Sunday, September 23, 2012

Palmetto Bay Budget Review #4. Reaping what you sow. Palmetto Bay faces a money pit in its tennis courts due to Pariser’s failure to keep an eye on the true costs of providing tennis facilities and programming and failure to prioritize.

The initial Palmetto Bay Council set a standard in saving first $9.5, then up to $11.4 million in reserves over its first 8 years (including the 2011/2012 budget, the last one it passed), all this while paying nearly $2 million in combined special police services in its opening years, then phasing out $1.4 yearly in mitigation. 

I made sure that those fees were ended before I left office (despite current candidates taking credit for it).  You would think that would be either a cut in tax rates or being able to fund more maintenance or new capital projects, but no, this council still anticipates raiding unallocated reserves by over $3 million this year alone.

The proposed budget is one where the mayor and council seek to increase authorized personnel (employees) from 70 part and full time (2010/2011 budget – 45 full, 25 part time) up to 82 employees, 12 new (49 full and 33 part time).  This is a 17% increase in non-police, non-contract personnel authorized in a single year. See numbered page 37 of the proposed budget  .pdf page 41. Many of the new employees are required to run the tennis program, the true costs of that discussed later in this article.

This should be raising your financial alarms.  This council spent $140K last year to buy out the tennis vendor contract and proposes $344K more out of reserves this year for the tennis courts alone.  Tennis courts!

Leaving some of these big spenders on the Village Council in office for another 4 year term could completely wipe out the reserves before the end of their next term in 2016. That’s right $11.4 million down to zero; as Palmetto Bay cannot maintain this level of reserve spend down for 4 more years. This level of spend down should not even occur in a single year.

Would you spend down 25 percent of your family’s entire savings this year? If not, then I strongly suggest that you read more of this article.

I have raised this alarm before, stating that it was hard work to both upgrade services and save $9.5 million (later amended up to $11,491,109.00 by the end of fiscal year 2011 (the last budget I created and passed as mayor), so forgive me if I get abit touchy about what I see as ill-advised spending even in the very firstbudget completed by this new village council, which last year sought to spenddown $1.5 million of hard-fought reserves, reversing eight years of policy ofsaving.

I will not restate the facts (taken from the actual proposed village budget). You can read them for yourself: Palmetto Bay budgetReview, part 3. Starting to separate voting fact from campaign fiction A/K/AThe proposed raid on unallocated reserves.

The question is why this is happening.  I have a few clues:

1.      The failure of Mayor Stanczyk and Vice Mayor Pariser to properly use Palmetto Bay’s very effective lobbying team to identify and bring in grants or appropriations to reduce the costs of projects.  $42,000.00 is budgeted in this proposed budget (numbered page 70) for State lobbying services.

Very little have in grants have been brought in through the efforts of the Stanczyk/Pariser administration.  I would suspect less than $15,000 over their two years.  Money is out there, but more importantly, it may not be time to take on huge projects that require draining of reserves if there is no assistance from outside sources.

The initial Palmetto Bay council brought in nearly $20 million (yes, nearly $20,000,000.00) in grants from items that purchased large properties like Thalatta ($3.6 million), paid for the purchase of the Ludovici Park/library property ($250,000 from private donor), well over a million to reduce the costs of Village Hall construction and a very long list from the Florida Recreational Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) that paid for much, if not all of the costs of the playground and pathway creation/revisions up through 2008 in the area parks. 

This council is not working to find alternative sources even though this current budget still provides for $8,000 for council legislative travel (numbered page 70) and appear to be using the fact that many of the sources are currently unavailable as their excuse to raid your reserves.

2.     Poor oversight from Mayor Stanczyk and Vice Mayor Pariser in how they direct staff to spend. There are several prime examples of this:
A.    Removing village vendors from their contract, such as the Jane Forman Tennis Academy (JFTA) without first looking at the costs of government taking over a new business venue. The JFTA is no fan of my time as mayor, but I never would have cut off her contract, at least without a full assessment of the economic impact.  These costs, listed below are taken verbatim for the village budget and should have been disclosed through due diligence. Here is the current list of costs that Mayor Stanczyk and vice mayor Pariser have now obligated we, the taxpayers, to undertake:
1.      Item P 10, $250,000.00 for 2012/13: Coral Reef Park New lighting (Musco) for tennis center courts
2.     Item P 16, $ 94,000.00 for 2012/13: Coral Reef Park Resurface tennis courts; installation of new benches with canopies between courts
3.     Item P 18, $ 10,000.00 for 2012/13: Separate Playground Lighting from Parking Lot, Electrical Circuit to Allow Playground Lighting to Turn Off at Sunset.
(see numbered page 104 of the proposed budget)

The above list is $354,000.00 for one year alone, out of reserves, to cover the costs that used to be, or should have been covered by the outsourced tennis vendor.

Perhaps the most ominous, let me slyly refer to it as the bonus, is the $10K that essentially goes to making sure the playground goes dark at sunset, so families and especially children cannot play after dark in the park, even though the adults are playing tennis on lit courts, refurbished to the tune of your hard earned saved reserves of $344,000.00.

By the way, why are we paying for lights at all if we want to program the playground lights to go off at sunset? (Again, I’m not making this up, the programmed projects are listed on numbered page 104 of the proposed budget).

The conclusion is inescapable that the $50 to $70K in REVENUES that the village received annually in past years from the JFTA is gone and the tennis Courts have now become a huge expense to the Village taxpayers under the Stanczyk/Pariser administration. 

Remember, the current budget (2011/2012) included $129,000 of our tax dollars to buy out the JFTA and there has been no showing of any income that exceed the proposed or even the ongoing current recurring expenditures attributable to the tennis courts. This was pointed out by Grant Miller, Community Newspapers in his 11/29/2011 article: Lack of transparency inPalmetto Bay government

B.    Failure to resist spending to replace existing quality equipment and facilities.  The council leadership has never explained why they were in such a rush to spend tens of thousands of dollars to remake a tot lot that was redone in 2005. Were there not more worthy projects to do?  ANSWER: Certainly there are and they are listed throughout the $1.3 million capital projects for Coral Reef and Palmetto Bay parks. This is duplicate/wasteful spending.

C.    Money spent to start ambitious plans started before testing the public for their approval. I am specifically referring to the costs, hard in the form of hiring consultants to produce the feasibility studies as well as the soft cost in significant staff time devoted to failed projects such as the ill-advised Thalatta plan and the apparently dead parking garage plan.

3.     The failure of Mayor Stanczyk and Vice Mayor Pariser to properly hold a public visioning workshop to properly assess the current wants and needs of the residents.  August and September are traditionally budget months. 2012 saw that month being devoted to the NPO ordinances. This during a time we should have been focusing on Palmetto Bay’s finances.  At least 3 public workshops were held on the proposed ordinances, but zero were held once the proposed budget was released, where the council brought forward an open transparent conversation to truly assess budget priorities and whether we could live within our revenues, should reserves be tapped (or tapped out).  

This is our money.  Shouldn’t we be consulted before they decide how to spend it, especially before they take a critical step in spending down our reserves? Staff is clearly doing the best it can, but the leadership of the Village Council is clearly letting down the residents by failing to keep its focus.


  1. Nothing is going to change until the voters make changes in the elected officials making these decisions.

  2. Can you provide additional details into these proposed additions to the parks?

    1. You really need to review the documents in detail. The proposed capital projects (numbered pages 104-105) total $3,454,747. Many are great projects. Some have been discussed and approved as a concept, such as safe routes to schools (W19, W20, page 105 $133,160 for Coral Reef Elem and $5,670 for Howard Drive), but have people been notified who will have a sidewalk placed on their street? Some proposals bother me such as P09 - Palmetto Bay Park Conversion of Skate Park to Mini Soccer Fields with synthetic turf. Where is the public input? Who says we have the parking for more soccer. Who made this decision and why is the public not being consulted? The skate park was the result of a huge public master plan process. It is obvious that current Mayor Stanczyk and Vice Mayor Pariser think they know what we want and do not feel the need to consult the taxpayers. The one-year cost of the conversion, by the way, is a whopping $250K. I could list more, but these answers really need to come from the current elected officials.