Riddle Me This…

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It’s all quite the mystery, isn’t it? Some of this stuff is quite puzzling and it’s gonna take some keen ears, eyes and thinking to navigate the twists, turns and tricky tangled mess worked into and all around what this town is doing.
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Something we haven’t mentioned yet, with everything else going on, is that there has been some talk recently at the town meetings and hearings about annexation. I don’t know if this has been a long standing topic or if this just came into play recently, but I think it’s something deserving of a few questions from residents to those on the town staff and the commission.
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The tax assessment study mentioned in yesterday’s blog (the one expected to cost us $20k-$25k) came into the discussion by way of the Town Manager. Then she and other commissioners began discussing annexation as if it was practically a given. The study seemed to become a given as well, and it wasn’t long before annexation seemed to become one of the main reasons they gave for wanting to spend the money on the study, saying annexation will bring more money into the town.
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The explanation the manager gave originally for doing such an expensive study was to alter the millage rate by pulling Fire and the Library  (at least) out of the millage so it would appear lower, which would accordingly make Lake Park more attractive for annexation. The millage would be calculated in such a way as to be more of a lure, so to speak.
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I have some questions about our town considering annexation. Maybe you do too. If for no other reason than because no one on the commission has made any explanation of what is entailed in such a process, who is being sought after for this annexation and what the repercussions will be to our town?
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One concern right off the bat is that if the town’s handling of the 2.4 miles of town it has now is questionable, how will it handle the added responsibility that will come with annexation of any surrounding areas, and what will it do with the extra tax revenue it might bring in? What is Lake Park doing with the taxes they bring in now? What are the great benefits to the citizens of Lake Park for the taxes they pay? Who will really benefit from any of these proposed changes? If it’s the residents; in what way? If we already have one of the highest tax rates in the county and feel we get little for our payout, why would putting more money in our town’s coffers be of any benefit to us? You have to like what the people in charge are doing with your money before you offer to flip open any more wallets and hand them more.
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What needs to change is where and how our town spends our money, not necessarily how much more money it brings in.
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Meanwhile, I am not sure if many people have checked out the CRA agenda for Wednesday night or not, but it’s a very enlightening read. The budget contained therein begs question after question and highlights the tricky nature of that organization’s dealings with the town. It is interesting what they are spending their money on and how it all works. Nothing is straightforward about the CRA, and one would have to be a super sleuth to figure out its many mysteries (how convenient). The financial back and forth between CRA and the Town, shared budgets, payments made to and from each other and the shared responsibilities between them makes it wide open for riddles galore and who knows what else. Some of what they have invested money and effort in makes some of us just shake our head. Big question marks are floating above our heads and the explanations given in regard to the CRA have not been satisfactory.
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The money sharing between the CRA and the Town is very complicated, and the Finance Director has admitted this herself during public town meetings. All this financial switcheroo and shared responsibility comes about within an agency considered to be an independent entity. Independent? I’m not sold. If you have been paying any attention to the town’s budget discussions, you will find the CRA budget to be quite a piece of work that only leads to new questions about the general Town budget, which seems to be poised to pass with very little changes made to it. A riddle to be sure.
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You may see just enough changes suggested to the general town budget by some of the commission members so they can say they have made an attempt, but those changes will be minimal and will continue our town down the same roads it has been on. I suggest you look both budgets over and start there in your quest to understand the town to whom you are handing over your tax dollars, no matter what the rate at which we end up. You will need the knowledge of it moving forward.
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So riddle me this… how will we get anything but more of the same unless we start attending meetings, asking questions and listening to everything being said and then putting the pieces together? Please come to the CRA board meeting this Wednesday night at 6:30 so you know what is going on and attend the Final Budget Hearing immediately afterwards as well. Speak to your commissioners before the meetings, however, and raise your concerns with them, for it looks like there will be no opportunity for citizens to make public comments at the CRA meeting before they vote on the CRA budget.
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Do nothing, and you can expect all those riddles to turn into one big…

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