Friday, July 31, 2015

Don't Get Fooled Again: Roads are NOT A County Top Priority

Our county commissioners have spent millions of our taxpayer dollars and tons of county resources over the last 2 years telling us that transportation is a top priority. It's all talk and no walk.

Roads may not get be getting funded but taxpayers are lining the pockets of cronies. The Go Hillsborough cronies got handed another $350K of our tax dollars last month. No bid, no RFP, just another blank check - to duplicate work already being done elsewhere. The county will now be spending almost $1.5 MILLION on the crony, phony Go Hillsborough campaign.

HART, our transit agency, is currently doing their public outreach to update their 10 year Transportation Development Plan. Our Metropolitan Planning Organization is doing the technical analysis to update our road ratings. 

We already know the county has failed roads all over Hillsborough. The county knows the roads that have potholes, the roads that need repaving, the intersections that need improving, the roads that need widening, our lights that need to be timed and that we will need to build new roads. The county's Public Works department has the list. 

Why are taxpayers paying the Go Hillsborough cronies to duplicate work that is already being done? After all the rain we've had, the county would be better served using that money to refill the gaping potholes and doing some road paving.  

The County has spent wasted tons of taxpayer dollars and wasted countless hours of people's time and resources in meetings. The County has gathered more than enough information that confirms what we and "they" already knew: Our roads have been neglected and they desperately need to be funded.

Here's an opportunity for the county to start funding our roads. The county's in a new budget cycle for FY2016 and the county commissioners have told us for the last 2 years that roads and transportation are a top priority. 

However, that is not true - roads are NOT a top priority of the county. The proposed FY 2016 budget does not fund our roads AGAIN even as our county revenue coffers are going up and up. 

The county held a budget public hearing last week. At that public hearing, the commissioners heard from myself and others who asked the county to re-prioritize the FY2016 budget to start funding our roads and transportation needs now. Did they listen?


The budget public hearing was simply a required ticky mark the county had to check off. It apparently was nothing else.

Next came the Budget Reconciliation Workshop yesterday down at County Center. This meeting occurs after the July public hearing to supposedly allow discussion of changes to the proposed budget.

 I was there. Nothing changed. 

All of our county revenues continue going up. Our property values are rising and new developed properties continue to be added to our tax rolls. Of the $100 million of NEW revenues the county has for FY2016, only $2.8 million of those NEW revenues is going for roads. None of our property tax revenues are being spent on our roads.

The county did take the time and expense to create a 13 page slick, glossy marketing brochure titled, "Citizens Budget in Brief". How much did those glossies cost taxpayers? The online version of the budget brief, no printing costs required, can be found here
Cover of 13 page glossy county brochure
marketing the FY2016 budget
This is how the faux Budget Workshop played out yesterday:

Tom Fesler, Director, Management and Budget, publicly pitched the "Citizens Budget" to the county commissioners. What a misnomer! A budget called the "Citizens Budget" that does not properly fund our roads - the largest and most highly utilized asset that the county owns and citizens use. 98% of county citizens use our county roads everyday and they are FAILING the citizens. 

Fesler's presentation was for public show because the commissioners had already seen it. They had already been briefed directed by the County Administrator Mike Merrill (aka the Wizard of Oz of County Center) behind the green curtain. The Wizard works hard behind that curtain pulling the levers and pushing the buttons to ensure no sparks will fly in the public domain. Other than Commissioner Higginbotham, we heard crickets chirping from the rest. The Wizard is adept at keeping the "kumbaya" crowd under wraps.

Besides the windfall of $100 million of new revenues being sprinkled around the county, below are some tidbits from the budget workshop:
  • Total FY2016 budget is $4.72 BILLION but the "Citizen Services" portion is $1.83 BILLION
  • HeadStart, part of the "Social Capital" is over $30 million
  • 58% of the general fund is for law enforcement and fire rescue
  • $9 million of the new revenues is going to Constitutional offices "to maintain their current level service" - that should be a red flag that something is desperately wrong there - but no questions were asked.
  • The county showed very little in efficiencies gained. That should be a red flag but no questions were asked.
  • Millions of the new revenues are going to pay for union contracts and fire rescue that has fallen behind in their operating expenses. That's another area of red flags. We have posted before about the abuse of fire rescue union leave time at taxpayer expense, that the county had to move fire rescue monies around last year from fire rescue operations and capital to fire rescue personnel and concerns over the huge contract handed to the fire rescue union last year right at election time. No questions were asked.
  • 23 years of property tax millage decreases. Ironic that the county decreased the millage at the same time we can't fund our roads. Instead of funding our roads with revenues we have, this commission is continuing to pursue a bloated 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike.
The Commissioners voted to keep our property tax millage static (no change) for FY2016. Commissioner Higginbotham was the only commissioner to vote No. I was not sure exactly why Higginbotham voted No. Perhaps he thought the county was wasting some of that $100 million of new revenues on commissioner's pet projects and he preferred taxpayers keep some rather than it going through the county waste filter for low priority pet projects.

Workshops are supposed to be the public venue working sessions where the county commissioners transparently speak to each other about the budget. The only comments made were accolades about the hard work put in to creating the budget. Is that all the comments the public gets to hear - comments about the process but virtually nothing about the actual issue at hand?

This budget workshop was an orchestrated, scripted one-way street. The budget briefing was presented by staff, no questions were asked and nothing was discussed.  Worst of all, nothing was asked to be changed in the proposed budget. No one wanted anything changed. No one mentioned our pathetically funded roads. Shameful!

Roads aren't sexy like building new parks, community centers, soccer complexes, cultural centers, doling our dimes out to special interests groups or focusing on a new baseball stadium.

Instead, roads are a necessity.

Why is there way too much power in way too few hands down at County Center?

It is beyond time for someone on this county commission to stand up and say enough is enough and stop the nonsense. 

The county has money to fund our roads NOW, they simply refuse to do it.

Roads and transportation are a top priority, "they" say.

As witnessed again yesterday, no they are not....

Looks like the county will continue holding our roads hostage unless the county can dig into your wallets and pockets for another CIT-like 30 year $3.5 BILLION sales tax hike.

"They" want another bloated 30 year sales tax hike.

Tell them NO, because "we won't get fooled again"!

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