Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Broward County Cities trimming their budgets

I read this today in the Sun Sentinel.

And my first reaction is that it should only be a beginning. We need more. And we need better decisions. Cutting back on unnecessary services is OK. But making better use of existing work forces, trimming bureaucracy, reviewing generous pension plans that cities'revenues cannot reasonably cover, this is the way to go. And, by the way, charging for previously free services can fool some of us for some time, but we end up noticing it. We agree that reducing fireworks and other luxuries should be part of these sacrifices, but please don't forget that the goal is to trim the fat, not the substance.

August 28, 2008

County cities trimming budgets: Does anyone notice?
By Jennifer Gollan » South Florida Sun-Sentinel

It was a tough decision, one Sunrise officials were reluctant to make. But faced with a $6 million shortfall, the city this fiscal year sliced its popular Sunrise Loves Our Seniors socials.

Retired nurse Rita Karmiller, 77, had attended the parties for 10 years but admitted, "I haven't really noticed" that the gatherings were scrapped.
A random survey of 17 municipalities in Broward County found that despite their strong warnings about the pain budget cuts would bring, few residents were upset enough to file a complaint. Now, with governments poised to impose more cuts in October, some residents are grumbling that local officials have lost their credibility.

"In our neighborhood, I haven't noticed any cutbacks at all," said Bob Emanuel Sr., 61, who sits on the Boulevard Heights Homeowners Association in Hollywood, where officials this fiscal year had to fill a $12.4 million gap. "The local governments are complaining. ... I think it's a big hoax."

The budget tightening varied from city to city. Some cut bus service, shuttered swimming pools, increased fees or eliminated fireworks on the Fourth of July. Yet officials in Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Dania Beach, Davie, Lighthouse Point, Margate, North Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines and Sunrise recorded no complaints.

Deerfield Beach, Lauderhill, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Plantation, and Fort Lauderdale received only a few complaints each; while Weston and Tamarac each received around a dozen.

Some governments, such as Broward County, Hollywood and Pembroke Pines, say they expect to feel the wrath of residents with the 2008-09 budget. For example, Broward County commissioners are considering closing some parks on Tuesdays during the school year, which has already provoked about a dozen complaints.

In Hollywood, "we're looking at increased fire and water fees, and changes to after-school programs in the parks," said Raelin Storey, spokeswoman for the city, which last year eliminated 46 vacant positions, withdrew support for 14 special events such as the St. Patrick's Day Parade and cut back on maintenance. "If they didn't feel it last year, they will feel it this year."
Storey could not say how many residents, if any, complained, because the city lacks a system to track it.

With a shortfall of more $5.7 million this fiscal year, Pembroke Pines cut travel expenses for employees, eliminated tuition reimbursement and shed capital expenditures. Now facing a $12.6 million deficit for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, city commissioners are considering cutting up to 49 positions, and raising firefighting fees from $153.48 to $223.

"I think we handled last year's budget responsibly," said commissioner Angelo Castillo, explaining why the city received just a few complaints."This year, fees will have to go up because we can't subsidize them with tax dollars any more."
Conversely, Weston anticipates a smaller hole in the upcoming budget: about $1.4 million, compared with $2 million for this fiscal year.

Weston cut its Fourth of July fireworks and holiday lighting displays.
Lori Schiller, president of the Fairways at Bonaventure Condominium Association, agreed with the decision. "I wish it didn't have to be, but somebody's got to cut someplace. I would definitely rather they cut the fireworks than police or firefighters."

Tamarac was one of the hardest hit this fiscal year. It eliminated 61 positions, and increased building fees and bus tickets for seniors and the disabled. The Caporella Aquatic Center was closed from December through February, and buses circulating through the city was cut from three to one. The city received about 10 complaints, mostly related to the reconfigured bus routes.

Trudging to the grocery store is all but impossible for Virginia Benacquisto, 73, who protested last year's cuts because she suffers from emphysema.
"We all depend on these buses," said Benacquisto, while holding an armful of groceries on the last remaining bus route. "We pay taxes and we need transportation."

For the coming budget year, no further cuts to the bus service are on tap, butthe city will likely raise its fire fee to $193, up from $141, to finance firefighter salaries and other costs, said finance director Steven Chapman.

Faced with a loss of $1.6 million in property tax revenue, Deerfield Beach this fiscal year halted financing for all but three city celebrations and began charging more for such programs as youth soccer and group swimming lessons. It also suggested a $1 cover charge for the Tuesday Night Beach Dance — and that provoked the largest outcry, although still only from a few callers, according to city figures.

"I don't think its fair," said Al Vialardi, 84. "City Hall should take care of it. I'm on a fixed budget."
Fort Lauderdale this year cut about $11 million by restructuring the pension system, freezing 60 jobs and directing maintenance crews to let the grass grow taller.

"Once residents saw that service levels didn't drop, we really didn't receive any complaints," said city spokesman Ted Lawson.
Fort Lauderdale resident Mel DiPietro said he doesn't trust what officials say about the budget.

"I remember [city officials] saying that city street maintenance would go downhill, and that safety services would be drastically reduced," said DiPietro, president of the Bermuda Riviera Association, which includes about 250 homes in Fort Lauderdale. "No one really saw that. So now if our local governments come out and say negative things in the future, why should we believe them?"

Henry B. Nathan is a Florida Licensed Realtor.
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