Sarasota County’s 2009 Jobs Plan – An Analysis

Jobs are top of mind during the 2012 election cycle. Elected officials from President Obama on down are touting their pro-economic growth records and job creation skills. Sarasota County is no exception. It is appropriate to review their on going efforts to “create jobs” in Sarasota County, FL.

In April 2009 Sarasota County released its Five-Year Economic Development Strategic Plan. The Five-Year Plan states, “Community and business leaders have made it clear that a shotgun approach will no longer work. This proposed plan is based on five guiding principles: Promote the growth/health of existing businesses; Create an environment that promotes homegrown businesses and innovation; Diversify the economy through platforms that build on our unique assets; Make strategic plays in emerging markets; ƒ Leverage resources and investments to grow capacity to pursue economic opportunities.”

The plan may be characterized as the County Commission’s “jobs bill”. The strategic plan, now in its third year, recognized that the recession had hit Sarasota. 

Based upon the strategic plan, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners on September 15, 2010 passed Resolution 2010-199. It created a goal to “promote economic activity in the County by providing economic incentives that will encourage diverse new businesses to relocate to Sarasota County and current businesses to expand.” One of the things created was an “economic development fund” and an incentives or awards program. One of the purposes is to attract new or help expanding companies that “provide an above-average wage to its employees”.

The resolution goes into great detail to lay out a series of “Economic Development Factors” that “shall be applied when the Board makes its determination on ad valorem tax exemptions to a requesting business”. But what about guidelines for the “economic development fund”? This question is germane as the fund has already given out $4,482,303 with an additional $5,527,797 in awards remaining to be paid. The $10 million for this “fund” came from the sale of foreclosed properties and collection of unpaid County property taxes. Click here to view the 2012 Economic Development report to the County (slides 65-68).

Jeff Maultsby, Manager of Business and Economic Development, Steve Botelho and Lisa Damschroder from the Office of Financial Planning and Joan McGill, Vice President of Business Development at the Economic Development Corporation, said there is no system in place to select the best candidates to meet the goals established by the County Commission. As of now there is no way to accurately determine any return on investment to the County from these awards (staff indicated the purchase of a software program may to help address this).

Here is an analysis of the County economic development efforts to date:

Of the $4.48 million awarded, PGT received $600,00 and Tervis Tumbler $450,00 (two awards) given since 2010, for a combined total payout of $1,050,000 (23% of all awards to date). These two companies actually added the following: PGT – 432 jobs, Tervis Tumbler – 413 jobs. PGT and Tervis Tumbler added 845 or 80.6% of 1,048 jobs created to date under this awards program.

This would seem like a big win for the County until one drills down a little deeper.

As Resolution 2010-199 states the County Commission wants to attract and expand businesses with an “above-average wage”. The average wage for all industries in Sarasota County according to the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research is $38,660.

According to County staff the actual average wages are: PGT $24,335 (initially projected average wage of $29,500), Tervis Tumbler $26,572 (initially projected average wage of $31,500). Both companies fell well short of the existing County average wage of $38,660: PGT 38% lower and Tervis Tumbler 31% lower. If the County wanted above-average wages they did not get them with these two companies. Even the “projected average wages” for each company were below the County average wage.

If the goal is above-average wages then why give money to any company projecting below-average wages?

Would these jobs have been created without the County awards? According to PGT President Rodney Hershberger the company was planning to close its plant in North Carolina in the 2006-2007 time frame due to the housing slump. The greatest concern was a lack of land and buildings. In the middle of 2010 PGT began looking at options to move the equipment and employees to Florida, with Sarasota, Jacksonville and Miami as possible sites. PGT primarily serves customers in Florida with impact (hurricane) windows and the North Carolina plant was half impact and half non-impact windows. The plant would be closed and operations moved closer to its Florida market. The intent was to move employees to Florida. However, due to deep family roots at the NC plant only 30 employees actually relocated to Sarasota County. Sarasota was always the top choice because this is where PGT was founded and its the central home location, which best serves its impact windows market. Rodney said of the newly hired employees about 70% live in Sarasota, 10% in Manatee County and 20% in Charlotte County. According to Tim Graham, VP of Human Resources for Tervis Tumbler, “Through the assistance provided to Tervis by the EDC grant we were able to substantially increase our production capacity and employment at Tervis.” PGT used its award to off set the cost of moving equipment. Tervis used its two awards to off set impact fees.

Why did Sarasota County taxpayers invest over $1 million in two well established local companies?

Let’s take a look at the remaining 203 jobs “created” to date. Forty-one had an average wage below the County average. The remaining 162 jobs had an average wage of $52,496 or 36% higher than the County average. This average wage increase was offset by the 886 below-average wage jobs.

There remain award commitments of over $5.5 million for the creation of a “projected” 1260 jobs. Will these create more above-average wage jobs? According to the County spreadsheet the companies yet to produce jobs have a “projected average wage” of $50,232. The “actual average wage” of jobs created by these companies to date is $43,368 or 14% lower than the currently projected wages. Another issue is most of the money given to date was given up front before any jobs were created. The current contracts give companies anywhere from 1 to 6 years to actually create the jobs. It should be noted that only recently do the contracts with the County state that the awards will not be made until after the jobs are created. I believed they learned a harsh lesson from $650,000 awarded to Sandborn Studios on September 2, 2010 with no jobs created to date.

Finally, there are nine awards listed on the Economic Development Incentives spreadsheet to either other governments (e.g. City of North Port Economic Development Study, City of Sarasota Newtown Business Assistance Program) or non-profit agencies (e.g. SCOPE – Institute for the Ages, Rev 3 Triathlon). How does a triathlon attract companies offering above-average jobs you may ask? The monies allocated to these governmental and non-profit entities total $3.84 million or 70% of all remaining awards. This allocation of funding is interesting for two reasons 1) there is no system to measure jobs created by inter-governmental transfers and 2) there is already in place a competitive system to allocate funds to non-profit organizations run by the same office that runs this business incentive awards program. This system has been totally bypassed using these “business” awards to non-profits. The awards may violate the intent if not the verbiage of the County Resolution 2010-199 “to relocate and expand existing businesses”. I did not know the County wanted more non-profits who don’t pay taxes to the County!

The Sarasota County Commission took money owed to taxpayers and redistributed it to a stimulus program that: lacked strict/measurable criteria for awarding the money, created jobs that by enlarge offer below-average wages and has no accurate way to measure any return on the taxpayers investment to the County.

The Sarasota County Commission on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 voted unanimously to repeal and replace Resoluton 2010-199 related to economic incentives provided for businesses that relocate to the county.

David E. Merrill, Sarasota business owner and former Mayor of the City of Sarasota, in a September 8, 2012 email to the County Commissioners stated, “So that you don’t look as foolish as Charlie Christ and the city and county commissioners in St. Lucie, I urge you to stop giving ‘corporate welfare’ checks to companies in the name of economic development, and, instead, focus on building a really great community through wise urban design and a focus on aesthetics and quality-of-life issues.  Let the bankers and investors fund private businesses, not our governments.”

Government does not create jobs, profits do. The more products produced the more profit generated. As demand rises, profits rise and more workers are needed to provide the product or service offered. Without profit there can be no job growth. Government must take profits from one company and redistribute it to another to meet government’s goals.

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Watchdog Wire Interviews Blaise Ingoglia, Sheila Krumholz and Marjorie Dannenfelser

Watchdog Wire interviews three citizens who are doing extraordinary things. Each heads their respective organization and tells the truth about the issue that is top of mind with them and their organization. Each organization is non-profit and issue oriented.

LISTEN TO THE EXCLUSIVE WATCHDOG WIRE INTERVIEWS WITH INGOGLIA, KRUMHOLZ AND DANNENFELSER.
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Our guests appear on the Podcast at the time noted below:

11:00 to 11:20 Blaise Ingoglia, www.GovernmentGoneWild.org. Blase speaks to government spending that is out of control and discusses his latest video “One Nation, Under Water”.

11:20 – 11:40 Sheila Krumholz, www.OpenSecrets.org. Sheila describes the influence of money on elections and how both political parties have focused on fundraising as the way to get elected, perhaps to the detriment of the election process.

11:40 to Noon Marjorie Dannenfelser, www.SBA-List.org. Marjorie describes the differences between the Democrat and Republican political platforms on the issue of the sanctity of life. She explains the history of the Susan B. Anthony List and its impact on statewide and Congressional elections.

Each guest provides special insights into why this election is so very important to them and their organization.

UPDATE:

This is a video released by SBA-List.org addressing what Marjorie discussed during her interview with Watchdog Wire – Florida:

Citizens Insurance Under-fire for Rate Increase

Hundreds of thousands of Florida homeowners are receiving notices from their insurance carriers stating, “You are paying more for your policy due to an emergency assessment from Florida Citizens.”

Florida Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is the state-run insurer that provides insurance to individuals who are unable to secure coverage through other insurance carriers. Those covered are often in high-risk or coastal areas. The emergency assessment is “necessary to enable Florida Citizens to pay claims they received from past hurricane seasons.” The emergency assessment is for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (FHCF). The rate increase was passed in July, 2012. According to SunSentinel.com, “Personal residential policies would receive a 10.2 percent statewide average increase, including 10.5 percent for homeowners and 9.7 percent for renters.”

For one homeowner who contacted Watchdog Wire – Florida the emergency assessment on their $160,000 home was $200 per month or $2,400 a year.

Florida has many senior citizens who live on fixed incomes, have seen their investments dwindle and property values drop. A rate increase of this magnitude is problematic for many others who have homes in Florida but live in other states.

To make matters worse it appears that senior officials at Florida Citizens have been spending lavishly while passing on the costs to Florida homeowners. The Florida Citizens website states, “We will demonstrate steadfast adherence to our values and ethical code of conduct.” However, after combing through hundreds of expense reports from the last three years, a team of writers from the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald found executives at the state-run insurance company were living the high life on the company’s dime.

According to investigative reporters Susan Taylor Martin, Jeff Harrington and Toluse Olorunnipa from the Times/Herald, “Chief financial officer Sharon Binnun spent at least $70,000 on travel from January 2011 to June 2012. During trips to Manhattan, Binnun stayed at hotels that cost up to $500 per night. In an April business trip to Bermuda, she upgraded to ‘gold’ status at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, bringing the cost of her room to $633 per night.”

“Former Citizens president Scott Wallace, general counsel Dan Sumner and board chairman Carlos Lacasa indulged in meals that often cost three times the limit put on rank-and-file staff. Wallace flew first-class to London for a meeting with insurers. Travel costs for Citizens — a government corporation run by a board appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and other state leaders — are projected to more than double this year, from $1.5 million to $3.4 million,” note Martin, Harrington and Olorunnipa.

Florida Senator Mike Fasano is having none of these shenanigans. He has sent a letter to Governor Scott and the cabinet asking for an investigation of Florida Citizens. The Tampa Bay Times reports, “Citizens’ top executives and board members have been shameless in the way they lavishly spend tax dollars on travel and related expenses,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said in a statement. “While crying poor mouth they stay in posh hotels, eat expensive meals, and engage in international travel. While so many of their customers are struggling to cut their personal budgets so they can pay their ever increasing premiums, Citizens’ higher-ups are living high on the hog on the public dime.”

This prompted a letter from Barry Gilway, the new President/CEO and Executive Director of Florida Citizens, stating, “As a government entity operating in an international industry, Citizens walks a fine line between fiscal stringency and the need to conduct business internationally on behalf of all Floridians. We also recognize that there is always is room for improvement and that we have a duty to achieve efficiencies in everything we do, whether in Tallahassee or London.”

The next Cabinet meeting chaired by Governor Scott is scheduled for September 18, 2012. Some have questioned the fiscal soundness of Florida Citizens should a major hurricane hit the state.

CFO Jeff Atwater Endorses Five for Florida Plan

Americans for Properity – Florida (AFP-FL) announces that Florida CFO Jeff Atwater endorsed Five for Florida plan.

“I am pleased to announce my endorsement of Five for Florida. The most important issue facing the State of Florida currently is creating and maintaining jobs, and the Five for Florida plan will create a better economic environment and spur job creation,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

He continued, “Candidates, regardless of party, should be supporting this plan because it speaks to government accountability, transparency and job creation. I am confident that if the policies outlined in Five for Florida are implemented by the Legislature, we will save the taxpayers money while encouraging economic development in our state.”

CFO Atwater joins 90 other Florida elected officials and candidates in endorsing Five for Florida and showing their commitment to a better Florida. Citizens all around the state have been endorsing the plan as well, supporting government transparency, financial accountability, the end of cronyism, increased school choice, and the elimination of barriers to entry for entrepreneurs.

A recent poll shows Florida voters across party lines support the reforms in Five for Florida. A recent poll of “likely” voters showed that there is broad-based support for the reforms in the Five for Florida plan amongst Floridians.

SEE SUMMARY OF THE POLL HERE

The poll shows a majority of Floridians, regardless of party affiliation or cultural background, think that Florida’s government can do better and that the reforms proposed in our Five for Florida plan have broad based public support and should be enacted in the next legislative session.

“Candidate’s who ignore these survey results are doing so at their own peril,” said Slade O’Brien, Execitive Director of Americans for Prosperity in Florida. “They have a choice, they can continue to serve the special interests and those that feed at the public trough or they can side with a public that clearly wants more economic opportunity, transparency, accountability and educational choice,” O’Brien noted.

State Attorney Asked To Investigate Potential Absentee Voting Fraud

MIAMI, Aug. 20, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Paul Crespo, candidate for the Florida Republican House of Representatives, sent a formal letter to Miami Dade County State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle asking for a full and immediate investigation into irregularities in the recent absentee voting process in House District 105, specifically focused on electoral precincts in the city of Sweetwater.

A copy of this letter was also sent to Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz; Collier County State Attorney, Stephen Russell; Commissioner Gerald Bailey, head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE); John Boynton, Director of the Florida Division of Elections; Joseph Centorino, Executive Director of the Miami Dade Commission on Ethics; and the United States Attorney for Florida’s Southern District, Wifredo Ferrer.

 This letter provides detailed information pointing to disturbing patterns of irregular absentee voting in this race that could potentially include voter fraud.

 Based on the raw voting data evaluated by our election consultants and attorneys, we believe we have identified significant statistical and anecdotal evidence of serious irregularities in absentee voting that may have dramatically altered the election results in this race.

According to the Crespo campaign serious irregularities in Sweetwater mirror those recently exposed in the nearby city of Hialeah, which have resulted in various arrests.

 “The vote percentages for absentee ballots in Miami Dade County in House district 105 are totally out of line with the early and election day voting numbers, and even more out of line with the voting results in Collier and Broward counties,” said Crespo campaign consultant Emiliano Antunez, “We will be investigating these major discrepancies and reporting any evidence we uncover to all relevant state and federal governing law enforcement agencies.” 

Following the precedent set by the 1997 lawsuit for absentee voter fraud which successfully overturned that year’s City of Miami mayoral election, we are considering taking action against the Carlos Trujillo campaign shortly.

“I am very disturbed by the information I have been shown pointing to potentially serious irregularities in absentee voting performed by my opponent’s campaign,” said former Marine Corps Captain Paul Crespo. “I served 12 years in the US Marines defending our country and our political system. We cannot allow the integrity of our elections to be undermined.”

Link to Paul Crespo Campaign
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Candidate Fitzgerald Violated Ethics Rules?

Former State Rep. and candidate for the U.S. Congress in District 16 Keith Fitzgerald may have violated Florida’s ethics laws by failing to disclose his conflict of interest in voting on more than $100 million dollars in appropriations for his employer, New College of Florida. The College gave Fitzgerald special employment treatment during his years in the legislature.

The Sarasota lawmaker may also have breached the public trust by using his political position to quietly earmarked millions of dollars to the small liberal arts school, which paid him a full-time salary totaling nearly $300,000 to teach part-time.

Florida House Rule 3.2 (a) says that “A member may not vote on any measure that the member knows or believes would inure to the member’s special private gain or loss. The member must disclose the nature of the member’s interest in the matter from which the member is required to abstain.” House Rule 3.2 (b) requires that members disclose “When voting on any measure that the member knows or believes would inure to the special private gain or loss of: a. Any principal by whom the member … is employed.”

House Rule 3.2 (c) requires that “If the vote is taken on the floor, disclosure under this rule or under any related law shall be accomplished by filing with the Clerk within 15 days after the vote occurs.”

Fitzgerald voted on the following budgets that provided New College with a total of $120,831,068:

• Chapter Law 2006-25, which provided $27,412,720 to New College in year 2006-07
• Chapter Law 2007-72 and 2007-326 (Special Session “C”), which provided $37,513,237 in 2007-2008
• Chapter Law 2008-152 and 2009-1 (Special Session “A”), which provided $31,359,534 in 2008-2009
• Chapter Law 2009-81, which provided $24,545,577 in 2009-2010

In an email on July 18, 2012 from Judy Skinner of the Office of the Clerk, “We find no notice of conflicts on file with the Clerk’s Office from Representative Keith Fitzgerald during his term (2006-2010).”

While voting on state funding for his employer, Fitzgerald benefited from special treatment that allowed him to keep 75% of his salary, but spend more than half of the spring semester in Tallahassee for the legislative session. The legislature was in session for nine of the semester’s 15 weeks.

The vast majority of his students gave him poor evaluations. A total of 75.5% of his students who filled out evaluations made negative comments including complaints that he was “tardy” and “inaccessible.”

The appropriations for New College include nearly $6 million dollars Fitzgerald quietly earmarked to the small liberal arts college of about 800 students.

In the 2007-2008 budgets, Fitzgerald requested $1,537,370 for New College for deferred maintenance. In the 2008-2009 budget, Fitzgerald, $4,440,000 in state funding for New College for deferred maintenance. The project received $2,680,937 in the 2009-2010 budget and $3,305,609 in the 2010-2011 budget.

The Observer Newspaper reported on the “altered treatment by New College for Fitzgerald” to allow him to stay on salary despite the fact that the legislature meets full-time for nine weeks in the spring each year. The paper reported that Fitzgerald earned 75% of his salary during the spring semester when the legislature is in session and was paid for a temporary administrative position in the summer to help make up for the slight reduction in salary. This type of situation — and others that appeared to be quid pro quos — prompted the Legislature to look at banning university employees from being legislators.” (Observer Newspaper 2.22.12)

State Senator John Thrasher introduced legislation to prohibit college professors from serving in the state legislature. The Associated Press reported on January 24, 2012 that “Sen. John Thrasher said the bill he’s sponsoring would prevent conflicts such as lawmakers voting on budget provisions that benefit the schools that employ them.” The Florida Times Union reported on January 6, 2012, that the bill was prompted by recent incidents where lawmakers helped a college or university they were associated with. Thrasher said told the paper the relationship “raises red flags” and “brings up an awkward situation when they have to do something like vote for the budget.”

Sarasota County’s Buses to Nowhere

The Sarasota Board of County Commission believes it is their role to provide public transportation. Automobiles, and the emissions they cause, are the culprits. Cars must be replaced by other means of transportation such as: light rail, high speed rail and now special bus routes. As one commissioner put it “we are subsidizing cars”. So the County Commission wants to continue to subsidize the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) buses at a loss of $10 million annually and create a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system as well. BRT and SCAT make the County Commissioners believe they are doing a public service by providing ever more costly public transportation with few riders.

Sarasota County government runs two bus services and both are monopolies. SCAT is run by the County and the other run by Sarasota County School Board. Both are paid for by county property taxpayers. These two mass transit systems are costly and inefficient in their own way. Neither would last long if privately owned. To make them profitable or at least pay for them the actual cost to ride would have to be passed on to the riders.

According to Charles Schelle from Sarasota Patch, “The latest Bus Rapid Transit route will apparently head for a detour. The $100 million transit plan to provide Sarasota with a speedy bus option with limited stops and traffic interruptions had a route set to go from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and south all the way to the Westfield Southgate Mall with several stops in between, with the northern route following an unused Seminole Gulf Railway along Lemon Avenue.”

$100 million for a 20 mile bus route works out to be $5,000,000 a mile. But that is not the full cost.

Schelle reports, “The County has to find ways to fund the $25 million difference, possibly with a transit tax, and the annual operating budget.” These public transit systems always start out underfunded, end up underutilized and the operating costs escalate beyond the initial projections. In other words they are economic failures from the start.

“The commissions focused in on the county Director of Planning and Development Services Rob Lewis’ comments that the Bus Rapid Transit is more about the economic spurs and opportunities areas around the stations can provide and getting people from low income areas to work than being about moving people for sake of reducing congestion. Lewis said staff has not advocated for an altered route,” writes Schelle. There is no explanation on how this bus line helps economic development. Most people do not work at either the Sarasota/Bradenton airport or Westfield Southgate Mall.

County Commissioner Joe Barbetta stated, “I think that we have to look at the BRT as part of a multifaceted plan. SCAT has to be successful or else the BRT doesn’t work. I think a downtown circulator is inevitable for the city or the plan doesn’t work. And the grant funding has to be pursued or else the plan doesn’t work.”

So how do you make SCAT successful? You give away free rides. According to Schelle, “Thursday [April 19, 2012] is Try Transit Day where riders on regular fixed-route SCAT or commuter Express buses will have free fares. On all other days, the standard fare for a single-ride is $1.25 for the regular fixed-route service and $2.50 for the Express service.” These fairs do not come close to covering the cost of SCAT and cannot cover the operational costs of BRT.

SCAT does not break even and therefor is not successful. SCAT will never be successful. The buses run empty, it loses money as far as the eye can see and its purpose is to transport poor people. Success is based on providing a service to people who want it, not creating a service with no real market. SCAT and BRT are buses to nowhere. That is what government does when it spends other people’s money to build failures.

Toll is a Four Letter Word for Tax

Central Florida currently has eight toll roads and one Interstate (I-4). The Interstate is currently the only freeway highway in Central Florida. The tolls were supposed to be a “temporary tax” to cover “the initial construction costs”. However in Central Florida, the Florida Turnpike is now 55 years old, the BeeLine Expressway is 45 years old and the East/West Expressway is 39 years old and the toll taxes are higher today than ever before. Additionally, in South Florida I-75 turns into a toll road, known as Alligator Alley, at Naples and goes to Ft. Lauderdale.

Sally Baptiste from AmericanStatesman.org notes, “Bottom line – toll roads have become a cash cow for the state of Florida and other states. In the case of the BeeLine Expressway, the initial construction 45 years ago was only 6 million dollars. Through my research I also learned that the Florida gas tax money is used to pay for ‘general state expenses’ and not the roads.”

“The politicians will never admit that highways are the LEAST expensive form of transportation and the number one choice of Americans. The politicians are perfectly content to ignore citizens in support their special interest groups. The politicians are perfectly content to ignore the transportation facts and waste our tax dollars in the interest of their personal agendas,” states Baptiste.

Baptiste provides the following points about toll roads in Florida and across America:

  • Toll taxes go AGAINST the public interest. They do not “promote the general welfare” of the people.
  • There are better ways to increase funds for roads with no tax increase or a very very minimal tax increase. However, this requires those in public office to work in the best interest of the people – not their special interests and in some cases their own financial interests (i.e. OOCEA Scott Batterson is one example).
  • Toll taxes are nothing more than a tax against the people.
  • Toll taxes have nothing to do with improving transportation. “Tolls create gridlock”.
  • Toll taxes are a cash cow for the State of Florida and the local municipalities.
  • Toll taxes are regressive. Lower income individuals are harmed the most and toll taxes represent a major expense to small businesses.
  • The “User Fee” explanation is inaccurate, but is easy way to lure taxpayers. It ignores all the taxes we already pay for use of the roads and everyone pays for “Toll Abuse”. Everyone’s cost of living goes up and disposable income is reduced which takes money out of the local economy. These are a few of the costs associated with “Toll Abuse”.
  • The Interstate Highway system was seen as one of the best economic investments made. It supports the economy, national security, law enforcement, emergency services and improved the quality of life for all Americans.
  • The privatization of public assets and infrastructure is part of Agenda 21. The goal is to limit mobility of the American people and make money for government in the process. This does not “promote the general welfare” – toll taxes go against the public interest.

Baptiste asks the typical Florida motorist: Would you rather pay $1200 a year in toll taxes PLUS $300 gas taxes or $400 in gas taxes with access to all roads?

To learn more visit StolenLanes.org.

PODCAST: AFP’s Abigail MacIver Talks about FIVE for Florida Plan

Abigail MacIver

Abigail MacIver, Director of Policy & External Affairs – Florida at Americans for Prosperity, joins Watchdog Wire Radio to explain the FIVE for Florida policy platform that offers real solutions for a better Florida.

The plan outlines five key issues that elected officials can address now to encourage free market principles and government accountability, in order to make Florida number one for families, businesses and entrepreneurs. A growing number of Florida legislators and candidates have signed up as endorsing the plan. The list may be found by clicking here.

Listen to Abigail MacIver explain each of the five policy initiatives proposed by AFP-Florida.

According to the FIVE for Florida website:

“Floridians want elected officials who will speak honestly with them about our problems and enact common sense solutions.

They want more transparency and accountability in their government and for government to stop making financial commitments that taxpayers cannot afford; they want to eliminate the cronyism in our political system and for politicians to stop picking winners and losers in the marketplace; they want to reduce over-burdensome regulations and remove needless or protectionist barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and job creators; and they want an education system that gives them options and a real choice for their children.

ONE: Reform Taxes & End Corporate Welfare

TWO: Don’t Make Financial Promises Taxpayers Can’t Keep

THREE: Be Steward of Good, Transparent Government

FOUR: Empower Kids With the Best Education

FIVE: Free Entreprenuers to Pursue the American Dream

Five for Florida outlines the key issues facing our state and proposes the real solutions that citizens and elected officials can support that will ensure Florida is the best state in the nation, both now and for our future generations.”

Waste in Florida’s Public Libraries

In Florida there are two public library systems. Public libraries are run by both the local sixty-seven county governments and county school boards. In Florida school districts have the same boundaries as the do the counties. A 2004 study by the Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis reports, “In FY 2004 Florida public libraries received $443 million to support all offered services. Given that almost all public library services are delivered locally, it is not surprising to see that almost all funding from public libraries are provided locally.”

The Executive Summary of the 2004 report describes the methodology to determine what the return on investment to Florida is for its public library system. The Executive Summary states, “The total economic return attributable to the existence of the public libraries is $2.9 billion — based on an analysis of what would happen if the public libraries ceased to exist: includes the net benefits (added costs to use alternatives), the benefits that would be lost because users would not bother to use alternatives, and revenues that would be lost by vendors, contractors, etc.”

The return on public library investment was determined using a methodology called “contingent valuation“. Many economists question the use of contingent valuation or stated preference to determine willingness to pay for a good, preferring to rely on people’s revealed preferences in binding market transactions. Early contingent valuation surveys were often open-ended questions. The economic method of evaluation in the 2004 survey for non-priced goods and services looked at the implications of not having the goods/services. The study considered the implications of not having public libraries. The contingent valuation methodology of library users was used to determine, in large part, the ROI of public libraries.

Based on the surveys the study states, “[C]onsidered the implications of not funding the public libraries, but of redistributing the money to alternative government spending activities. Projecting forward over 32 years (2004-2035), the REMI model indicated that if funding for public libraries was reallocated across Florida’s government sectors, the state economy would result in a net decline of $5.6 billion in wages and 68,700 in jobs.”

The study does not address passing savings on to taxpayers and its potential impact on Florida’s local economy of infusing $5.6 billion into the private sector. Rather it focused on redistributing the funds from closed public libraries to other Florida governmental functions.

The study did not address the duplicitous public library systems. For example in Sarasota County, FL there are seven public libraries. The Sarasota County School Board has twenty-four Elementary Schools, nine Middle Schools, nine High Schools, six Special Schools, three Alternative Schools and eleven Charter Schools. The county public libraries are all within a short distance (less that two miles) of a school and in every case multiple schools. There is a proposal to build a new $7.65 million library in the Gulf Gate community. The proposed new library is within two miles of the brand new Sarasota County Technical Institute and the Adult & Community Enrichment Center at SCTI.

The study does not address the long term costs of the library staff. According to Salary.com the average salary for a librarian is in Sarasota County is $49,314, Manatee County $49,625 and Hillsborough County $50,107.  Many librarians are members of the Florida Retirement System, a system that costs taxpayers over $5 billion and will rise to $11 billion to keep solvent.

None of these factors were or are considered when assessing the true long term ROI of running public libraries.

Finally, with the growth of the Internet a third “virtual library” is available to all Floridians at no cost to taxpayers. The long term impact of the internet on reading, researching, personal and professional database use is not addressed in detail in the 2004 study. The publication and use of digital or E-Books is growing exponentially. Digital Book World (DBW) magazine noted in a March 2012 column that, “Total trade revenues were up to $503.5 million in January 2012 from $396 million in January 2011, a 27.1% increase, according to the latest figures from the Association of American Publishers. E-books led the way with $128.8 million in revenue in January 2012 versus $73.2 million in January 2011, a 76% increase.”

“Children’s e-book revenue grew the most in terms of percent growth, up 475.1% to $22.6 million from $3.9 million, but adult trade e-books were up the most in real dollars to $99.5 million versus $66.6 million. The adult trade e-book business is now on track to reach nearly $1.2 billion in 2012,” states DBW.

The rapid use and cost effective downloading of E-Books is not addressed in the 2004 study.

Duplication creates waste and doubly so when done by government at the expense of the Florida taxpayer.

Sarasota County’s Bait and Switch

Citizens of Sarasota County in March 1999 approved and via taxes funds the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP) and Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program, which are designed to acquire and protect natural lands and park lands. Citizens are now questioning county staff efforts to transfer development rights (TDRs) from these publicly owned lands to selected developers. You may read a Cornell University history of Transfer Development Rights programs by going here.

Cathy Antunes, President of Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government, in an email states, “A TDR means Transfer of Development Right. One TDR equals the right to build one dwelling. The County has purchased land for preservation, and some of the County lands set aside for preservation could have been used to build housing. Those preserved lands each have a TDR value.”

Private landownership was and remains one of the first measures of citizenship in the United States. The passion to protect the right of property owners to reap economic gain from their land still burns strongly today. However, is the selling of public land TDRs a government bait and switch?

Accoring to Ms. Antunes, “County staff is advocating that the development rights, or TDRs, for preserved County land be sold to developers so they can increase the dwelling density of their projects. For instance, a developer could pay the County for 1000 TDRs and then build 1000 extra dwellings in the same space where before only 350 dwellings would be allowed. The purchase of 1000 TDRs transfers the right to build 1000 dwellings from County owned preserved land to a different site belonging to the new owner of the TDRs. At this point in time the County does not have an accurate inventory of publicly owned TDRs, nor do they have a reliable method of valuing what a TDR is worth.”

“Regarding County TDR value, so far only one TDR appraisal exists, created by an appraiser that has completed at least one problematic appraisal for Sarasota in the past. That was the Payne Park (3 lot) appraisal done in 2008, which inflated the purchase price of land bought by the City of Sarasota by 2 million dollars. The appraiser valued 3 separate lots along 301 (adjacent to Payne Park) as if they were already one assembled parcel, instead of individually. The result was a 2 million dollar value inflation and gouging of Sarasota City taxpayers. Ouch! Should the County be relying on that same appraiser to be telling them what a TDR is worth? The methodology used to value a County TDR warrants careful scrutiny. At least two more appraisals should be sought,” states Ms. Antunes.

During a radio interview Kathy Bolam characterize the sale of public land TDRs as “Sarasota County’s form of Cap and Trade”. The county is selling something that belongs to the public for a price that it determines outside of the real-estate open market system. Beth Colvin, in an email exchange with Ms. Antunes, states, “Land taken by the govt stops bringing in property taxes and then the rest of us must subsidize the taxes because gov’t has no money other than ours.  If the land can be developed by the government it surely can be developed by private enterprise.”

Ms. Antunes raises a question dealing with the ethical behavior of Mr. Roland Piccone, member of the County Planning Commission.

Ms. Antunes notes, “Now for the ethical question. A development company – Lindvest – would like to purchase 1000 TDRs from the County so that a 350 dwelling project can become a 1350 dwelling project.  A managing partner of Lindvest is also a sitting Sarasota County Planning Commissioner.  That Planning Commissioner is lobbying the County Commission to allow the sale of 1000 TDRs to Lindvest, so they can increase a 350 unit project to a 1350 unit project.  The Planning Commissioner, Mr. Roland Piccone, is “overseeing the planning and development of the project” (quote from the Herald Tribune).  An obvious ethical question arises:  Does the County Ethics Policy allow a sitting planning commissioner to lobby the County Commission on behalf of his employer or company that he/she has an interest in?   Still waiting for clarification from the County regarding the ethics question.”

Pensions, Sick Leave & Vacation Days Bankrupting FL

Slade O’Brien, Director of Americans for Prosperity – Florida, was in Sarasota to present the “Five For Florida” plan to over 200 activists. According to their website, “Five For Florida is a policy plan that outlines five key issues that elected officials can address that will make Florida more economically competitive and government more transparent and accountable.”

Five For Florida is a policy platform that offers real solutions for a better Florida. The plan outlines five key issues that elected officials can address now to encourage free market principles and government accountability, in order to make Florida number one for families, businesses and entrepreneurs. The five key issues are:

ONE: Reform Taxes & End Corporate Welfare

TWO: Don’t Make Financial Promises Taxpayers Can’t Keep

THREE: Be Steward of Good, Transparent Government

FOUR: Empower Kids With the Best Education

FIVE: Free Entreprenuers to Pursue the American Dream

Issue TWO requires that all new state and local government employees be enrolled in 401(k)-style, defined contribution retirement plans. According to the Five For Florida website, “Our politicians must stop making promises that taxpayers can’t afford. We must force them to be honest with us, and make decisions that will protect us now and in the future. We need an honest, transparent retirement plan that works for both hardworking taxpayers and government workers, and we need a property insurance system that will protect our homes without jeopardizing our future financial security.”

Five For Florida presents the following facts:

  • Florida’s Retirement System (FRS) serves more than 1 million government employees, making it the fourth largest public pension program in the country. Source: James Madison Institute
  • The FRS is 88% funded, assuming a 7.75% return on investment. Over the last 12 years, the fund has received an average return of 3.3%. Source: James Madison Institute
  • Florida currently has an optional defined contribution plan, however only 16% of employees elect to be enrolled in it, versus the 84% in the pension plan. Source: James Madison Institute
  • Public sector pension programs guarantee a rate of return that is 3 to 4 times higher than what private sector workers are able to earn. Source: The Heritage Foundation
  • The State of Florida currently contributes $5.5 billion per year to the FRS, but would need to double that contribution to $11 billion a year for the fund to remain solvent. Source: James Madison Institute

Adding to the promises that add to the taxpayers burden is allowing public employees to roll over sick leave and vacation days. According to Brittany Alana Davis’s Tampa Bay Times article “Unused sick days make a nice parting gift for state workers” reports:

“In the budget year that ended June 30 [2012], the state paid out $51.7 million in sick and annual leave to state workers, even as it slashed funds for higher education and public school maintenance. About 28,000 employees left the state during that period.

The figure — which does not include state university and college employees — is only expected to climb as boomers retire. Critics say the system is out of line with the private sector, where few businesses allow employees to roll over their sick days or obtain cash payouts. Most private businesses will not pay employees for more than a few weeks of leave time, and will not pay for unused sick days.”

Davis noted in her article, “Another problem: The state can rarely revoke accrued time, even for those who leave in disgrace.”

Slade O’Brien will be interviewed on Watchdog Wire Radio WWPR AM 1490 Monday, July 16, 2012 from 11:00 to Noon EST. To listen to the live stream over the internet go to this link.

City of Sarasota accused of violating Florida anti-trust law

city of sarasota logo

Government contracting has become a major sticking point in Sarasota County, Florida and now at the City of Sarasota Commission level. Sarasota County government has had problems within its contracting process. Staff was allowed to operate in a manner that brought discredit upon the County Commissioners. The County has lost not only their administrator but the confidence of the people. In March 2011 former County employee Rodney Gene Jones was arrested for accepting bribes from contractors. Jones was arrested under the Florida Anti-Trust Act of 1980.

Whenever our elected officials become too dependent on staff and committees bad things can and usually do happen. Fast forward to today. Are we seeing a repeat of what happened at the county level with the City of Sarasota? The filing of a complaint involving Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation may give us a clue.John C. Minder P. E., P. S. M., President of Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation, has been a Registered Professional Engineer in six states including Florida and a Registered Professional Surveyor & Mapper in two states including Florida. John has lived in Sarasota County for thirty years.Recently John submitted a routine proposal to the City of Sarasota. His proposal was ultimately denied, which is fine until John began checking into how his bid was scored and who scored it. What got John’s interest was an anonymous letter he received about possible staff malfeasance on a county contract due to improper scoring.

John submitted a formal complaint to the City Commissioners.  In his complaint John states, “It is our professional opinion that the … scoring of points out of a possible 100 points was arbitrary and capricious by two of the Engineering Technicians on the Selection Committee.”

The complaint points out, “Although we are not trained investigators it is our professional opinion there appears to be collusion between the scoring of points by Engineering Technician’s Proposer No. 1 and Proposer No. 5 of 66.5 points or at a minimum a lack of professional qualifications to be on the Selection Committee. It is also our professional opinion that there is some sort of a connection between Bayside Engineering, Inc. of Tampa, FL and some members of the Selection Committee.”

The complaint concludes, “Our appeal to the City of Sarasota, FL City Commissions of the violation of CHAPTER 542 OF THE FLORIDA ANTITRUST ACT OF 1980 includes the arbitrary and capricious scoring of points by some of the members of the Professional Review Selection Committee. Some members of the Professional Review Selection Committee were not Registered Professional Engineers but they were reviewing the qualifications of Registered Professional Engineers when they were not qualified Registered Professional Engineers.”

Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation requested signed notarized statements of the professional opinions of each member of the Selection Committee in their ranking of Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation based on the written Proposal submitted by Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation.Deputy City Administrator Marlon Brown acknowledged John Minder’s information request and provided all information requested except for the notarized statements. Marlon in an April 20, 2012 e-mail to John stated, “As shared with you when you met with me, I stated that our policy did not require that a written and notarized reason from each committee member as to why you were not chosen or short-listed be provided. You stated that this would help you with future proposals. I understood that but I did not feel comfortable doing as you requested. As a courtesy, I shared with you that I would check with the City Attorney’s Office to see if they agreed or disagreed with providing the information. I have done that and unfortunately, the City Attorney agrees that this should not be done. I also shared with you that if you had a problem with our procurement policy that you have the right to share those concerns with the City Commission at any Commission meeting under citizens’ input or you can do so when we bring the revisions to the policy to the City Commission (date to be determined). Sorry that we could not be of further assistance. Have a great weekend.”John did appear before the City Commission and made them aware of his concerns. According to Deputy City Administrator Brown one request for proposal was in fact cancelled because of John’s showing that the specifications were flawed. Marlin also said that no evidence of any collusion or special treatment in this particular bid was found.

Mayor Suzanne Atwell has spoken of an accountable City of Sarasota, FL and City Staff. In the Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation case answering their request was a first step in accountability and transparency. It is fitting and proper for elected officials to be highly sensitive to the citizens they represent.

Citizens like John, you and I must be constantly vigilant of government, its hired staff and appointed committee members colluding to give special treatment to any firm. As government becomes more elitist and arrogant so do staff and appointed committee members. At times it seems staff and committees run roughshod over citizens and businesses without proper oversight by elected officials.

It is the duty of elected city and county officials to protect the property rights of citizens, not abuse them. Accountable means to the people, period.