresponsible! Only one department had a budget reduction, and that was parks and recreation to the tune of about five percent.

It’s no secret that government employees receive generous pensions and benefit packages that many private employees do not. Some in our city even receive benefits who are not entitled to them! Yet, our city’s General Employee’s Pension Fund is about six million dollars in the red. And, we are ‘on the hook’ for every dime, yet the pension funds have been contractually guaranteed an eight percent return in the future, regardless of our severely depressed economy.

The fact is, a major part of the Broward County Government expenses is Wages and Benefits, so you can't "save" money by closing Parks and Libraries, and reducing services. Additionally the County must go forward to dictate to the public employees and their unions, health care and retirement benefits that are affordable to the taxpayer. Public employee salaries, retirement and health care are far, far in excess of what is standard in the private sector and this is a financial time bomb that must be addressed now.

The "budget cuts" don't have to be "devastating" at all. They simply need to be properly managed, logical and approached with the objective of benefiting the Taxpayer, not the government employee. As always, the politicians in charge (i.e., majority vote) always threaten to cut services that The People actually use. Never is there a mention of the droves of useless bureaucrats and wasted tax dollars behind the scenes and the plan to cut those wasted tax dollars.

Difficult times always seem to lead to difficult measures. Public officials need to start leading by example and stop playing with our tax dollars that are meant to strengthen the valid municipal purpose doctrine. Unfortunately, the Municipal Home Rule Powers Act (Ch. 166, F. S.) grants broad home rule powers and authority to counties and municipalities. The law states that they shall have the governmental, corporate, and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions, and render municipal services, and may exercise any power for municipal purposes, except when expressly prohibited by law. This includes spending your tax dollars however the majority on the commission dais sees fit.

Historically, politicians and bureaucrats only know how to operate with ever increasing tax revenues. My government experience regarding a yearly budget called for spending every dime, and even included ‘making up things to spend money on’ in order to get the same amount of funding, or more, for the following year’s budget. Trust me when I say that this practice is alive and well in every county and city government in America.

How many elected officials are actually business oriented? I can tell you that there aren’t enough. I have also said many times, and have promised, that I will never vote to raise taxes or lay off employees as long as I am a public servant as it simply isn’t necessary. Until government at all levels realizes that the 'spend it or lose it' attitude will no longer suffice, ‘We the People’ will continue to suffer at the hands of politicians, not public servants, and from the mismanagement of government services and our hard earned tax dollars.

When speaking of government, I am referring to all facets of government. Local and government in our small town all the way to the White House. Quite frankly, I am surprised at the lack of attendance at our twice a month commission meetings since most elected officials make decisions and vote for their best political interests.

At first it was upsetting to me, and then it dawned on me, why would my fellow commission members vote for something to benefit the people that elected them if they could vote to further their political career. You see, not all are cut from the same cloth, and with that being said we need you to help watch over spending habits. I question myself as to how many of the residents really know what that guy or gal on the commission with the big smile and great personality is doing to better the city and the residents' services when no one is looking.

I ask each and every person reading this article to attend future commission meetings. Residents must show their elected officials at all levels that their irresponsible spending behavior will no longer be tolerated! There are several ways that you can find out the dates and times of the commission meetings.

The city holds two commission meetings per month and can be seen on Comcast cable channel 78 during the meetings or can be viewed via the internet, at the Cooper City website under the archived agendas and meetings link. I can not stress enough how important it is to have the physical attendance at the meeting to help keep your taxes down and the City budget in check.

I will do what I can to keep the costs and waste of your local governemnt reduced, but those of you reading this may want to consider that your support at commission meetings is absolutely vital. The elected officials that are pushing through “feel good items”, supporting, or pertaining to their own political gain need know that you care!

I welcome all comments and suggestions for a better run city and government. I am only one person and vote on the commission dais, so I will need your support! Contact me at 954-445-6997 or E-mail me at johnsims@bellsouth.net. Thank you.

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