Sunday, August 28, 2016

A City Transportation Referendum is a bad idea

Once this mess begins, getting the locals to work together will be a bigger nightmare than the recent referendum efforts have been.


St. Petersburg Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
Talk continues to surface regarding a city only transportation referendums in the bay area. The thinking seems to be these over hyped transit ideas would be an easier sell in the big Cities than they are in the un-incorporated areas and smaller towns.
It seems odd when these same people were talking about the “regional” benefits from a transportation tax and light rail during GeenLight and Go Hillsborough.
Locally, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman are supporting the idea of a city referendum to get the transportation ball rolling or more likely the trains running.
Most of the opposition I have seen is based on Republican reluctance to raise taxes. So far, the local transit tax initiatives of the mayors have died a quiet death in the Florida Legislature.
There are a number of reasons why city transit referendums are a bad idea.
For any transit system to work in the bay area, it must be regional in design and scope. The thought of each of the larger cities in Pinellas or Hillsborough county developing their own public transit project is humorous at first and frightening when you think about it.
How do we provide for common technology, physical connection, intersystem transfers, ticketing and so on?
What this concept leads to is a patchwork quilt of disparate transit systems that do not communicate or seamlessly interconnect at any level.
A lot of people will make a lot of money, and nothing will work.
This whole approach is just another way for the light-rail  people to get their foot in the door. It is easier to fool a few people than all the people.
Once this mess begins, getting the locals to work together since each will have a fixed amount of money will be a bigger nightmare than the recent referendum efforts have been.
Then there will be the hold out(s) who will refuse to go along and the whole process will be a huge waste of taxpayer money, political capital and effort.
Instead of running around the state Buckhorn, Kriseman and the rest of the mayors pushing this local transit tax effort should work together to develop a multiphase transportation plan for their respective areas that shows some common sense and actually works.
Here locally, that means dumping the MPOs, TBARTA, transit oriented redevelopment disciples, light rail lobbyists and hire a group of professionals who can develop a multiphase transportation plan the people can have confidence in.
Hash it out, refine it. Use best brain power available. Put that plan on the ballot supported by a sales tax increase and watch it pass.
The people are not opposed to a transit plan that is based on common sense and regional needs.
e-mail Doc at mail to:dr. webb@yahoo.com send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend Request, and be sure to Like or Share on Facebook.
See Doc’s Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos
Disclosures:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

We Need More Honesty, Not Fear Tactics at County Center

As we posted here, the taxpayers got a Victory recently as the Hillsborough County commissioners finally took action to approve using our existing growing budget to fund our roads and transportation needs.

This action will be implemented through a Board policy, not an ordinance that would have greater teeth. Therefore, this will only be a Victory if the county commissioners ensure and force county staff to strictly follow the Board policy each year.

We have concerns, though, because at the August 10 Transportation Workshop, County Administrator Mike Merrill clearly showed his annoyance at some commissioners who were  justifiably questioning and challenging him. Merrill used fear tactics to paint a doom and gloom picture distorting the reality of our budget and our existing growing revenues. 

Merrill even left out 20% of the county revenues in his budget impact presentation. While his math (or lack thereof) was questionable, the intentions were clear. How dare the county prioritize its budget to fund transportation first. 

(In other words - We need our growing revenues to grow the county bureaucracy, pay for a new baseball stadium, more parks, more pork projects and more hand outs to special interests.)

What the county bureaucrats presented at the August 10th workshop had holes in it, included half-truths and some outright distortions. Their tactics used in an attempt to obstruct the county from prioritizing its budget was appalling. These tactics need to stop now. Trust is an issue with County Center and trust must be earned back. We must have honesty down at County Center. 


Jim Davison, a doctor who lives in New Tampa who has been involved with the transportation issue for many years made a public comment at the August 17 BOCC meeting. Davison has spent his own time scrutinizing the county budget. His comment is below and can also be found at 54:34 in the August 17 BOCC meeting video on HTV.
GOOD DAY, COMMISSIONERS, I’M HERE TO MAKE A FEW COMMENT REGARDING THE WORKSHOP LAST WEEK AND CONGRATULATE YOU ON INCHING FORWARD. 
THE ADMINISTRATION HAD SOME STARTLING FIGURES AND ASSUMPTIONS THAT I CAN'T ALL ADDRESS IN THREE MINUTES. BUT I WOULD APPLAUD THE ADMINISTRATION FOR INCLUDING A 3.5% GROWTH FACTOR IN THE SALES TAX IN THEIR MODELING. 
IF THAT NUMBER HAD BEEN APPLIED TO THE SALES TAX AND THE TRANSPORTATION REFERENDUM YOU WERE CONSIDERING, THE REVENUE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN $3.5 BILLION OVER 30 YEARS THEY WOULD'VE BEEN $5.9 BILLION, A SMALL MISTAKE. 
THE INFLATION RATE THAT WE USED IN THE MODELING IS NOT USED BY MOST EXPENDITURE LIMITATIONS LEGISLATION IN THE UNITED STATES. THE INFLATION RATE THAT IS USED IS THE CPIU, THE REGIONAL CPIU WITH THE TAMPA ST. PETERSBURG INFLATION RATE FOR ALL URBAN CONSUMERS. AND IT'S DONE THAT WAY FOR OBVIOUS REASONS. 
I DON'T HAVE TIME TO ADDRESS THE MODELING BUT TO ASSUME THE FIRE AND THE SHERIFF GROWTH WOULD BE UNLIMITED OVER THE NEXT 10 YEARS IS LUDICROUS. DURING THE RECESSION, THE METRICS FOR THE SHERIFF CHANGED AND THEY WERE LOWERED. THEIR BUDGETS DID NOT INCREASE. CRIME WENT DOWN.AUTO ACCIDENTS WENT DOWN SO THE ENTIRE METRIC SYSTEM HAS TO BE CHANGED AND LOOKED AT MAKING SURE THE SAFETY OF THE PEOPLE ARE PROTECTED. 
AND THE ANTI DILUTION CLAUSE I MEAN THAT'S REALLY SEARCHING FOR A REASON NOT TO DO THIS. IT'S A MATHEMATICAL FORMULA. THERE WAS NO MATHEMATICS PRESENTED, AND I'M SURE YOU HAVE IT, AND BUT THE PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW WHERE THE COUNTY IS ON THEIR BORROWING. THEY SAID THEY NEEDED REVENUES TO PAY FOR THE BORROWING. WELL, IF YOU LOWER THE BORROWING, YOU DON'T NEED AS MUCH REVENUES. IT'S JUST A SIMPLE MATHEMATICAL FORMULA AND YOU DON'T NEED CONSULTANTS TO TELL YOU THIS.
YOU CAN ACTUALLY PICK UP THE PHONE, CALL FITCH, CALL MOODY, CALL STANDARD & POOR'S AFTER YOU GET THE PLAN TOGETHER WHEN YOU HAVE TIME BECAUSE THE CONSULTANT SAID THIS WOULDN'T BECOME A PROBLEM UNTIL FURTHER OUT YEARS IN THE PROGRAM. SO THAT YOU WOULD HAVE TIME TO CONSULT FITCH AND MOODY AND SAY YOU KNOW THIS IS WHAT WE’RE DOING, THIS IS WHY WE'RE DOING IT, IS THIS GOING TO AFFECT US. 
I CAN SHOW YOU COUNTIES IN THE UNITED STATES WHOSE REVENUES DROPPED TO 2% WHO STILL RETAINED A TRIPLE A RATING FROM ALL THREE, AND THERE ARE COUNTIES IN THE UNITED STATES THAT HAVE FAR MORE RESTRICTIVE TAX AND EXPENDITURES LIMITATIONS THAT HAVE TRIPLE RATINGS SO THIS IS A HERRING, BUT THAT'S UP FOR YOU TO DECIDE. 
BUT I CAN TELL YOU PEOPLE WANT THEIR BOND RATING PROTECTED BUT THEY DON'T WANT TO GO BACK TO THE EXPENSES AND HOW THE COUNTY WAS GROWING BEFORE THE RECESSION. WHEN THE COUNTY WAS HIRING ONE OUT OF EVERY 100 PEOPLE THAT WAS MOVING TO THIS COUNTY. WHEN WE WERE THE SECOND LEADING EMPLOYER IN THE COUNTY. WE DON'T WANT TO GO BACK TO THAT. SO PLEASE GO BACK. GOOD LUCK TO THE ADMINISTRATION.
According to the County's latest Comprehensive Financial Annual Report for FY2015 (CAFR), Hillsborough County is the fourth largest employer in the County (behind Hillsborough County Schools, MacDill and USF). The CAFR states the County was the second largest employer behind the Schools in 2006 when the economy was humming.

The county became bloated when revenues were furiously flying in and no one was watching the hen house. The county had absolutely no incentive to be efficient as they could easily move money around and hire as many people as they wanted. 

As our revenues are going up and up and up, we cannot afford to grow local government and the bureaucracy again - while continuing to neglect our roads and transportation. 

We need a fiscally responsible local government not a bloated one. 

The way to stop another bloated bureaucracy is to prioritize our budget, reign in our spending and have the fiscal discipline to fund our roads and transportation first.

The commissioners must get this transportation funding Board Policy done on September 8.

Because taxpayers demand no less.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Largo Zip Line Generates Neighborhood Opposition

Who knew that the City of Largo was pursuing a "tree adventure", more commonly known as a zip line, in a park and recreational complex that backs up to residential homes?

Apparently the neighboring residents who use the park did not know.

A community meeting was held on Monday, August 15th at the Largo City Hall about the proposed zip line/tree adventure proposed at the Highland Recreation Complex. The Eye was there, and so was a packed room full of residents who live near Highland park and had strong opposition to the proposal that is literally almost in their backyard.

Daryl Works, in the blue shirt speaking in the video below, brought his own picture board armed with information and concerns for why he and his fellow neighbors oppose this proposal. Works thinks there are alternative locations better suited for this type of venture by the city. A direct link to the Youtube video is here.




It appears that those who would be most impacted by the "tree adventure" proposal were not made aware when this project started over two years ago.

According to the Minutes of the May 13, 2014 City of Largo Commission Work Session
As part of the recreational offerings at Highland Recreation Complex, staff have researched the viability and revenue potential of a tree adventure course. A tree adventure course is a collection of aerial games and zip lines in the canopy of a forest where participants face varying challenges.
There were some questions raised by the commissioners at that meeting about noise and the impact on parking and neighboring homes but no question was raised whether the idea or proposal had ever been brought up with the residents most impacted. The commissioners reached a consensus at that May 2014 meeting to support city of Largo staff soliciting proposals for a tree adventure course at Highland Recreation Complex. 

According to the city of Largo's Parks and Recreation website, there are numerous parks and nature preserves in Largo.

Why did staff recommend Highland for this "tree adventure" course? According to the Commission Work Session minutes, the county had already been engaging with vendors and took some vendors there who "liked Highland Complex's central location and visibility."

Didi the vendors drive the decision for the location? Were any other locations seriously considered?  

An RFP was solicited by the city of Largo and TreeUmph was selected as the vendor for the proposed zip line tree adventure project at Highland park. It appears that it was after a vendor was already selected that the city finally made the effort to inform the neighboring residents about the project. 

Residents told us that some small signs were placed this past June (two years after this effort started) to notify the residents of a community meeting about a "tree adventure" - no mention of the "zip line". Only three people showed up at that meeting. 

The residents felt that meeting was not properly noticed and it was very late in the process to finally be engaging those most impacted. There was never any notice placed at the park itself about the zip line/tree adventure proposal. The notice about the June community meeting was never posted at the park complex.

Many of the community residents did not know what a "tree adventure" was but they would have understood "zip line" if that term had been used on the meeting notice signs.

Needless to say, the neighboring residents most impacted are not happy and they oppose this project. Once many of them understood what this project actually was, they started organizing with their neighbors who showed up in droves to voice their opposition at the August 2nd city of Largo commission meeting. An ordinance authorizing leasing the city property at Highland Recreation Complex for a tree adventure course was on the commission agenda.

Go to 42:15 of the video recording of the August 2nd meeting to hear the discussion and public comment. 

A motion was made to deny the ordinance but it failed 2-5. 

Further discussion by the commissioners requested city staff reach back out to the neighboring residents regarding the proposed design. Motion to bring the zip line/tree adventure ordinance back to the September 6, 2016 commission meeting passed 6-1.

And thus the August 15th meeting held at Largo City Hall.

City staff brought renderings to Monday's meeting, "Rendering A" for the original zip line/tree adventure plan and a slightly modified version "Rendering B". Version B moved the end of the zip line a bit further away from some residences backyards.  

City staff emphasized at the beginning of the meeting they were there to get input on which version (A or B) at Highland the community preferred not whether the zip line/tree adventure should be there or be somewhere else. 

City staff attempted to use the infamous "put your dot on the plan you prefer" consensus building technique. However, the consensus from those attending this community meeting appeared to be "Neither".
Neighboring resident weighs in at
City of Largo community meeting on zip line/tree adventure
proposal at Highland Recreation Complex
The opposition in the neighboring community has done their homework, perhaps much more than the city of Largo staff. 

Information they have found include:

  • Other zip lines are not as close to a residential neighborhood and in larger footprints further away from where people live.
  • Tree adventure vendors will place a zip line where ever they may be provided an opportunity to do so and site is not driven by the vendor
  • While other zip line locations have limited access that can be gated or chained, Highland has numerous open access points.
  • The city has insisted there are restrictive covenants to prevent use of the Nature Preserve for such "tree adventure". The restrictions in the Quit Claim Deed for the property deeded from SWFMD to city of Largo convey the Preserve cannot be used for hunting, firing ranges, rehabilitation camps, sports stadiums, arenas, or commercial amusement parks. The city has insisted the "tree adventure" zip line is not an amusement park. 
  • The Largo FY2017 budget capital improvement plan includes adding restroom facility to Largo Central Park and creating a master plan for the use and access of the park's 100 acre midsection. The budget document states "Public input will be sought once the process begins." 
Why didn't the city of Largo seek out public input when the process began on this tree adventure venture? 

Some opponents believe Largo Central Park or the Nature Preserve that have a bigger footprint away from residential would be better suited for a zip line/tree adventure.

The city of Largo expects at least 45K guests to use the zip line the first year. The city will get 5% of the annual revenues. The city says they will receive $50K to $100K a year but if 45K ride the zip line the first year at a cost of about $50 a ride, the city will receive over $112K. 

All the money received from this venture will go into the general fund for use anywhere.

The Largo city commissioners will vote on September 6th whether to approve the "tree adventure" zip line at Highland park. It is expected the opponents will show up again to voice their concerns. 

The project has generated ill will from those who live nearby who felt there was not proper public outreach from those impacted the most.

The Largo commissioners will have to decide whether it is worth approving the now tainted project. 

And fair warning if a proposed zip line disguised as a "tree adventure" comes your way.


Links to recent local media coverage:
Opponents target Largo zipline course

Neighbors draw the zip…line on proposed project at park

Residents voice opposition to proposed Largo zip line

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Victory for Taxpayers - Now County Center Must Commit to Making Board Policy Work

The Eye was at the county commission Transportation Workshop last Wednesday. The video of that meeting can be found on the HTV website by selecting the meeting date August 10, 2016. Everyone should watch it. 

The Workshop was opened for public comment. All but one of the citizens who spoke were supporting Commissioner Murman's proposal for an ordinance to use our growth revenues within our existing budget to fund our roads and transportation.

It has taken years to get here, but finally the county commissioners voted 6-1 (Miller voted no) to pursue a Board policy requiring 1/3 of our new revenue growth to be put aside to fund our roads and transportation. The Board policy language will be brought to the September 8th BOCC meeting for approval. 

While Murman's proposal will be accomplished through a board policy and not an ordinance, this is a seismic shift from where we were a year ago. 

This is a victory for the taxpayers of Hillsborough County.

After Hagan fought the effort with Merrill (watch the video), he ended up voting for the motion. We will watch closely to see if there's an attempt to obstruct the intent of the policy or water it down when the policy is up for Board approval September 8th.

The eventual 6-1 vote is not representative of the discussion that actually occurred at the meeting. Hagan's mocking comments did him no favors but they are recorded for all to see.

County Administrator Mike Merrill brought in the big guns, the county's financial advisor and bond counsel, to provide their comments on Murman's proposal. 

Budget Director Tom Fesler presented an analysis on 10 years of revenue growth, analysis of 1/3 of new revenue growth going to transportation and 10 years of funding analysis. The budget analysis was done based on numerous factors including estimated population growth, estimated inflation rate and estimated growth rate. 

The presentation was flawed, however, as Commissioner Murman pointed out Merrill had left out 20% of the revenues in the analysis. Somehow the Times failed to report that tidbit.

This is the first time we've ever seen such level of analysis during the budget cycle. Unfortunately, too many budgets recommended by Merrill have simply been rubber stamped, no questions asked.

We're a growing county and their doom and gloom attitude towards funding transportation within our existing growing budget was quite astonishing. More astonishing when we continue to watch Merrill pull tens of millions of dollars out of his rabbit's hat to spend on all kinds of other things. 

This behavior is no longer acceptable!

The meeting showcased that County Administrator Mike Merrill and Commissioner Hagan do not want to prioritize our county's budget. 

Neither does the Tampa Bay Times. According to their Sunday Op-Ed, prioritizing our county budget is an "empty gesture".
The county is not creating a new revenue stream for transportation; it's merely raiding money already there.
Their attitude is absurd and out of touch with reality and the electorate today. 

The Tampa Bay Times would better serve their readers if they started questioning the county budget. There are a number of questionable oddities including ghost projects being financed by debt and budgeting for capital projects with no known operating costs. These oddities go against any normal budget process we know and is not good governance. 

The Times should look at past budgets of a decade ago or more ago. They prove that the commissioners will re-align spending to higher priorities, including towards funding our roads and transportation. 

The county commissioners are elected to make tough decisions not rubber stamp unelected bureaucrat Merrill's budget recommendations. If the commissioners can't, won't or refuse to make tough budget decisions that the rest of us must do everyday, they need to find another job.

As we posted previously, 69% of those polled last year during the Go Hillsborough campaign stated the county needs to do a better job spending what we already have. 

How is that done? By prioritizing the budget to fund our highest priorities FIRST.

If the county cannot prioritize it's spending, there's no limit to the expansion of local government and no limit to what the county will spend OUR tax dollars on. 

If the county cannot prioritize its spending, then the county is telling the taxpayers that everything must be a priority. 

No one believes that. 

But we get it. Merrill, Hagan and the Tampa Bay Times want a new baseball stadium and costly trains. They know the county will have to pick our pockets more to get them.

The county was forced to prioritize our budget during the recession. The services that the county cut the most was our transportation funding. They diverted all property taxes that historically always funded our roads to other things when the recession hit. 

However the county refused to re-appropriate those dollars back to transportation as our revenues began going up and up and up.

When forced to, the county had to prioritize. When our revenues are healthily increasing, suddenly the county cannot prioritize. What hogwash!

Requests were repeatedly made by citizens during the budget process over the last few years for the county to fund our roads and transportation. Those requests fell on deaf ears. 

Why? 

Because the tax hike and spenders down at County Center, Mayor Buckhorn, their cronies and special interest backers and our local media (Tampa Bay Times) want another sales tax hike referendum.

According to this recent Tampa Bay Business Journal article, Mayor Buckhorn, wants to get behind a citizen petition led referendum to force a sales tax hike get on the 2018 ballot. 

Buckhorn also stated this in the TBBJ article:
“I would think that if [St. Pete] Mayor [Rick] Kriseman and I had the ability to do that within the municipalities that we could pass it and we could fund the beginnings of a transportation system, particularly rail, that would link downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa and the airport,” Buckhorn said.
We'd like to see the financial viability of that business case. 

Buckhorn, the mayor of downtown Tampa only, is now living in the twilight zone.

Remember it was Buckhorn on the Tampa City Council back in the 1990's who was the lone NO vote on the Tampa Streetcar. He said it did not have a long term viable business model. And he was right.  

CIT revenues are another local funding source for transportation capital projects. 

Those who continue fretting and lamenting that the county cannot prioritize our budget to fund our roads and transportation know that the CIT tax will come up for reauthorization between now and 2026 when it expires.

It was the county who blew out the entire CIT future revenues for unincorporated Hillsborough. Who recommended doing that in 2007? Commissioner Hagan and then county Finance guy Mike Merrill. 

Talk about actually raiding and financially constraining future county commission boards….Where was the Times back then? Crickets……

That is why we doubt taxpayers will stomach another 30 year tax and believe there should be no attempt to extend the CIT for longer than 10 years. 

The MPO estimates that extending the CIT out to 2040 (14 years), using a 3.58% growth rate, unincorporated Hillsborough would receive over $1.7 BILLION of new revenues. If the CIT was extended for 10 years, the county would probably receive over $1.5 BILLION.
MPO's CIT revenue estimates if extended
from MPO's 2040 LRTP

Before the CIT comes up for reauthorization, the county must prove they are being good stewards of the money they already receive. Trust must be earned back. 

Prioritizing our budget is how to get that done.

This move by the commissioners to fund our roads and transportation FIRST before spending our tax dollars on pork projects, lower priority items, unnecessary spending, subsidizing special interests and wealthy sports team owners is a step in the right direction.

We would have preferred an ordinance but when this Board policy is approved, the commissioners will be put on notice that we will now watch the budget process like a hawk.

The policies of obstruction and failing to start addressing our transportation issue must come to an end. 

Because most importantly, the commissioners must have someone at County Center who is committed to making the Board policy work.

Monday, August 8, 2016

No More Budget Shell Games - Fund our Roads and Transportation Needs Now!

The county commissioners held a Budget Workshop July 28. The Eye was there. The Workshop was opened to public comment and a number of citizens, including myself, requested the county move now on implementing Commissioner Murman's proposal to use the growth revenues in our existing ballooning budget to fund our roads and transportation needs. 

The dynamics of the Budget Workshop was quite telling. Commissioner Hagan kept insinuating cuts would have to be made for such a plan. That is almost laughable. It does prove some commissioners and unelected bureaucrats do not want to prioritize our ballooning budget, unless, of course, it's to fund a new baseball stadium for another wealthy sports team owner.

Everything cannot be a priority. If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. That is fiscally irresponsible.

Such an attitude is what forces Hillsborough County taxpayers to continue funding pork projects, lower priority items, and subsidize wealthy special interests BEFORE funding our roads and transportation needs.

County Administrator Mike Merrill brought up a concern about our reserves and our AAA credit rating. According to the budget presentation given at the Workshop, the county has been dipping into our reserves the last few years to fund parks, fire stations, service centers, nebulous economic development projects - while holding our road funding hostage.

We do not remember hearing this concern during any of those previous budget cycles. Page 25 of the Recommended FY2017 budget states:
Our reserve funds remain stable, and Hillsborough County remains well positioned to excel in meeting the needs of our residents and our business community. 
So which is it? 

If Merrill is suddenly concerned about our reserves affecting our bond rating, then why did he put the county in such a position to begin with?

Decisions still must be made regarding how the $23 million one-time BP settlement windfall, that has no restrictions on it use, will be spent. Some commissioners want to use the funds for transportation which has the biggest funding gap in our budget. Others prefer the money be used for environmental purposes or for our stormwater infrastructure. 

The FY2017 budget dishonestly includes $30 million of taxpayer money to buy back developer's impact fee credits as "transportation spending". This buy back scheme that benefits developers represents 3/5 of the entire transportation spending for FY2017. That is nonsense. The games being played with our tax dollars must stop.

Merrill is a professional at magically pulling money out of his rabbit hat when he wants to.  

We were at the April 13th Community Transportation Plan and Mobility Fee Workshop where the impact fee buy back program was presented to the county commissioners. Merrill and his staff showed how easy it was to "find" or "reallocate" tens of millions of existing budget dollars to fund this buy back scheme. 

At the same time Merrill and his staff have been telling the public for years there was no money for roads. Outrageous!

The county commissioners need to revisit this impact fee buy back program. Either get rid of it and let the actual free marketplace work or consider using the $23 million one-time BP oil spill money to pay for them so taxpayers aren't on the hook for funding another scheme benefitting special interest developers. 

Then the county can honestly use that $30 million Merrill "found" to fund real transportation projects.

There is another BP oil spill settlement the county expects to receive that will have restrictions on its use while this settlement has no restrictions on its use.

Merrill astonishingly revealed at the Workshop that he can start a procurement process for a project that has not been approved by the commissioners and budgeted for. Perhaps that explains how Parsons Brinckerhoff got their million dollar blank check no bid contract procured so fast for the crony Go Hillsborough campaign. That is not good governance.

We have watched a "go along to get along" county commission for too many years. The commissioners have been led by unelected bureaucrats with little or no questions asked, for way too long. 

It was refreshing to see some commissioners pushing back on the unelected bureaucrat's agenda. Both Commissioners White and Murman are to be commended for their comments and actions taken at the Budget Workshop.

The county should not be addressing flagged items at this Workshop. There has not been one budget public hearing because too much time was wasted on two sales tax hike public hearings. White and Murman want to start addressing our transportation issue now and get to work on actually getting something done. Kudos to them.

The poll done by the Go Hillsborough campaign last April highlighted the issue of trust and confidence for how the county spends what we already have. 
Poll questions regarding trust and current spending
Click to enlarge
County collects enough already – no need to raise taxes – do better job of spending money we already have:  69% agree with 46% strongly agreed
We cannot trust politicians to spend new tax money on transportation problems as they promise – they will divert the money as they did the CIT:  69% agree with 42% strongly agreed  
This should have been a big red flag to the county commissioners. When over 2/3 of voters polled agree there is a lack of trust and there is no need to raise taxes, no sales tax hike was ever going to pass.

The sales tax hike is dead. The rubber has hit the road and we must pursue a new direction. 

Our existing budget cannot be used as a shell game to continue funding everything else under the sun except our roads and transportation, a primary responsibility of local government. 

Thankfully some commissioners understand that and want to move on to Plan B. Other commissioners, addicted to a sales tax hike, appear to be in some kind of denial.

The key to start funding our roads and transportation needs now within our existing growing budget is getting Commissioner Murman's funding proposal approved at the Community Transportation Plan Workshop to be held on August 10th at 1:30pm. 

This meeting will be open for public comment. Weigh in by attending and making a public comment in support of Murman's transportation funding proposal or by emailing the county commissioners here

Time to break away from failure.

Time to stop using our budget as a shell game to fund everything under the sun but transportation.

Time for the Chamber of Commerce and our business community to get behind Murman's proposal if they are truly serious about starting to solve our transportation problem. 

Time for our local media to wake up and accurately report what is going on with our county budget because they have been asleep at the wheel. 

Time to put our roads and transportation needs FIRST in our growing budget.

Time for the County to pursue success not failure.

 We demand it!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

We Refuse to Be Bamboozled Again - Fund Roads and Transportation Now!





We are in the Hillsborough County 2017 Budget Cycle and nothing has changed.

Taxpayers are being bamboozled again by a county budget process that is disingenuous, not transparent and simply not honest.

During the FY2016 budget cycle last year, we were told the county had $121 million of new revenues that included almost $50 million of new recurring revenues and the $22.8 million one-time BP oil spill settlement money.

The FY2016 Budget stated the county was funding pet pork projects, nebulous economic development projects, new services, more parks to maintain, etc. but no money for our highest priority - roads.
FY2016 Budget statement on uses of new revenue - no money for roads
It was absurd that the county refused to appropriately fund our roads and transportation needs last year. 

The phony, crony Go Hillsborough campaign was underway during last years budget cycle. Apparently, someone(s) down at County Center preferred holding our road funding hostage last year hoping for a sales tax hike. That is now dead.

In FY2016, who knew that the county was BORROWING $46.5 million and calling that debt part of "new revenues? 

What is this debt funding?
Projects funded by Debt
Why is the county borrowing money for these projects?  According to this Tribune article last September:
County Administrator Mike Merrill this week amended his fiscal 2016 budget to include $15 million for the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, also known as ELAPP. County commissioners gave the budget preliminary approval Thursday night. 
Merrill said he was able to “make room” in the budget for ELAPP because the county is getting $6 million more in property tax revenue than was projected when he presented his budget in June. An additional $5 million is coming from the Sheriff’s Office, which often returns money it does not spend out of its yearly county appropriation.
If the county borrowed $15 million for ELAPP, then where did the $15 million go that Merrill said he found in the existing budget for ELAPP?

What specific "redevelopment" projects are being funded with these debt dollars? What is the return on investment that is expected from these projects?

Why is the county borrowing almost $50 million to fund these projects when the county has refused to fund our roads they have neglected for years?

The bigger question is why isn't the county funding our highest priorities - our roads and transportation - if the county is borrowing almost $50 million for these projects?

When we asked where the revenue was coming from to pay for the operating expenses associated with the capital projects funded by this debt, we were told the operating expenses would be covered by future revenues. 

The county will earmark future revenues to cover operating expenses for these lower priority projects at the same time the county refuses to fund our roads.

Hillsborough County is growing. We are fortunate as our housing values are increasing and we have new construction being added to our tax rolls, increasing our property tax revenues. In addition as our economy has rebounded, our sales tax revenues are also  increasing. 

Continuing to hold our roads and transportation funding hostage is nonsense.

Unfortunately, the nonsense continues with the FY2017 budget.

The county commissioners have stated transportation is our highest priority. The commissioners provided direction to county staff to pursue allocating a percentage of our new revenue growth to transportation. 

At a Budget Workshop earlier in the year when mobility fees were being discussed, Merrill acknowledged that proposal:
From Merrill Budget Presentation
earlier this year

To ensure transportation is a priority the county must allocate a percentage right off the top of the new available revenue funds BEFORE funding lower priority items. 

The FY2017 proposed budget does not do that. 

What Merrill is presenting at tomorrow's Budget Workshop is in a different format than what he presented last year. Some information appears to be missing. One-time new revenue sources, including the almost $23 million BP oil spill settlement money, are nowhere to be found. 

The estimated recurring new revenues have been reduced from Merrill's earlier budget presentation. Why?

We asked how much was going to transportation funding in the FY2017 budget, we received the following information.
New Transportation Spending in FY2017
It is absurd to include impact fee buybacks as transportation funding. Doing so drastically overstates what is actually being spent on transportation projects. That is a disservice to the taxpaying public and not being honest.

It appears that the proposed FY2017 budget continues to fail us by refusing to fund our roads and transportation needs within our existing ballooning budget.

If that does not change with our FY2017 budget cycle, then transportation is not the priority of this county commission. 

That would be shameful place to be after the county spent over three years, $1.3 million of taxpayer money and tons of county resources telling the public that transportation is a top priority.

Budget Workshop meetings are intended for in depth discussions of the budget and not intended for Board action. Tomorrow's workshop meeting has been opened to public comment but it is not a properly noticed Budget Public Hearing. 

Since the July Budget Public Hearing was cancelled by Merrill, the commissioners must take action at the Workshop tomorrow to set the millage rate which is statutorily required to be done by July 31st. 

Proper governance would dictate actions taken on the budget should occur after any workshops were held and after a properly noticed Budget Public Hearing was conducted.

Taxpayers are tired of being bamboozled while the county has done nothing to fund our roads and transportation. 

Continuing to fail to fund our roads and fix our transportation issue is not an option.

It's time to put an end to the budget nonsense now.

The county commissioners must step up. They must lead on funding our roads and transportation needs. They must stop being led by an entrenched bureaucracy who continues to fail us. 

Because….like the old Twisted Sister song….

We're not going to take it anymore!


Monday, July 25, 2016

Commissioners Must Act Now To Fund our Roads

Not only did the county commissioners vote last month at the second sales tax hike public hearing against any sales tax hike referendum, they also voted to pursue Commissioner Sandy Murman's proposal to fund our roads and transportation needs within our growing existing budget. 

We are now in the FY2017 budget cycle and there is concern that county staff is not doing that nor putting forth a budget following the strategic direction they were told. In addition, the county was not providing ample opportunity for the public to weigh in with public comment on the FY2017 budget. That would be wrong at this critical juncture where the county must start appropriately funding our roads and transportation.

Below is the public comment I made at last weeks BOCC meeting:
I am Sharon Calvert and I live in Lutz, FL. I am concerned with the 2017 budget. After two public hearings, a majority of this Board said that transportation will be a top priority in our budget.  
Five weeks later I am concerned that the recommended budget does not do that. The Board voted, you gave direction, County staff must work to do that.
For your vote to be meaningful, this Board needs to follow through and do what you said you would do, fund our roads and transportation now, starting with our FY2017 within the growth of our existing budget.
 
This is a critical budget cycle. Yet there are no budget public hearings until September, way too late for the public to weigh in on changes to be made for this budget cycle. 
A budget workshop is scheduled for next week. I ask that the Board open that workshop to public comment. Otherwise, it appears there is lack of transparency and our critical budget process cannot be orchestrated and manipulated outside of Sunshine.  
The Administrator’s budget must stop growing by double digits. It is absurd that tens of millions of dollars of impact fee buybacks benefiting developers are somehow considered transportation funding. That is simply not being honest. 
Stop funding pet pork projects, stop funding those questionable and nebulous economic development projects, stop handing our tax dollars to special interests, or adding more parks to maintain, no more money to filmmakers and stop subsidizing the millionaires and billionaires - but start funding our highest priority - roads and transportation needs that have been neglected for way too long.  
For over three years, the county spent untold resources, time, effort and over $1.3 million telling the public that transportation is a priority.  
Now is the time for the Board to act and prove it. 
This budget cycle will confirm whether this Board has the fiscal discipline to reign in unnecessary spending and start appropriately funding our roads.  
The time is now to start enacting Commissioner Murman’s proposal to use the growth of our existing budget to fund our roads and transportation. 
Because continuing to hold our road funding hostage must stop now. 
Thank you.
Checking the BOCC calendar, we now find that the Budget Workshop scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and the Transportation Workshop scheduled for Wednesday afternoon have been cancelled. A Budget Workshop is now scheduled for Thursday, July 28, at 9am.

BOCC Calendar
The agenda and presentation for this meeting can be found here. From the agenda, it appears the county has opened this meeting up for public comment. 

Why is the county giving non-union county employees a 3.5% raise? That is a pay raise unheard of today in the private sector. Many of the county commissioners own constituents, who were negatively impacted by the last recession, are still playing catch up and are not receiving such pay raises. 

Our existing revenues have been growing at a rate of well over 6% per year the last few years, yet the county has refused to fund our roads. In FY2016 the county had over $100 million of new revenues, including over $40 million of new recurring revenues and the county refused to fund our roads. 

A previous budget workshop held earlier this year, County Administrator Mike Merrill presented:

Where is the almost $23 million of BP oil spill settlement money going? Those funds have no restrictions on their use and can be used for transportation that has been neglected for almost a decade. The BP oil spill settlement money and the almost $62 million of estimated new sources of funds together add up to almost $95 million of new revenues for FY2017.

There is no excuse for not funding our roads and transportation.

Yet it appears the budget proposed by County Administrator Mike Merrill does not follow the direction given by the county commissioners last month. As our county revenues continue going up and up and up, Merrill again is refusing to appropriately fund our roads and transportation. 

Merrill continues to hold our road and transportation funding hostage while he has been growing his bureaucracy for years by double digits. This is fiscally irresponsible. 

The nonsense needs to stop. In the private sector, when the Board of Directors provides specific strategic direction to company management, management must follow the direction. If management does not follow the Boards direction, they are fired.

There is a problem down at County Center that must be addressed. Merrill and his staff must work to accommodate the direction the commissioners gave him to start funding transportation within our growing existing budget. The entrenched bureaucracy must stop being obstructionists and do their job.

The county administrator is an unelected bureaucrat not a policy maker. We do not have an elected county mayor. The county administrator cannot collude with a couple of commissioners to push their own or some special interests of theirs agenda. 

If county staff refuse to follow directions given them by the elected county commissioners, then the commissioners must find the proper staff who will.

The county has wasted years doing absolutely nothing to fix our transportation. 

That is unacceptable. We demand better. 

It is time for the county commissioners to act. They must produce a FY2017 budget that starts funding our roads and transportation within our existing growing budget. 

The commissioners must rein in unnecessary spending and fund our roads and transportation needs first.

If they refuse, transportation is not a priority for THEM.

If they refuse, it confirms THEY cannot fix our transportation issue.

If they refuse, the solution to the out of control ballooning budget and bureaucracy must come from the voters themselves. 

And We the People have the power to do it.