Double Down

Gear up for a double meeting this week

If your head is still spinning from the information overload at recent budget workshops, hearings and regular commission meetings, well you may feel the need for some dramamine because this week the town will also hold a CRA meeting at 6:30 in addition to the Final Public Hearing on the Budget for 2011/2012.

The CRA is the Community Redevelopment Agency and is considered an independent local government agency. It is touted by the town, in part, as a an effort to revitalize the physical and economic environment in designated areas of Lake Park. It has been in operation for many years and the town leaders in the past made a 30 year commitment (!) to its endeavors. However, many of us have concerns with the CRA, such as how it is funded, its effectiveness and the impact on our town from all the time and attention paid to it. The town expends a great deal of effort on ventures related to the CRA and this has recently caused concern among residents because of the many grants and loans it procures and the conditions of those grants. The CRA is another layer of bureaucracy added to the already overloaded system; it distracts from regular town services, and many would argue that for all of the time and attention given to the CRA it is wasteful and is failing the residents.

Take a drive through the CRA area on Park Avenue. Have you often wondered, as I have over the years, about the empty One Park Place building and the many other empty store fronts seen there? Still, the CRA is given top billing by the town with banners and promotion on the town website. The town newsletter in recent years seems to have become a dedicated CRA advertisement as well. There is quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes related to all of this, and despite the town’s claims that this is a self-funding agency, recent insights into the crossover between the town’s budget and the CRA’s budget sure makes it appear to be costing us one way or another. Please come to this meeting and see what is being discussed. We need to spend more time standing guard over this agency along with regular town business as it seems to be a main focus of our town’s attention.

CRA Meeting Agenda 9-21-11

The big event

The final budget hearing will take place at 7:00 p.m. in town chambers on Wednesday. The many issues which we have been deliberating for some time will be decided. The link to the agenda for this meeting follows. Please take the time to read the budget and the agenda and then consider and voice your concerns with the town commissioners by phone or email and then come and speak your concerns publicly.

One item being proposed by the Town Manager is to hire a consultant (at $20-$25K) to do a tax analysis. (You will have to question the Town Manager or the Commissioners about this because there are STILL no meeting minutes to be had on any budget related items via the town website for me to point you to in regard to their discussion of this. This makes it very difficult for residents to research anything they missed.) The Town Manager claimed such a study would offer ways to reduce our millage rate by changing what is funded through ad valorem assessments, as I understood their explanation. (It also sounded a bit like smoke and mirrors.) This study will take a chunk of any savings, if we are even able to procure them from next year’s budget, and pump that money into this costly analysis of tax assessments. Once this plan was suggested by the Town Manager, it seemed to become a given as she and the financial staff worked the costs of this study into their numerous budget proposal scenarios for next year. This needs to be scrutinized. Our town needs cuts and savings to be cuts and savings not just additional revenue for the staff to spend on additional pet projects, whose benefits to the residents are questionable.

Also, the town employees have had a rather sweet benefits package for some time and are reluctant to give up their cushy salaries and additional perks, naturally. Who wouldn’t be? (This is a wake up call: what we allow to be set into motion is very difficult to wrest from the grip of those who gain from and grow accustomed to it.)

Please take time to consider not only the tax rate proposed but the salaries, the benefits, the spending being done in many of the departments of our town and the relationship between CRA and the Town in the realm of finances. We are on the brink of having the 2nd highest tax rate in the county if our commission does not change course. 2011-ProposedMillageRates

What are you gaining for the taxes you pay? We should be reducing our tax rate significantly rather than even remaining at last year’s rate, much less moving up to the #2 spot. Times are tough and if we are to thrive, we as a town need to function within our small town means and do what is necessary to spend less.

Final Budget Hearing Agenda 9-21-11

Proposed Fiscal Budget 2011/2012

No Regular Meeting is on the schedule at this time.

It’s time to double down and give due diligence to what is happening on the street where we live.