Emer­gency med­i­cal sub­sta­tion on chop­ping block in Fort Laud­erdale

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Brit­tany Wall­man South Florida Sun Sen­tinel

Fort Laud­erdale nipped and tucked the bud­get Thurs­day night to avoid rais­ing the prop­erty tax rate, an ac­ri­mo­nious process that pushed tough de­ci­sions off to next year.

At the first of two bud­get hear­ings, city com­mis­sion­ers agreed to keep the same prop­erty tax rate for the 12th straight year. They also agreed to make good on a cam­paign prom­ise: Over the next four years, the city will stop si­phon­ing an an­nual $20 mil­lion out of the water-sewer fund to use on other things. For this year, that meant $5.1 mil­lion had to be cut from the pro­posed bud­get.

That’s rel­a­tively small beans in the con­text of a $363.8 mil­lion gen­eral fund bud­get. But it was done la­bo­ri­ously and with plenty of ran­cor.

“You just keep spend­ing and spend­ing,” Mayor Dean Tran­talis com­plained, cap­ping off a lengthy rant at the city man­ager for not mak­ing the nec­es­sary cuts be­fore Thurs­day’s meet­ing.

“I don’t keep spend­ing and spend­ing,” City Man­ager Lee Feldman re­sponded. “... Ev­ery ser­vice that we pro­vide means some­thing to a neigh­bor that’s out there.”

Bud­get hear­ings are typ­i­cal fare for lo­cal gov­ern­ments. But this was not a typ­i­cal year. A new slate of peo­ple rode into of­fice in the spring, and they vowed to make good on their prom­ise to leave the water-sewer fund alone. As pipes burst around the city, $20 mil­lion a year had been re­moved from the water-sewer fund to prop up the bud­get.

But Feldman didn’t sub­mit a bud­get with the $5.1 mil­lion in cuts. He rec­om­mended the city raise the tax rate in­stead. His menu of pos­si­ble bud­get cuts in­cluded in­stal­la­tion of new play­grounds, a sum­mer youth em­ploy­ment pro­gram, fi­nan­cial sup­port for the Win­ter­fest Boat Pa­rade and money to help ad­dress the home­less prob­lem.

He warned there were no easy choices. “Ev­ery­body wants to go to heaven,” he said ear­lier in the week, “but no one wants to die to get there.”

Com­mis­sion­ers largely ig­nored Feldman’s list of po­ten­tial re­duc­tions and in­stead pored over a list of cap­i­tal projects to make these cuts:

■ $500,000 for a cross­walk at Las Olas Boule-

vard and South­east Fifth Av­enue, where peo­ple fre­quently jay­walk.

■ $500,000 for street­lights on East Las Olas Boule­vard.

■ $313,000 for re­mod­el­ing on the sev­enth floor of City Hall, where the city man­ager and city at­tor­ney of­fices are.

■ $3 mil­lion for an emer­gency med­i­cal sub­sta­tion in south­east Fort Laud­erdale. It will be post­poned to fu­ture years.

■ $264,857 for signs and “wayfind­ing” in­for­ma­tion to help peo­ple find their way around down­town.

■ $131,360 City Hall se­cu­rity im­prove­ments. Feldman said the im­prove­ments al­ready are com­plete.

■ $325,000 in en­hanced me­dian main­te­nance the city planned to do. Some money will be spent on me­di­ans. But the city also will start a pro­gram ask­ing pri­vate land­scap­ers to “adopt a me­dian.”

“I feel like this is a telethon,” Com­mis­sioner Steve Glass­man said as com­mis­sion­ers tal­lied up the items they’d cut and an­nounced how much they still needed to slice, over an hour and a half.

Com­mis­sioner Robert McKinzie crit­i­cized Tran­talis and Glass­man for “bad­ger­ing” the city man­ager. He sug­gested they agree with his pro­posed bud­get and take a year to scru­ti­nize spend­ing and make wise cuts.

“If I was the city man­ager,” he said, “I’d get up and I’d walk out of here.”

Feldman and City Au­di­tor John Herbst said the cuts com­mis­sion­ers made Thurs­day night were one-time ex­penses, en­sur­ing that next year, com­mis­sion­ers will have to go through the same process.

In fact, next year, an ad­di­tional $5 mil­lion must be re­moved, as the city weans off the water-sewer money.

Ac­tivist Mary Fer­tig lamented that com­mis­sion­ers con­ducted the last-minute cuts with­out re­search­ing the projects they deleted.

She thanked them for not con­tin­u­ing to re­move money from the water-sewer fund, but she said the way they made the cuts would only make it harder next year. She said that’s not what vot­ers were look­ing for.

“What I saw tonight was not a process. It was a last­minute at­tempt to cut things, and you don’t even know the im­pact,” said Fer­tig, whose photo hangs in the City Com­mis­sion cham­bers as cit­i­zen of the year. “I saw you cut projects like that EMS sta­tion that you just told peo­ple two meet­ings ago that you were go­ing to do.”

Within min­utes of the bud­get cut­ting exercise, War­ren Stur­man, a car­di­ol­o­gist, com­plained about one of the dele­tions. He said the EMS sta­tion is vi­tal and should be re­stored.

“While it is vi­tal,” the mayor re­sponded, “some­thing had to be cut.”

Shortly af­ter the cut­ting, Tran­talis an­nounced that the county wants $1 mil­lion from the city to help ad­dress the home­less prob­lem.

The vote on the pro­posed bud­get was 4-0.

Com­mis­sioner Ben Sorensen was ab­sent. He made an out-of-state com­mit­ment be­fore the hear­ing was sched­uled, he said. The city char­ter does not al­low him to vote on the tax rate and bud­get by phone.

The fi­nal votes on tax rate and bud­get will be at 6 p.m. Wed­nes­day in City Hall, 100 N. Andrews Ave. It can be viewed on­line at fort­laud­erdale.gov. The to­tal bud­get is pro­posed at $785.3 mil­lion.

The bud­get year starts Oct. 1.

The city prop­erty tax rate cur­rently is about $412 for ev­ery $100,000 of tax­able prop­erty value. It will re­main at that rate.

Us­ing the same tax rate still re­sults in a tax in­crease city­wide, bring­ing in $10.4 mil­lion more taxes for the city, be­cause prop­erty val­ues rose 6.34 per­cent, not count­ing new build­ings that also will gen­er­ate more taxes. To view your po­ten­tial tax bill, look up your prop­erty at bcpa.net.

The fire as­sess­ment, which ap­pears on prop­erty tax bills, is pro­posed to re­main at $256 a year. An in­crease is planned next year. Util­ity rates will in­crease 5 per­cent. Stormwa­ter rates, used for drainage, will go up $2 a month for sin­gle-fam­ily home­own­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.