Tavares, FL - November 16, 2014
by Vance Jochim
This article contains a review of a newspaper article, an editorial and my specific responses to the points in them.
Yes, today the Lake County, FL newspaper, the Daily Commercial, had both a front page article AND an "OurVoice" editorial saying NOW the County Board, after raising taxes by almost 14%, should "get serious about your budget".
This is the newspaper that published article after article supporting anyone in the County who wanted to spend money last year, and intentionally ignored most of the many public input speakers who spoke out against the 14% "Jimmie/Sean/Welton" property tax increase that was approved recently.
The Daily Commercial front page article is here. Be sure to POST and read the comments.
The editorial is NOT posted yet. The DC is inconsistent when they publish editorials, but if it IS posted, it might be HERE. Be sure to read it and POST comments.
Here are my comments about the story and the Editorial.
Issues Described in the Daily Commercial story dated Nov. 16, 2014
The story, written by reporter Livi Stanford, centers around statements from Lake County Board Chair Jimmy Conners that the Board would "work" to avoid another tax increase next year. It also quotes Commissioner Sean Parks several times, who NOW wants to establish a government efficiency advisory committee made up of "business people" to "suggest ways to improve government processes... and save money".
Ho, Ho, Ho. Conners, Parks and Commissioner Welton Cadwell all voted for the "Jimmy/Sean/Welton 14% property tax increase" and knew that deficits existed as of last January. Why didn't they establish such a committee back then? Why did they wait to vote on the tax until after Sean had won his re-election attempt?
Then Parks has apparently started the Committee, perhaps planning to chair it, and STACKED it with two outspoken supporters of the recent 14% tax increase, Kasey Kesslring and Fred Costello (who is NOT a member of the South Lake Tea Party - he is in the South Lake 912 Project, which is not a Tea Party). Thus the Committee is already stacked with people known to support the Jimmy/Sean/Welton 14% tax increase and avoid any analysis of the Sheriff's excess spending requests.
Hopefully other Commissioners will appoint "business people" who don't fall for staff and Sean's tricks. Sean Parks should NOT be the Board liasion to the Committee since he was a proponent for all the spending.
Are Commissioners "working to avoid a tax increae next year?" What HOGWASH for County Commissioner Jimmy Conner to say they are acting like good guys by "avoiding" a future tax increase. Jimmy and Sean and Welton KNOW that perhaps $5-million of the recently approved 14% tax increase is for one off capital spending, thus the following year, the cash needs should be $5-million less than this year's approved taxes.
Thus the real question is whether the Board admits how much excess tax collections are not needed next year, and will they reduce taxes to a lower level to acknowledge that.
Livi Stanford, the reporter, does provide good details on County Board meetings, but she loves to quote Sean Parks because he runs over to her after each Board meeting, thus his statements dominate her articles. She barely quoted Leslie Campione at the end of the article, with most space devoted to Sean Parks issues. She rarely ever quotes outside sources or critics of Board actions.
The article does describe the lack of budget workshops last year (due to Chair Jimmy Conner failing to schedule more than one or two, and other Commissioners did not ask for them) vs prior years when Leslie Campione was Chair and they had many more budget workshops. Hopefully this year, at least 5-7 budget workshops will be scheduled starting in January, 2015. One of the subjects should be to analyze all the one off spending contributing to this year's budget, and reducing taxes to reflect lower cash needs next year. (You can bet we will be following that issue).
The article described how the County had been using reserves to subsidize budget deficits for several years. But using reserves really means they were not living within their income, and were spending more than income which is not an acceptable practice.
Commissioners and staff keep comparing current staffing and budgets to "back in 2008" when it was highest due to a speculative economy. 2008 should not be the baseline target, but something like 2006 levels adjusted for population changes.
The article and Commissioners completely avoided talking about the Sheriff's budget which is now almost $60-million AND was not subject to detailed, public analysis like County Departments were.
The article also does not mention that property valuations may go up, resulting in more taxes collected, thus taxes should be rolled back even more to reflect the lower need for continuing the Jimmy/Sean/Welton 14% tax.
Issues Described in the Daily Commercial "OurVoice" Editorial on page B1 of the Nov. 16, 2014 issue
Note: Remember for at least six months the Daily Commercial constantly published pro-tax increase articles with little space devoted to alternatives or critics. I wonder if the Daily Commercial saw what their new property taxes were, and woke up to the problem.
The editorial was titled "Commissioners, get serious about your budget"
Most of the editorial was listing the Lake County Commissioners "terribly unimpressive" track record in managing their budgets.
Here is MY summary of the points they listed in the editorial:
- 159 positions were cut from the 2008 high budget, but yet the Board waived a predictable impact fee income stream to satisfy homebuilders (which only covers new road and school construction, but it is a large piece of the budget pie).
- Budget deliberations this last year were a "SHAM" The Board barely reviewed budgets for efficiencies.
- The Board has played politics and avoided consolidation of county fire and ambulance services unlike other counties, and has not even started a study of the merits of consolidation.
- Sean Parks surprise "efficiency" committee is a "naked attempt to pass the buck to a group of people who have little or no understanding of government finance and services."
- The Board has "been sleep-walking through their budget oversight role".
- The County Inspector General issued an audit report finding that the County procurement department "was not putting county work out for competitive bidding" which to me is a MAJOR failure for purchasing procedures based upon my 20 years experience as an internal audit manager. Sole source bidding is a NO NO, and indicator of possible bribes, favoritism and cronyism.
Recap of our response:
- There is no reason to continue the Jimmy/Sean/Welton 14% tax increase next year. It should be REDUCED to reflect lower capital spending needs after this year, and it should be reduced to reflect increased property valuations and related tax increases next year. My estimate is maybe drop it down to a 4-6% increase over LAST year's budget levels, not 14%. To those using Common Core math, that means that the new tax for 2015-16 should be REDUCED to 6% above LAST year's lower tax. That decision won't be made until late summer 2015.
- The "efficiency" committee proposed by Commissioner Parks is STACKED against taxpayers with him and two tax proponents mentioned in the article. Parks should not be the Board liasion, and other Commissioners should appoint people who actually spoke out with reasons not to increase the tax. They are more focused on keeping taxes in check than Parks' appointees.
- The Daily Commercial should do more to balance their articles against Sean Park's philosophies and stop giving him a majority of the space in articles. However, that means other Commissioners should be available and have actual facts to discuss for reporters. For instance, the Lake County Board spent over $100,000 and lots of staff time on the South Lake Sector Plan rather than spend funds on wages or other needed programs.
- The Board should demand the Sheriff publish DETAILED budgets on his website in the same amount of detail used for Board departments, and have at least FOUR public hearings on his $60-million budget before approving any budget for him next year. He also should request a series of performance audits by the Lake County Inspector General which repeat every three years.
- The Board should schedule public investigation hearings into the procurement process failures described in the recent audit of procurement "task orders" which can be found HERE.
- The Board and staff should stop using 2008 as a spending target, but align with local economic indicators rather than another pie in the sky growing budget.