South Dade Matters

Looking at the World South of Miami: Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami and Miami-Dade County.

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PB: Charter Amendment – SDM Says Vote Yes

Palmetto Bay voters may be scratching their heads when they notice the charter amendment on their ballots. What, pray tell is the origin of this question?

Referendum Regarding Expansion of Private Schools: The proposed Charter Amendment changes the requirement that 75% of the electors living within a 2,000 foot radius of a private school seeking to expand student enrollment approve of such expansion in a referendum to a requirement that a majority of such electors approve of such expansion in the referendum. Shall the above described amendment be adopted?

SDM wrote a blog on May 2, 2013 explaining the history of the amendment.  (Hint: You may enjoy the Monty Python reference.) Later in that year, the village held a referendum asking whether the Alexander Montessori School should be allowed to add students. Here is what we wrote in the aftermath of that vote:

Lindsay’s Lawsuit City

In what SDM sees as a very sad story, a Palmetto Bay’s Alexander Montessori School failed to garner enough votes to add a paltry 59 seats to its enormous 270 student body. As SDM blogged about in PB: Ready for Another Lawsuit?, the Alexander school needed to convince 75% of its neighbors to vote for the school’s expansion.

This crazy requirement comes from a Councilwoman Joan Lindsay sponsored charter amendment, which foolish Palmetto Bay voters adopted after Ms. Lindsay lost her battle against the Palmer Trinity expansion. Ironically, Ms. Lindsay asked the Alexander School’s neighbors to vote for the expansion, though SDM doubts Ms. Lindsay would have  given Palmer a positive vote if it were up to her.

One of the school’s owners told the Miami Herald that they may ask the voters to consider their plan again. SDM has to give the guy credit for being an optimist. The tragedy is that instead of investing his hard earned money in improving his school, the owner is forced to pay for another referendum that he might lose again. Of course, a referendum might be less expensive than a long and protracted lawsuit, especially given the village council’s history of intransigence.

SDM Says: Councilwoman Lindsay often strikes a tone of reasonableness now that her re-election is on the near term horizon. But this referendum requirement that she mothered into existence will eventually be challenged in court on basic fairness principles. In the meantime, children and property owners in this village are suffering. When voters evaluate her record, Councilwoman Lindsay must not be permitted to escape her legacy of litigation.

The charter amendment rids the village of the dangerous, arbitrary and totally unfair 75% requirement and grants a majority of neighbors a veto of a privates school’s expansion plan.

SDM Says: We will vote yes because the amendment is an improvement over the status quo, but we still think the requirement violates the school’s due process rights.

PB: Peter England’s Record – Part I – The Early 80’s

SDM saw a mailer for the Peter England for Mayor campaign and it got us to thinking about what we know about Mr. England’s service as Vice Mayor of St. Petersburg, which is…nothing, until now.

SDM spent some valuable time researching and found a trove of information about Mr. England’s service to St. Petersburg so we decided to share some of it with you in these pages. Because there is so much to review, we will be publishing two parts. Today’s post will cover his first term and the next part will cover his second term.

The First Term

Peter England’s political activism appears to have started in 1979, at the very end of the Carter years. Late in 1979, England decided to seek public office. He was young and worked for a St. Pete bank. He had (and still has) a beautiful wife and family; his wife June ran a tight ship.

Despite not being endorsed by at least one paper in the area, England ultimately won a spot as Councilman for District 5 after beating back a challenge from a Black opponent who complained of some ballot chicanery. (Check out an England ad by clicking here.)

It appears England joined a city facing serious economic challenges, including an enormous deficit. Of course, this was the early 1980s when double digit inflation wreaked havoc on government budgets. Changes in the federal budget caused England to work on saving Amtrak service to St. Petersburg.

To cure its own budget problems, St. Petersburg considered hiking utility taxes and recreation fees though the Council was split on how to address the city’s revenue and expenditure imbalance with England “supporting the increase.”

The council ultimately chose to raise property taxes by 7.7% along with increasing water, sewer and garbage collection fees. (The budget story continues here (scroll up and right) and here and includes an amusing reference to a Carter-era rule limiting thermostat’s to 78 degrees, which made an already difficult budget literally “heated.”)

Though the final budget story doesn’t lay out the votes, England appears to have supported the tax and fee increases when he said in a prior meeting that “[t]he selective cuts we can make are not going to have a major impact on the bottom line. So we have to look at (increasing) revenues.” (Emphasis in the original.)

The budget battle seemed to take a toll on the council’s comity when a couple months later a shouting match broke out at City Hall. England is reported to have “exploded,” calling a fellow council member a “one-man wrecking crew about this council’s credibility with half-truths and innuendos.” England told the official he “was sick of it.”

As 1980 progressed, England involved himself in reinvigorating a portion of the St. Pete waterfront by joining on a trip to see how other cities were doing it. But the city council’s propensity to travel during a budget crisis caused a minor rift when it was extended to visiting the home towns of city manager candidates.

Nevertheless, England went about the city’s business, voting on zoning changes, dealing with a proposal to close a municipal pool, calling for evening meetings to allow more public participation, and working with federal officials on a dredging project. Amid the drudgery of council service, England had to defend himself against an ethics charge that was ultimately decided in his favor.

In heat of summer, St. Pete’s budget problems continued to plague the council. At a tense meeting on August 29, 1980, England rejected a call to cut costs to balance the budget. England explained his position in clear terms:

I think we have a reasonable budget. If we don’t bite the bullet and go for a major tax increase, this city is going back to the dark ages. I don’t think anyone wants unnecessary services, but unless we make some difficult moves on the property tax, it’s going to go beyond cutting things that are nice to have.  We’re going to get into the meat and the bones.

But the city council’s budget wasn’t always popular. The city’s decision to reduce bus services caused the city council to feel the protest at home.  After a bombardment of phone calls, the council changed course and restores some of the night routes. This would not be the last time England would change course on a budget decision.

Despite the city’s budget troubles, England proposed a pay increase for the city’s manager and several months later, a raise for the city council.  England said he didn’t “have any apologies for bringing [a raise for the council] up.”

1981 saw another tough budget year, which coincided with the legislature’s adoption of the convoluted truth-in-millage law. When the city issued its tax bill, taxpayers erupted in fury, which caused the council to rethink its budget strategy. According to reporting by the St. Petersburg Evening Independent newspaper:

England, who had earlier this week said he was satisfied with current 1981-81 (sic, should be 1982) budget proposal said he heard the word: “It caused me to rethink and relook at just exactly what we are going to spend this year. Everybody’s going to have to give one last agonizing reappraisal at what we are going to spend next year…The question is, what services are you willing to give up?”

The budget wasn’t the only trouble facing the city. In December of 1981, England took another stand when he pushed his fellow council members to approve a controversial HUD apartment complex to provide affordable housing.

Then as 1982 dawned, lighter issues attracted the council’s attention. On a 4-3 vote, the council permitted drinking beer and wine at city parks for certain events. England said he supported the measure because it legalized “something that’s already taking place.”

Also in 1982, England objected to a cut to the city’s public information office and later found a compromise that made the city’s financial disclosure law less burdensome on England and his fellow elected officials.

The end of 1982 also marked a transition period for England. The 1983 elections loomed only a few months away and before the year was out, England would become a major player in the issue that would dominate his second and ultimately incomplete term as a in office: The Quest for Major League Baseball.

PB: An Endorsement to Ignore

In the “no surprise there” category, outgoing Councilwoman Joan Lindsay issued an endorsement of Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, which Mme. Mayor posted on her campaign site. Mrs. Stanczyk, er, Mrs. Lindsay makes a couple of claims that SDM decided to evaluate and analyze.

According to Lindsay:

Under her leadership as Mayor, Village reserves have grown to $13.6 million from $9 million in 2010…

The truth about the village’s unassigned fund balance (i.e., the “reserves”) is that they are expected to be about the same as the year Mrs. Stanczyk first took office (the first budget for which she is listed is FY 2006-07):

Year                      Fund Balance
FY 06-07             $9,034,987 (Actual)
FY 07-08             $13,589,615 (Actual)
FY 09-10             $15,502,780 (Actual)
FY 10-11             $8,573,042 (Actual)
FY 11-12             $9,500,714 (Actual)
FY 12-13             $10,453,169 (Actual)
FY 13-14             $10,035,468 (Estimated Final)
FY 14-15             $9,054,468 (Proposed Budget)

It’s hard to figure why Mme. Mayor wants to tout these figures, or even from where she is drawing them in the first place. Perhaps a better set of figures to look at is the ever-increasing number of employees Palmetto Bay residents pay for under the Stanczyk era:

Year                           Full Time           Part Time
FY 06-07 (Actual)          22                          20
FY 14-15 (Proposed)      53                          30

So, in about 8 years, Palmetto Bay almost doubled the number of regular employees. SDM can’t help but wonder why Mrs. Lindsay isn’t touting Mme. Mayor’s incredible ability to bloat our local bureaucracy.

As we’ve said in the past, we will miss Mrs. Lindsay’s intellect on a council that is in short supply of the quality. However, we won’t miss her selfish use of the village resources to wage the war on Palmer Trinity School, surely the most divisive campaign in the 10 year history of our little burgh. And, we won’t miss her incomprehensible slavish devotion to this failed mayor.

PB: How to Plan a Park

Palmetto Bay needs to rebuild, restore or replace the main building at Coral Reef Park according to village staff testimony during the recently concluded budget hearings.

Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, outgoing Councilwoman Joan Lindsay and Councilman Tim “Marathon Man” Schaffer all voted to retain a $10 million “place marker” in the capital section of the budget ostensibly for this purpose.

Vice Mayor John Dubois and Councilman Patrick Fiore (a candidate for Mayor) voted against keeping the $10 million line item because: (a) there is zero chance the village will spend the money during the budget year, because (b) nobody knows what this building would look like or what its programming would be.

cart-before-horse-2

As Dubois and Fiore rightly point out, the administration’s proposal puts the cart before the horse.

Now, there is a better way. Did you see yesterday’s Miami Herald story on the new park proposed for Wynwood? A private individual funded an international architectural competition to come up with a design that would transform his parking lot into an iconic public space. The result is pretty darn cool:

Wynwood Greenhouse Credit Azeez Bakare

The lesson here is that the private individual laid out some general parameters and then asked some clever people to deliver a design that would capture the imagination.

The Village of Palmetto Bay could try something similar. First step is to imagine what the village wants – within reason. For example, we don’t need to build something that competes with private owners (think: gyms, wedding venues, gun ranges :) ). We probably could use a public gathering space for indoor and partially indoor events. As a village we shouldn’t be too quick to jump on any one concept or, likewise, too quick to dismiss realistic options.

SDM Says: Once the Village People decide what we want and have a basic understanding of what we can afford, why not try our own competition and see what the world suggests? Maybe there’s an opportunity for a public-private partnership, too. The point is, while the horse’s ass must be in front of us that doesn’t mean we must be led by one. :)

PB: Fact Checking Mayor Stanczyk

Yesterday, SDM harangued Mayor Shelley Stanczyk for her terrible idea of raising taxes for Palmetto Bay’s policing unit. In that post, we repeated a statement Mrs. Stanczyk made where she claimed the village paid $4.6 million for police when she joined the village council. In fact, that statement is wrong, but it pales in comparison to the rest of what we discovered.

First, let’s fact check Mrs. Stanczyk. The first village budget that lists Mrs. Stanczyk as a member of the council is for the 2006-07 fiscal year. The actual cost for the policing unit in FY 2005-06 was $5,651,266 and in FY 2006-07 it was $5,768,938. She was only off by a million bucks…not bad for eight years on the council.

That Mrs. Stanczyk misstated a fact is not the surprise that caused SDM to write this post today, however. If you remember yesterday’s post, Mrs. Stanczyk said her tax increase proposal would be “a tool that you can use to provide for the continuing safety that we feel that a correct number of officers – our officers do a great job we want to continue to have that excellent service.” (We know, she has a way with words.)

Implicit in her statement is that there is a “correct number” of police officers and, SDM presumes since she wants more money, that we haven’t reached that number yet. Which begs the question, how many officers did we have when Mrs. Stranczyk started and are we at a number that is more correct today?

Remember, next year’s budget calls for $7.2 million to be devoted to Palmetto Bay’s policing unit, which is an increase of approximately $1.55 million or 17.4% over the amount we paid when Mrs. Stanczyk first darkened the council’s door. Councilman Schaffer told us that police officers cost about $150,000 each per year, so we should be seeing a pretty big jump in police staffing, right?

Wrong. In FY 2006-07, the Palmetto Bay policing unit employed 33 officers and 15 support employees (including some officers who are administrators) for  a total of 48 personnel. The projected budget for FY 2014-15 budgets for 35 officers and 11 support employees (including one fewer sergeant than 2006-07) for a total of 46 personnel.

Got that? After eight interminable, or so it feels, years of the Stanczyk administration, the police budget has bloated by $1.5 million and it employs fewer people than it did when she joined the council! (She can’t even claim to have added 2 officers because the village employs one fewer sergeant, which is also an “officer.”)

SDM Says: If staffing levels equal service (which they don’t), then Palmetto Bay police “service” has declined during Mayor Stanczyk’s tenure while at the same time becoming far more expensive.  You can’t make this s@$% up.

Note to David Singer: Maybe somebody ought to ask Mme. Mayor why she continues to claim that police service has improved during her tenure, when by her definition it clearly hasn’t.

+++

Snarky Bonus Mini-Post:

While reading through the 2006-07 budget, SDM ran across this little nugget on page 7:

Fire-Rescue Commitment – Palmetto Bay, with the assistance of our colleagues and partners at Miami-Dade County, has secured a commitment from the Miami-Dade Fire Department to locate 2 new fire stations on the east side of the Village. This is a major achievement.

Eight long years later and Mayor Stanczyk still has not fulfilled the Fire-Rescue Commitment, now THAT is a major achievement…not. :)

PB: Budget Part II, Fire Station – The Shelley Show Fail

The Stanczyk Tax Increase Plan In Her Own Words

Have you heard the latest brilliant idea from your tax and spend village mayor? After confessing that since she took office that the cost of police services in the village rose from $4.6 million to today’s budget of about $7.2 million (a stunning revelation in and of itself), Mayor Shelley Stanczyk proposed for the second time creating a separate millage rate just for police services. See budget meeting at 44:00 through 46:00.

Stanczyk initially stated that her preferred rate would be “0.1.” She went on to explain that Palmetto Bay’s ad valorem taxes do not yield enough revenue to cover the current police budget, yet another startling revelation from a Mayor who is pinning her re-election chances partly on her stewardship of the village budget.

Before we analyze the idea, let’s read the Mayor’s own words:

While at this point, when I was first elected, we paid $4.6 million on police, police continues to increase just as salaries increase, contracts change to allow for increased services, increased benefits, increased insurance…those are carry backs. Those are things that carry back to us because we pay a cost plus contract.So each year if the cost of an individual officer increases, even though we are under contract, we are going to bear some increase in cost.

And I think, in discussions with the manager, we’ve talked about the fact that in the future we may want to set a millage that’s separate – separate out and carve out our millage – to allow for adequate police services.

So that millage that’s connected directly and only to police, for instance, if it raised point-zero-one, it would only go to police. So that you have – while no one wants to raise taxes, no one wants to do that, but the priority in this village has been safety and security. And that’s a tool that you can use to provide for the continuing safety that we feel that a correct number of officers – our officers do a great job we want to continue to have that excellent service.

Aside from the rambling, would creating a separate millage rate for police – as the mayor outlined the proposal – work?

Let’s start with the Mayor’s proposed rate. Understand that that Palmetto Bay’s current millage rate (property tax) is 2.447 and it is projected to yield about $5.7 million next year.  And, the Mayor is right that the property tax isn’t sufficient to pay the projected police budget of $7.2 million.

So how would a separate millage rate of – let’s be generous and help the Mayor out – of say 1.0 (1 mill) pay for the police department? Well, of course it wouldn’t. Mrs. Stanczyk’s tax increase would would be new money on top of the existing police budget. The fact is that the police budget is starting to crowd out other priorities in this village, which was predictable when the council started adding officers even though the police chief didn’t ask for them and the manger said we didn’t need them.

SDM Says: It’s obvious that Mayor Stanczyk knows of no other way to manage a budget unless her options are either to raid reserves or to raise taxes. She won’t consider economizing or taking a serious look at whether we are getting our money’s worth from the Miami-Dade County contract.  More police does not equate to less crime or more security and this mayor just doesn’t get it.

Fire Station Fail

If Mrs. Stanczyk’s insistence on a tax increase doesn’t get you to look at one of her challengers, then surely the cluster-fire she’s created on locating a north-end fire station ought to do it.

SDM News Flash: One little factoid really caught SDM’s attention during Mayor Stanczyk’s smarmy lecture on the history of the fire station. Did you know that Palmetto Bay hired a lobbyist for $50,000 to secure a few acres of the USDA property at the corner of SW 136th Street and SW 67th Avenue? Stanczyk noted that the effort failed. Are we adding this number to the cost of the fire station fiasco? Inquiring minds would like to learn more about this little nugget.

SDM has opined in the past that we need a northern fire station. We also have no problem with the so-called “Farmer Road” site.

Aside to Candidate Dave Zisman: You almost had us fooled. You’ve been doing your door-to-door thing and sounding reasonable. You even came out in favor of the Farmer Road site, which is near your home, the last time it appeared on a council agenda. Then, you got some political religion, right? You decided that this issue was just too ripe not to pick from the political tree of chaos. Now, you’ve decided to flip your position and oppose the site near your house because of your objections to the site plan. We see through you, Dave, and your flip-flop bodes ill for a council seat. Beware all you Palmetto Bay voters – this guy can’t change his stripes permanently.

We also have no problem with a site across the street from the Farmer Road site, which apparently is also under contract by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

Here’s our problem: This village doesn’t need another war between groups of property owners. The fire department ought to pick a location and take it to the council one time. This plan where two sites are put in play for negotiation reasons is a recipe for antagonism and unnecessary bad feelings.

SDM Says: The Mayor, as soon as she heard about this new location going under contract, should have deferred the Farmer Road decision. She should have called a meeting with her staff and the County Mayor and pushed them to make one choice. It’s tough to locate these kind of facilities. We don’t need an incompetent mayor muddling the process even more.

Guest Post By David Singer: A New $10 Million Dollar Hot Dog Stand?

Tonight’s budget hearing is expected to be the last in which Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and Village Manager Ron Williams will be attending from the dais. As it stands now Mayor Stanczyk is polling either 3rd or 4th in Mayor’s race and Village Manager Williams contract will expire the first quarter of 2015. During their tenure, both have brought controversy to the Village and in the eyes of Village residents, it’s apparently time for them both to bid a fond farewell.

Unfortunately, for the residents of Palmetto Bay before they leave they are attempting to saddle the Village with the largest budget in Village history. If the 2014/2015 budget passes as currently proposed, it will have financial ramifications on Village residents for years to come.

I’m not going to waste time in this blog addressing the proposed decrease in police protection, increase in Village employees and staff payroll raises. Instead I’ll focus on a couple of large line items which will cause an increase in property taxes within the next 3-5 years if approved.

The most egregious budgeted line item is a $10 million dollar slush fund set up for Coral Reef Park. This capital improvement project, which equates to approximately 60% of annual Village Revenue, has no detail as to how the money is to be utilized. No pictures, no financial data, no time projections, no details, nothing. The Village Manager and Financial Director could not present any information to the Council at the last budget meeting as to where exactly $10 million dollars would be spent; they could only to say it was a place holder.

If rumors I’ve heard from various Village staff member are true, they are actually planning on razing the Million Dollar hotdog stand that is barely four years old with part of this slush fund. I also heard this money is going to be spent on a community center which will have round-the-clock lighting and will require night time operations as well as membership fees required both of resident and non-village residents along with more employees to operate it. Nobody actually in the Village knows where this money is to be spent, the actual final costs or the yearly operational expenses.

Since spending $10 million dollars at Coral Reef Park would reduce the Village reserves to basically nothing, I can only assume the Village is planning on issuing bonds to complete any work that is planned at the park. This would require yearly debt service by the Village thus increasing required revenue from Village residents.

Does the Council actually believe there is one resident in Palmetto Bay which would support the budgeting and expenditure of $10 million dollars without a plan of action or a detail of where the money will be spent? What is the Village Manager thinking? What are any council members who vote for this slush fund thinking?

To make matters worse, the $10 million budgeted for Coral Reef Park is not the only park expenditure the Council is voting on without any detail. There is at least $ million more budgeted to be spread around at Palmetto Bay Park and Perrine Park without any real detail. I guess these are place holders too. Total capital budgeted this year is approximately S$17 Million Dollars with $12 Million going to our various parks without any detail. This is what I consider your municipal government at work.

There is a lot to criticize about this year’s budget presented by the Village Manager Williams and Finance Director Chin. Most of the budgeted expenditures can be corrected after their departure since they only have an effect on the 2014-2015 fiscal year. A $10 million dollar slush fund is one that can’t be easily fixed and the Council must do what’s in the Village’s best interest by voting to remove it at tonight’s budget hearing.

David Singer

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