Friday, July 29, 2011

Reining in the Budget

Today's post will not make much sense to you if you haven't read the Miami Herald article by Pamela Duque regarding Tuesday's meeting. You can access it here Commissioners Deadlock on a Host of Issues. Go read it now. I'll wait.

The article does a very good job of explaining what happened during the July 26 commission meeting. What I want to do here is talk about why it happened.

Two of the commission members sent a clear message "Enough. No more tax hikes." from the very beginning of the budget process.

The big issue the article reports is that the commission failed to pass a proposed cap of 5.9 percent on our millage rates. Esquijarosa and Rodriguez opposed it, Lim-Kreps favored raising the tax rate.

The major reason for the proposal is to give the city administration leverage to create different budget scenarios using different millage rates. It does not mean that they will set the millage rate to 5.9 but that they can work in a range between 0 and 5.9.

A millage rate is a tax rate. It is the taxable percentage expressed in thousands. Our current millage rate of 4.8 (I know, 4.7772 but I'm rounding because we have a decimalized currency in this country.) That means that for every $1000 of assessed value on your house, you pay the city $4.80. For simplicity's sakes, let's use a value of $200,000. This year you pay the city $960 for operating purposes.

Now there is a second point, the debt millage. It is currently (2011) at .50, meaning $.50 for every $1000. On this same house, that would be an additional $100.

For 2012, the debt millage is more than doubling. It is going to $1.24 For the same house, same value, ($200,000), regardless of the what the commission does, you are going to pay $228 more.

It is only the operating side that the commission can control and that's what the point on Tuesday was. Two of the commissioners, Esquijarosa and Rodriguez, wanted to send a clear message that the city cannot once again balance the budget by raising taxes. The city has to hold the line.

You'll notice in the article that the mayor pointed out various seemingly extravagant budget items for employee bonuses and wage increases. I don't know how your income is doing but mine is pretty flat. So are most cities.

The message here is that the city must find ways of balancing the budget without further raising taxes.

The residents cannot afford to subsidize expenditures as though nothing had happened. I can't and you can't. We can't bite any more bullets.

Now the city staff was flabbergasted by this. After trying to explain that it was a technical cap and not the final number, and failing since that point was well understood, the staff had no alternative to offer.

One thing the article mentions "City officials told commissioners that if they did not raise taxes, property owners would pay less in taxes than last year due to lower property values." was a half truth, really a 7% truth. The lower assessments only come into play for people who bought recently, during the insane run up of prices. The bulk of the homeowners, 63%, have been in their homes 10 years or more. That means that the assessed value is below market value, and with a 3% increase under Save Our Homes and a 146% increase under the debt millage (that's right, a 146%), if the rate stays the same, 63% are getting a tax increase if the millage (tax) rate stays the same.

Only a few revalued properties would benefit if the rate stays the same because most of the revaluation happened in last year's shock.

The net effect to the city if the millage rate does not increase is so trivial it could be a rounding error.

And that's the message.

Live within your means. We're residents. Not your generous uncle.

It was pretty appalling that neither the finance people, the interim city manager, and particularly the attorneys had even thought about what would happen if the rate cap failed to pass. They are so used to a rubber stamp commission that they didn't even think about what if.

What happens now is not clear. The attorneys were unable to provide any legal guidance. One belief is that the state may just set a trim rate at an absurd level of 7.9 or something. Another is that the city is obligated to work at the current rate of 4.8. I hope it's the latter.

One thing that is clear. The city staff needs to be prepared for the commissioners and the citizens to push back on any tax rate raise. We used to be a low tax, low service city. Now we're coming close to much higher service cities rates with no new services.

A special note. At one point, the mayor asked for the reserve number and no one could answer her. That's shocking.

If you've ever run a business, run a professional organization of any sort, run a household, you always need to know three things.

What cash do I have on hand?
How much of that is obligated?
What's left over? (The reserve)

It's that simple. And that our city manager does not see that figure every day is a huge problem. Not a new problem, but a huge one. Fix it.

There were other things that died.

The mayor laid out the average salaries of city managers in nearby cities and refused to support a package of $180,000 since the local average is $115,000. The Lim Kreps twins had no problem supporting that extravagant contract.

The mayor made a motion to fire the interim city manager for failure to maintain discipline in the city staff. It failed as the unruliness is the favored tactic of the twins.

Frank Rodriguez wanted to bring in a different interim manager and the Eddie half of the Lim Kreps twins responded with a sputtering tirade against Rodriguez and the proposed candidate, rather than a dignified no.

In retaliation for not getting free access to your pockets, the twins killed a simple proposal to formalize the streamlined procedures of the ocmmission meeting.

And lo and behold, the Connie half of the Lim Kreps twins once again withdrew the appointment of the charter review board as she does now at every meeting. She doesn't want the charter reviewed and she now pulls this trick at each meeting.

What happens next? Don't know. But I'm glad that Tuesday happened.

Kevin Vericker
July 29, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Police Cuts

When I wrote earlier this week that police employees have not borne any of the costs associated with the lower tax revenue, I was wrong.

  • The dependent coverage costs for police employees have risen by 40%. The city used to cover 75% and now they cover only 65%, a 40% out of pocket increase for the employees.

  • The city is now charging a zone rate for take home cars, I don't have the exact figures but the point is that the police employees are now paying out of pocket for a benefit that used to be cost free, a net salary reduction when there are no raises.

  • A change in Florida Retirement System at the state level has meant another 3% of the individual's salary is now taken out, with no offsetting raise.

For the rank and file, this is a lot of coin. It's a layout of several hundred dollars a month more on average for people who have not seen a raise in four years or so.

I've written before that I hate it when I'm wrong, and I was wrong about this.

My larger point is that the police department as a whole in North Bay Village continues to increase spending, some of it disguised spending by accounting tricks. Legal services is taking the budget hit for ill advised labor policies and the Law Enforcement Trust Fund is being used to cover routine operations costs, so the numbers are not instantly obvious.

The cops on the street in North Bay Village put up with a lot. Our government is dysfunctional. The union battles have created an atmosphere of insecurity. Management has been arbitrary and discipline unevenly applied. We residents can be pretty demanding.

What they don't need is one more person, me, adding fuel to the fire of anti police sentiment. Especially when it's not true.

The misstatement was not intentional and I apologize.

But I will continue to talk about the out of control spending by the department management and the climate of unease that has been created in the police department by the selective targeting of unpopular individuals - note the plural.

Our city and our police force deserve better.

Kevin Vericker
July 27, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011


In last week's post, Back to the Subject, I laid out how in the strong manager-weak commission form of government, the mayor is one fifth of the power structure. And given the current configuration of the commission and the previous and current city manager, has very little direct influence on the city business or legislation.

I've thought a great deal about the "recall" effort mounted by the ruling clique, Lim-Kreps, Trujillo, the CFD and what their gain is in this. It's surely not outrage over a small tax mistake. In fact, looking at some of the circulators of the petition, I am pretty sure that they are not reporting their taxable incomes from commercial sex parties or panhandling on Lincoln Road. And we know that the major contributor to the group has unpaid property tax bills in the millions. The outrage that the mayor made a mistake on her taxes rings false.

Why is the mayor even a threat to these people? She holds no radical policy agenda. She does not demand dramatic cuts or a fundamental restructuring of the government or the community. She sees children and family services as a top priority and wants to improve the tax base. Nothing unreasonable in that.

The threat comes from her demand for transparency. How are we spending the money?

Look at what happened last year. The previous city manager provided a budget at the last minute with a 20% millage rate increase. He told the commission that there were no alternatives and that a proposed private contract for garbage collection would save $500,000 per year. None of this was true.

But what did happen was the police union did not have to make any concessions. The benefits for the executive staff (five week vacations, take home cars, full funding of insurance) were untouched and it was only through incompetence that the waste management contract did not outsource our tax dollars for reduced services. Now this was under the previous administration. It's important to remember that the Lim Kreps twins were part of the Trujillo ticket, a ticket financed by tax dodgers, private companies wanting public dollars and people who have a vested interest in the city not enforcing zoning laws.

And a shocking thing happened on that ticket. Trujillo lost. An unknown person, Corina Esquijarosa, beat a well known opponent with much better financing and organization. Kreps was only installed when the city (under the direction of Trujillo and Bob Pushkin) paid for a lawsuit to make sure she had no opposition. And Lim won, fair and square, against an opponent with too much baggage to be effective. The shock of Trujillo's defeat, with its message that North Bay Village does not want higher taxes and less transparency still reverberates. But the message was clear.

That leaves the commission with a tentative majority. Kreps, Lim and Vogel control the commission but Dr. Vogel's failing health jeopardizes that and the governing parties will stop at nothing to ensure that the city employees are not accountable, that the political debts are paid, and the money is hidden. If Dr. Vogel cannot return to the commission due to his failing health or if he needs to resign over the stolen cell phone money, the structure teeters dangerously. The critical move is to shut up the voices asking for transparency and so this recall was manufactured.

On Tuesday, the commission will hold a meeting. There are several topics but the real hot one is the proposed millage rate for next year. Right now, it's 4.77. The resolution will allow the city to draft budgets up to a 5.9 millage rate. Historically, this is done to give the budget drafters flexibility and comes in lower. Want to see how they vote about your money? Come on over on Tuesday and watch how the real issues are not discussed. It should be fun.

Kevin Vericker
July 24, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back to the Subject

Getting back to the way the government of North Bay Village is organized, last week I posted about how the mayor is one of five votes on the commission. I think there is a misconception that the mayor has special legislative powers, like a veto, and that the mayor controls the legislative agenda. Neither of those things are true. The exceptional duties of the mayor are to sign checks as provided by the city manager and to chair meetings. That's it.

The mayor also has no executive power. All of that lies with the city manager.

So without legislative or executive authority, the only power the mayor has is symbolic.

In order to get anything done on the commission, at least three commissioners need to be in agreement, whether yes or no.

And there's the issue. Currently, three of the commissioners vote in lockstep. Connie and Eddie Lim Kreps along with Dr. Vogel, are running the city. This is dangerous.

Connie Kreps is a dangerous combination of ignorant and nasty. She has never once explained a vote, continues to make statements that she refuses to support and is openly contemptuous of the citizenry. It's important to remember that she was not elected. She was appointed following a lawsuit.

Eddie Lim follows Kreps' whims slavishly. Like Connie, he brings no agenda, does not ask or respond to questions and silently votes with her on every issue. He disappoints me. He is a nice enough fellow, far more polite than Connie, and he won the seat fair and square, having been elected by all the citizens of North Bay Village. But he is beholden to the people who paid for his campaign - Scott Greenwald, the city's largest tax debtor, the FOP who run the police department and Waste Management Systems. He does not meet with citizens, has supported Greenwald's attempts to build a strip club in spite of the clear opposition of the residents, and pushed the Waste Management agenda. It's a disappointment.

Finally, there is Dr. Vogel, who served the city honorably for so many years as mayor and then again on the commission. His health has failed. We've all seen that he is often confused and not in touch with the issues. His vote is given to him on a marked up agenda before the meeting, and if there is any change to the agenda, he becomes confused.

Mrs. Vogel is now in the audience full time and should Dr. Vogel not know what to do, that is vote with the twins, she and others will yell out how he is to vote.

Dr. Vogel has been ill and there is much concern that he will not be able to return to the dais, putting the lock in danger.

So steps are being taken. The biggest one is to intimidate the mayor into resigning, and that's what the petition is about. It's only part of the campaign but it's a dishonest one.

There is no doubt that the mayor screwed up her taxes. She has been working diligently to get these mistakes and errors corrected. She should have done it right the first time around but there is no way that this meets any definition of malfeasance, a crime defined as the abuse of public office for personal gain.

The powers behind the three controlling members of our goverment don't want her there. She asks too many uncomfortable questions. Questions like,
  • "Why have the police force received raises when the budget has declined?"
  • "Why have the massive code violations been overlooked?"
  • "Why did the Vice Mayor illegally sign the checks?"
  • "Why does the city manager not report the budget numbers at every meeting?"
  • "Why are we spending money on luxury dinners for the city staff?"

The answers are simple. Our city now exists to pay high salaries to the employees, to reward political contributors and to prevent city wide growth.

Don't believe me? If people come around with a petition again, stop them. Ask what the agenda they support. Ask them how removing the mayor will improve the upcoming budget. Ask them how much the police have overspent from their own budget and the legal budget. Ask them if they have any personal tax issues. Ask them the definition of malfeasance.

Finally, go to a commission meeting. Take a good hard look at the dynamics. Watch Connie Kreps and Eddie Lim not bring anything to the table. Watch as Mrs. Vogel tells Dr. Vogel how to vote. Then ask yourself, "Are these the people who should be running the city unchecked?"

The campaign to remove the mayor might succeed. I don't think so but I've been wrong before. Who will speak to the abuses then? Will you?

Kevin Vericker
July 15, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Whitefly And Hurricane Preparedness Meeting Wednesday July 13, 2011

On Wednesday, 7/13 at 6:00 in City Hall, the city will be hosting a workshop on the white fly infestation, with hurricane preparedness materials available as well. I just took a 10 year old gumbo limbo because I treated the white fly infestation with the wrong stuff. So I'm going because I don't to lose the rest of the plantings.

Invites residents and interested parties to a
Rugose Spiraling WHITE FLY
Speaker: Dr. Catharine Mannion
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
6:00 PM
Location: City of North Bay Village Commission Chambers
1700 Kennedy Causeway - suite 132
North Bay Village FL 33141


Kevin Vericker
July 11, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How the City Commission Operates

Like many other cities in Florida, North Bay Village has what is called a "weak commission - strong city manager" form of government. It's a peculiar idea and the result is that our elected officials do not have much involvement in the day to day operations of the city, nor does our mayor have any particular powers.

The basic idea is that the commission operates as a board whose primary function is to hire a city manager (think CEO) who in turn executes policy and administers the functioning of the city government.

The commission itself comprises five elected citizens and each has a single vote. The office of mayor does not include any executive privileges beyond signing checks and chairing the meetings. It holds no powers like a veto or policy creation.

Again, the real power lies in the commission by majority vote hiring the city manager and passing legislation.

This has real meaning. While our mayor is visible, she cannot set the legislative agenda. That's a joint effort.

Our commission has been dominated this year by three commissioners - Connie Lim Kreps, Eddie Lim Kreps and Dr. Paul Vogel. They are the ones who kept Bob Pushkin on as city manager long after it had become clear that he did not run the city well or openly, they are the ones who have pushed through harmful legislation, who will be raising your taxes again this year and without evidence insist that matters at the police department have improved.

These three have held tightly to the fiction that outsourcing our sanitation will save the city $500,000 per year, 10 times the actual savings. That raising police salaries through a shell game of promotions has saved money when it has put the police nearly $150,000 over budget so far. And they do it quietly, in the dark.

This mayor has tried against the odds to bring the out of control spending to light, to examine performance by the city manager, to put the housing decline to the front of the priority list, to stop the over influence by developers on city spending and to create a business plan so that our businesses have a hope of surviving.

At every turn, the silent threesome have thwarted the plans. Some quick examples:'

1.) The city's biggest tax debtor was appointed to the Budget Oversight Board by Vice Mayor Lim Kreps. The biggest deadbeat in town, nearly $2 million, gets to decide how your money is spent. Their campaigns were generously funded by the same developer.

2.) The police chief does not publish safety statistics or budget information as required by law at each commission meeting. He does not reach out to the community and in this time of crisis, is overspending the budget without explanation. He is heartily endorsed by Connie and Eddie Lim Kreps and Dr. Vogel.

3.) Efforts to create a business improvement district so that our causeway does not look like a pass through slum have been stonewalled by the troika as it would not suit the immediate economic benefit of their patrons.

4.) The wall around North Bay Island has been left looking destroyed and ugly. The mayor tried to persuade the city manager to put temporary landscaping at minimum cost, perhaps even donated, so that it does not look like it had been vandalized during the rest of the construction. She was blown off and the commission, including the two members who live on North Bay Island will not take up the subject.

There's a lot more. But unless the citizens get involved, start demanding equal action from the equal commissioners, it's just going to get worse.

Kevin Vericker
July 9, 2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

The First To Admit When I'm Wrong (and other Lies)

We all know the polite social lies - "The check was mailed Tuesday." "You don't look fat in those stretch pants and tube top." "Your call is important to us." etc.

One self-aggrandizing lie that gets up my nose is when people say "I'm the first to admit it when I'm wrong." They never are. I certainly am not. I only admit I'm wrong when absolutely every other possibility has been exhausted and on certain subjects, I simply never get there. And you don't either. Don't lie to me.

Clearly this is leading up to me admitting I was wrong. I was. In regards to my July 1 post, Crossing The Thin Blue Line, I had reported on a rumor that the police employee who disrupted the commission meeting to shout at the chair "I don't work for you." had been the subject of a disciplinary action. The second part is wrong.

The first part is not. An on duty policeman did feel free to heckle the dais, but no disciplinary action has been taken. Nor does it look like any will. In most businesses and all other police organizations, this would be grounds for discipline up to dismissal but not here in North Bay Village.

Are we now paying people to disrespect the commission? What other HR policies are in place? Casual Slur Friday? Pin-The-Tail on the citizens? Hmmm.

So I was wrong. Sorry to have given you some hope.

On the subject of the petition, and a promised post of how the commission works in our form of government, I will be getting to those this weekend.

The commission meeting for next week was canceled as Connie Lim Kreps had a long planned vacation, and Dr. Vogel is still ill. Eddie Lim Kreps could have come but he's no good alone so he sent a message with a polite social lie about being unavailable.

Kevin Vericker
July 8, 2011

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The CFD and The Millstone Around Our Necks

The joint collaboration of the county and North Bay Village has paid off. The summer camp is in full swing and there are 48 kids in the camp, 38 from North Bay Village.

Robert Daniels and Corina Esquijarosa worked tirelessly and creatively in these difficult times to establish a county summer camp in North Bay Village, and both took it up a notch to get reduced rates for North Bay Village families. The mayor and the police chief put the need for reduced tuition to North Bay Village businesses who responded generously. Because of this, all NBV kids have a safe and constructive environment at a price families can afford.

Today, as part of their histrionic recall, the CFD took the best accomplishment of the mayor and interim city manager and trashed their success and for good measure, went after the mayor's small children.

I've been getting texts and phone calls today by people who are appalled by how these thugs are now attacking the mayor's small children. Each message was a variation of "I can't believe it." or "Aren't you shocked that they would sink this low."

No, I'm not shocked. I wish I was but sadly I know these people and they have no sense of common decency. But that I'm not shocked doesn't mean that I am not disgusted. I am and I'm sure you are too.

The CFD has never touched on policy, city matters or other civic discourses. For them, it is the struggle to drag others down for their personal gain. I want to note that I am also not shocked that the CFD is turning on Robert Daniels and criticizing the summer camp he worked to create. It was just a matter of time.

Today, the five self appointed watchdogs signed an email with a major lie, that most of the kids are not from North Bay Village. That's a lie. Again 38 of the 48 are.

Then they decided that the mayor's kids were fair game for criticism. Decent people, ones who have raised children and worked to improve their community know there is never a time to bully a child.

Listen, readers, if you honestly think that people who would personally attack five year olds are the ones who should be running the city, sign the petition, but please, please never tell me that you did. I want some illusion that decency still plays a part in our city.

Kevin Vericker
July 2, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

Crossing the Thin Blue Line

I missed the commission meeting last night owing to other commitments but I did DVR it.

First of all, nine months later, the sound still isn't working for the most part. This has to get fixed.

So let's talk about what wasn't on last night's agenda.

Dr. Vogel was absent due to illness.

The Waste Management Contract was withdrawn from the agenda so there's still no resolution on that.

Vice Mayor Connie Lim Kreps sponsored and then withdrew a resolution to create a charter review board, something she doesn't want. When asked why, she snarled, "I don't have to explain it." Her contempt for the principles of governance continues to astound me.

But on the whole, very little got done.

The worst note of the meeting, from what I could make out was an incident where there was a disturbance from the audience. The chair requested order and was ignored. After several warnings, the chair asked the Sergeant at Arms to restore order and he refused, commenting to the chair, "I don't answer to you." Which is not true. The Sergeant At Arms does answer to the chair and to requests to maintain order.

I understand but have not been able to verify that the police employee acting as Sergeant at Arms has been suspended pending investigation. I'll let you know if that is confirmed.

Things are pretty bad when there is open insubordination by the city employees. I have had my disagreements with former police chief Robert Daniels but I am certain that in his new role as acting city manager he will not allow this to stand and will take appropriate action.

See, things can get worse.

Kevin Vericker
July 1, 2011