Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Tuesday night, at another marathon meeting, the commission considered the pressing issue of finance.  It's dire.  NBV has spent all of the money in the operational reserve. There are two other reserve accounts, one for infrastructure emergencies and one for utility emergencies, but the operational reserve is where money for unanticipated spending such as lawsuits, back pay for wrongfully fired employees, severance packages for retiring employees, moving office, and hiring new interim managers is.   All of it is gone.  From $1.2 million to $0 in 2 years.  

The mayor has been encouraging people to be positive and do things, an odd request since being positive and doing things is what got the city in this fix.  I suspect she means be cheerful and pretend things are going well.   Optimistic assertions contradicted by actual facts are not being positive, they are merely delusional.  When your car runs out of gas, no amount of positive thinking will get it running.  Only petroleum will.   When you are out of cash, you don't need a smile and a cheerful disposition, you need bucks.   

It's this sort of cheerless optimism that led us to this point.  The finance director, Bert Wrains, has brought a new level of transparency to our accounting and it was he who explained that the over spend was the result of the Police and Legal actions.  Specifically:
  • The Police Department lost two cases brought by employees who were wrongfully terminated, resulting in paybacks over  $200,000 to the officers fired for political reasons.  
  • The Police Department failed to budget for anyone retiring and when one detective did, it cost $108,000 for accumulated vacation time.  (Apparently the detective in question never took a vacation in 12 years.)  
  • The Police Department incurred $50,000 in overtime expenses as there are a record number of employees claiming sick leave while keeping one of the reinstated officers at home with full pay but not on duty because the chief doesn't care for him.   
  • The Police Department fought these cases against legal advice and against the commission advice, incurring nearly $175,000 in legal bills for cases that were bound to lose.  
  • The Police Department is about to settle $25,000 on an officer who sued because his feelings were hurt, but nothing else, when he failed to report a fistfight he was in.   On the postive side and just to show there are no hard feelings, the chief made the complainant "Officer of the Year."    
But when it comes to the police, the commission is blinded by positivity.   It's cringeworthy.  One small example, at Tuesday's meeting, the police chief, without an ounce of shame, told the commission that he was too busy after his two week vacation to review the crime stats, but he hoped they were in their packet.  Well, they were and the commissioners were not too busy to take five minutes and review them.   

Instead of calling the chief out for his complete lack of interest in providing his bosses with even the pretense of work, they fell over each other to compliment the chief that felonies were down by 2 in the last month.  The Chief responded far too modestly that the credit belonged not to him but to the force and the community.  It was far too modest of him as clearly the crime rate falls whenever he takes some of his five week per year vacation time.  

I started out talking about the transparent accounting  and it is so much better than it was.   But the reporting needs to be clearer.  We are not over budget because things happened to us.  We are over budget because decisions have been made, some good, some poor, but we are not the victims of circumstance.   If the reporting were better, the cost overruns for legal would be properly reported as police department expenditures.   With that clear knowledge, we know where to look for savings. 

Tonight, the commission is meeting to discuss capping our tax rate at 9.1, the highest in the history of North Bay Village, nearly double our current rate of 4.772.   The police have asked for an additional $1.2 million and that accounts for the bulk of it.  I can't be at tonight's meeting but I am watching this closely.  

Unless the commission loses their rose colored glasses, the taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.   You can't pay for things with unicorns and happy dust.  It's time to cut off the spigot.  

Kevin Vericker
July 18, 2013

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