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.

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