Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste

"Never let a serious crisis go to waste" is a quote attributed to presidential advisor Rahm Emanuel in 2009. He was talking about the financial meltdown in the United States and was referring to the opportunity to make long term structural changes in response to the crisis.

North Bay Village is doing the same tonight with the budget presentation. There is a crisis. The projected revenue for next year cannot stretch to meet the demand for services. There's no serious question that spending has to be cut and revenue has to be enhanced.

The problem is that the cuts, a response to a current situation, have long term impact.

During the month of August, and throughout the year, the attempt to match revenue with the spend had several components, a key one being the furloughs, whereby all city employees, police and civilian, would have one unpaid day per pay period. Both August budget workshops included this.

In September, the interim city manager said that since the unions would not support the furloughs, they were no longer on the table and the cuts would be found elsewhere.

Before we go to those cuts, there is an important point here. Union support is not the critical factor here. In March of 2010, then City Manager Matthew Schwartz sought and received a legal opinion from our labor counsel, Atty. Crosslin, that clearly explained that the furloughs were legal if applied to all. In other words, it's our city management, not the unions, who have made the decision to take this off the table. That should be very clear and it's not.

Instead of the furloughs, the cost cutting will mostly come from privatizing the sanitation services. There is an agenda item tonight to outsource the sanitation to Waste Management Systems. This will be a three year contract and includes selling two of the three trucks as part of the savings. It will also end side yard pickup and city control of the employees, three of whom will face layoffs.

This is deeply unpopular. Residents like the current service and it creates a long term change to a short term problem.

Another part of the cost cuts involves the police. The new budget will most likely mean the permanent layoff of three sworn officers.

Both of these are fundamental restructures of our city governance and their effect is permanent.

I've posted about the devastating effects of the unnecessary spending this year - we are paying two police chiefs, two city managers, two city attorneys, replacing the code enforcement office and laying out money for excessive advertising.

All of these are permanent structural changes to the current crisis. Our city administration should be concentrating on recovering the tax base, eliminating waste, involving the citizens and building up our business community.

Instead, the administration is using the revenue shortfall as an excuse to create long term, fundamental change in our city governance and still leaves us near broke with little hope of recovery. But it does serve the narrow interest of consolidating power.

Three commission members tonight, vice mayor George Kane, former vice mayor Rey Trujillo and commissioner Pasul Vogel, will vote in lockstep once more to effect these changes. There will be no meaningful discussion on the subject from them. The decisions have already been made.

Kevin Vericker
September 28, 2010

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