Monday, September 3, 2012

Important Public Hearing Wednesday on Punta Gorda City Budget and Millage Rates

There will be a public hearing this coming Wednesday at 5 p.m. in City Council Chambers on adoption of the tenative millage rate and budget for the City of Punta gorda for the 2013 Fiscal Year.

The City's Budget represents a 2% increase in the General Fund attributed by the City Manager Howard Kunik to a continued decline in property values and the inability to continue to use reserves to fill in the gap. The millage increase is an approximately 18% increase over the the 2012 rate.

These are not insignificant increases at a time when our population is straped and when our City needs to continue to attract new residents and homeowers  Concerned Punta Gorda citizens should be paying attention and speaking out and not just rubber stamping a change without question or debate.    

Monday, July 9, 2012

Letter to Punta Gorda City Council from a Concerned Citizen

The following letter was sent to members of the Punta Gorda City Council today by a member of the PGCCC on behalf of the members: 

Honorable Members of the City Council:

There will be much conversation about the City’s budget over the next few days.

With the prospect of lower property values, the conversation will focus on how to make up for a budget shortfall projected to be almost a million dollars. Mayor Bill Albers says the City needs to take a hard look at the possibility of raising the millage rate, which will result in higher property taxes. The Punta Gorda Concerned Citizens Committee also desires to maintain the quality of life that people wanted when they decided to live in Punta Gorda, as Mayor Albers said recently. The mayor has also said publically he will not support taking any benefits away from municipal employees.

The City Manager, in his Weekly Highlights Report (7/6/2012), claims the upcoming fiscal year will be the forth straight year that there will be no across-the-board salary increases. I am afraid that he forgets about the $345,000 in storm reserves that were committed to a raise for the municipal employees. (See Page 7 of Finance Director Dave Drury’s “Punta Gorda’s Financial Policies” dated 1/18/2012.) It was never referred to as anything other than a “one-time salary increase.” What was ignored was that it had pension plan implications which would continue for so long as any employee receiving that one-time increase worked for the City and beyond, after their retirement.

Raising the millage rate without an exhaustive review of current City expenses would be a disservice to the residents of Punta Gorda. There are some areas in the City budget where the possibility of savings may exist, and a serious discussion of these potential savings should be conducted. To argue that raising taxes will have no impact on the quality of life for Punta Gorda’s citizens would be disingenuous.

Now that the City is putting all new General Employees onto a defined contributions plan, it is time for the City to move the existing General Employees to a defined contributions plan as well. Many municipalities are acknowledging that they have promised pensions they cannot afford, and are cutting once-sacrosanct benefits - to appease taxpayers and attack budget deficits. This would go a long way toward reducing the City’s future pension obligations. 

Crime rates for the City of Punta Gorda and nationally are at their lowest point in a decade. This is a good thing! Nonetheless, a review of current staffing levels is still in order, as well as reconsideration of the policy of assigning police vehicles to individual officers, which they take home when not on duty, frequently outside the City, and even some outside of Charlotte County, rather than the City utilizing them 16 or even 24 hours per day.

The volume of solid waste has declined 25% over the past five years - mainly because of curb-side recycling. While the volume is down dramatically, the method of collecting trash in Punta Gorda has not changed. Many residents say they are hard-pressed to have enough trash to justify the twice a week collections. The City could offer once a week collections to further reduce costs - with attendant savings to homeowners.

Many contend the City should solicit quotations to privatize the solid waste (trash) collection. There could be substantial savings if collections were done by a private firm. Even should the City of Punta Gorda continue to provide solid waste collections, it should explore new more efficient work methods and equipment to further reduce costs to its residents. Many communities collect trash utilizing modern equipment requiring only one person to both maneuver the right-hand drive vehicle and collect the trash. No special trash containers are needed, and no critical positioning of waste containers is required.

Water meter readings in Punta Gorda are presently done monthly, whereas in many municipalities water meters are read quarterly and monthly bills are based on recent water usage history. Following the next quarterly reading, an adjusted bill will reconcile the account. There is little affect on cash flow, but a real savings in employee costs attendant to reading the meters each and every month.

Code Compliance is another department that should be scrutinized. The deed-restricted communities in Punta Gorda have (or should have) a community standards person or committee as part of their homeowner associations. This function is charged with the responsibility to observe and report violations to their board and to the City for corrective action. It seems repetitious to have City employees riding around in City vehicles to patrol and observe violations related to private property covered by protective covenants, even in the Special Overlay District.

There is little doubt that the City Manager and the current City Council’s primary solution to the deficit in the budget is to raise the millage substantially. For them, this certainly is the easiest and pain free way for them to operate. This budget deficit was projected in the last several Long Range Financial Plans, which appear to have been totally ignored by the City Council and City Manager, as they continued to pile expense upon expense, rather than address the obvious



Ralph R. Gaudette, Member
Punta Gorda Concerned Citizens Committee.

Attachments: Photos of efficient trash collection vehicles.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Punta Gorda's Budget Shortfall and Proposed Tax Hike

Yesterday's headline in the Charlotte Sun announcing that the City government was aiming to introduce an 18.2% tax hike reverberated with members of the PGCCC. The article noted that to fill in a $1.1 million hole in its proposed $18.3 million 2013 budget, the City Council agreed by consensus Tuesday to hike the city’s property tax rate by 18.2 percent. This kind of news is not only discouraging to those of us who would pay the higher tax rate, it's very bad publicity for Punta Gorda at a time when the housing market is showing some signs of improvement here. Our City Council should consider that potential new residents aren't looking to relocate in a town that increases taxes by 18.2% in one year.

Last Spring when the City first brought up the issues with the upcoming budget, the PGCCC warned of the foreshadowed tax to come and recommended action on serious cost reductions. Below is a letter published in the Sun in May written by PGCCCmember, Frank Mazur:

"Our economy is growing at a dismal rate and the Congressional Budget Office says the recovery is the worse since the depression. The Punta Gorda poverty rate is near 10%; higher in the county. One third of our residents earn less than $25,000 and 56 percent are over 60 years old. Residents are squeezed and inflation is under 3 percent. If you look at a typical person’s every day consumption the inflation rate is closer to 8-10 percent.  

Our national debt doesn’t include Social Security and Medicare obligations or pensions for federal, state and local workers of $4.4 trillion or $11.4 trillion we owe in home mortgages, credit cards, auto and student loans. Added up we owe $261,000 per capita and our annual per capita income is $27,000.

Our community hasn’t had economic growth and that has impacted property values and city revenues. Many residents are on fixed incomes which have been sluggish because of depressed interest rates and rare social security increases that are eaten up by higher medical costs.  

Though City spending has gone up since 2005 in excess of inflation, the population is flat. Yet with a budget shortfall of $1.7M the city officials are opting for a tax rate increase to sustain city spending.

Residents are being harmed by the enormous growth of our Federal government and are now exposed to a city tax rate increase. There’s never enough money for government and growing it slowly won’t make things better.  

We’ve been unsuccessful in cutting Federal spending. The city must live within its means; a tax isn’t free money."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Collective Bargaining Should Not Apply to Public Service

Posted by Martin H Block, Ph.D.June 15, 2012 

 As cities, counties, and states across the country continue to face mounting budget deficits, disputes between government unions and the populations they serve are becoming a significant issue, as local and state governments are forced to face the realities that are the outgrowth of unionization of government employees.  Work stoppages and slowdowns by teachers and other non-public safety government employees are an indication of what some cities and counties have faced, or may be facing among their union and non-union employees.  The recent recall election results in the State of Wisconsin, as well as the results of the votes in San Diego and San Jose, California, the 8th and 10th largest cities in the United States, certainly point to a strong public sentiment to reign in some of the costs associated with unionized public employees.   

No less a Progressive icon than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt foresaw the inherent problem with letting government employees unionize, writing in 1937: “All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. … The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”  This warning applies at all levels of government.

Unlike the private sector, governments have no competitors.  When a union reaches a contract with a private firm that grossly increases costs, that firm loses out to competitors. When a union extracts a generous contract from government, there is no check on that spending.   Instead of being disciplined by more efficient competitors, the government most often pays for higher spending with service cutbacks, higher taxes, or borrowing. 

Government unions gained the upper hand through generous political donations and collective bargaining backed up with the threat of work stoppages and strikes; but states, counties, and municipalities across the USA are now facing $2.8 trillion worth of deficits in pension and benefits liabilities.  The City of Punta Gorda is included within that group.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

PGCCC Member Tom Cavanaugh Joining the Punta Gorda City Council

It is with great pride and joy that the Punta Gorda Concerned Citizens Committee has learned that long-time PGCCC Member Tom Cavanaugh, who filed for the District 4 Council seat being vacated by Harvey Goldberg, being the only candidate who qualified for the seat, will automatically assume it and will be sworn in on November 7, 2012. This will mean that the PGCCC will be losing Tom as a member. No doubt but that we shall miss Tom’s invaluable contributions to the PGCCC, and will stand ready to support and assist him in his new role as a member of the Punta Gorda City Council, and of course Tom is always welcome to visit with the PGCCC as a guest, as are all City Council members. We wish Tom fair winds and following seas.

We also wish our best to Kim Nickelson-Devine who will be joining Tom on Council from District 1 and Rachel B. Keesling, who will be returning to the City Council seat for District come November 7. As with Tom Cavanaugh, our door is always open to them, and all City Council Members, to visit and meet with the PGCCC.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Who or What is the Punta Gorda Concerned Citizens Committee

Who or what is the Punta Gorda Concerned Citizens Committee? I think the best way to start off is to introduce you to a group of your fellow citizens of the City of Punta Gorda who first met over ten years ago, at the time with a single major goal, the dredging of Ponce Inlet. Mission accomplished, the group morphed into something very different, meeting twice a month to discuss a broad variety of issues confronting the City of Punta Gorda, and periodically to take positions on those issues, largely by addressing their concerns to the Members of the City Council, the City Manager, and the staff. Over time, the scope of the group's concerns were expanded to cover important issues confronting the Charlotte County Commission, the Charlotte County School Board, and even on occasion the Charlotte County Airport Authority.

Oftentimes the stand taken by the Punta Gorda Concerned Citizens Committee (PGCCC) was not the most popular one, particularly when the group was critical of the actions or lack of action of the City Council. On occasion the group has published articles and letters-to-the-editor in the local newspaper, and on one occasion members appeared as guests on a local radio program. They have on occasion incited the wrath of some local politician, who just did not like the heat. But in most instances, the PGCCC's position was either correct or its concerns were justified; and always expressed with the best interest of the citizens in mind.

With the birth of this blog it is the goal of the PGCCC to stimulate greater interest and participation in the affairs of local government among not only the citizens of Punta Gorda, but those of all of Charlotte County. These are difficult times. Government at all levels is under greater scruitiny than ever before. Punta Gorda and Charlotte County are not immune from the issues that are confronting most cities and counties throughout the State of Florida, and indeed, the United States, issues such as shrinking government revenues and overspending that is leaving them facing greater and greater budget deficits, municipal employee pension plans that are sucking the public treasuries dry, but which themselves are facing serious shortfalls, and political leaders who oftentimes lack the will or vision to make the tough choices required to turn the ship around.

Think of this blog as one more place where you, the citizens, can express yourselves. If you have something to say, shout it out right here for your fellow citizens to listen and to comment. There's no good or bad opinions. There are only opinions. If you disagree with something, fire away. If you think something is great and deserving of praise, here is a good place to make it a matter of record.

We only ask you to please maintain an appropriate level of social discourse. We don't allow cursing or name-calling. Just state the facts, and avoid attacking the personality.

One last thing. Except for July and August, the PGCCC meets on the Monday prior to each of the two City Council meetings, at the Regions Bank, Ann Street and U.S. 41, in Punta Gorda (Except when Monday is a bank holiday, and we move to Tuesday.) We welcome one and all to attend our meetings. Periodically we have guest speakers, whether a representative of the County Commission, the School Board, the Sheriff's Office, the City Council, the city staff, business people, and others from within the greater community.

Once we get this blog more fully developed we shall try to keep one and all up to date on who we have stopping by to address us and when. Nobody shows up that doesn't face a barrage of questions, some extremely probing. We're a tough group to play in front of, but are always fair, and welcoming,and the guests keep coming back for more. Stop by come September, when we are back on our regular schedule, and join the fun. Trust me, you will love it.

Marty Block,
Executive Director