Monday, July 21, 2014

The Straw Budget

Let's begin with what the commission considers good news.  The recovery from the housing crisis has led to more tax revenue if the tax rate stays the same.  About $466,854, a 12% increase to the general fund.  Although our millage rate will stay at 5.4740, the increased property assessments mean an across the board raise for everyone, for the 15% of the residential properties that are homestead protected and a sharper increase for the 85% of non-homestead (rental) properties.  There was no discussion of moving the rates back to the previous millage rate and giving the owners some relief after we suffered a 22.6% tax hike for this year, the highest in the county by 9 points.  (Source:  Florida Department of Revenue

There is some new spending in the budget:  Minor things like $20,000 for a 70th birthday party, $1,500 for giveaways like pens and pads for when the village is at other government events, increasing the Animal Control Budget from $2,500 to $5,000.   (Hey, why not give them a cat instead of a pen?  It would solve two problems)  Then some major spends on a digital sign ($75,000) The largest increase is a cool $322,309 for the Police.

There was one large reduction of $96,000 for legal and a smaller one of $10,000 for planning, the rest of the reductions are fictitious, either money that was not spent in 2014 or money that was never going to be spent in 2015.   On paper it looks like $413,849 but it really about $137,000 since the other items were never going to be spent in 2015.   It's a little like claiming that you saved $345,000 this year by not buying a second home that you never intended to buy.

None of these actually relate to the key items about communications, infrastructure or recreation that the citizens said they wanted in the survey. 

The commissioners did not seriously question anything in the budget.  Jorge Gonzalez didn't even understand that keeping the millage rate the same while raising taxable value was an increase.   Mayor Kreps was glad that the police did not have to worry about accounting for ammunition at the target range, Commissioner Chervony brought up little but did note that the PAL was only funded for $2,000, not enough to have even a single program.

Commissioner Lim asked about the Dog Park and I quote the manager's response:  "Not one thin dime."  

The commission is fine with increased taxes.  The commission is fine with spending the increase on vanity projects and buying endorsements, and have not added any money for recreation programs for kids or oldsters, created no new communications programs so villagers can know what's going on and never even consider property tax relief.

The was one well discussed item - Treasure Island Elementary School and its decline this year by 60 points to a D rated school.   

Let's start with a definition:  Straw Man Argument -
 "A straw man is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent's argument.  To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument." (Source: . “Straw Man.” Straw Man Wikipedia July 2014
The discussion  was exactly that, a fictitious piece of histrionic, tearful rhetoric arguing vigorously against defunding the International Baccalaureate Program at Treasure Island Elementary School.  The thing is, it was orchestrated by one of the only two people who ever voted against the IB program - Mayor Kreps.  Four or five parents were brought in, and children sent forward, to express their shock and dismay that "people" (unnamed but on blogs) were demanding the defunding of the IB program.   The principal herself made a rare appearance to ensure her presence was noted and in a remarkable display of unprofessional behavior, initially refused to come to the dais to answer a demographic question.   She then provided the numbers and snarled that Commissioner Chervony had gotten that number wrong "in his blog."  Chervony doesn't have a blog. 

The other thing is, on this blog and Mario Garcia's blog, in the Facebook group, North Bay Village Residents Speak, nobody has suggested defunding the IB program.  Questions about why the school is failing were raised, legitimate questions, but there is no campaign to stop the IB funding. 

This was all a distraction from the real budget issues at hands and clearly a dress rehearsal for the July 29 meeting, the one where the school board will present on the issue of TIES falling from an A to a D school in four years in a year over year decline, TIES having the second sharpest drop on the FCAT scores in the county and TIES being the fight lowest ranked elementary school in the county.   A classic straw man, make something up  and then attack others for holding that position.  It's also known as lying.  

In this case, it is being done deliberately to stifle discussion of the under-performing school by the community.  Sad.  Do show up July 29 at 7:30 for the real take on the problem.  It affects all of us, not just the kids who suffer from poor education, but our property values and our community are in trouble when our schools decline.

Kevin Vericker
July 21, 2014

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