The Citizens for Responsible Spending (CRS) and members of the Budget Hawks made several presentations at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting. The groups are asking the City Commission to roll back the 13% increase in property taxes that was adopted last year.
The presentations addressed the rosy outlook presented by City staff weeks earlier at a budget workshop and raised questions about information provided to City Commissioners.
After the presentations City Manager Rick Fernandez told City Commissioners, “We were ambushed.”
Mr. Fernandez explained to Commissioners that the groups had never talked to him about this new information despite his willingness to meet with anyone at anytime.
The presentation to the City Commissioners started with former Mayor Penny Herman who said “after reviewing documents provided during the last budget presentation by City staff, we are concerned that the information provided to you is not consistent with an independent review of some of the comparisons presented.”
She was followed by Dr. Shawn Kantor who is the L. Charles Hilton, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity at FSU and a prize winning author.
Dr. Kantor presented two charts. The first chart showed per capita spending since 2000. He said General Fund per capita spending had began increasing in 2010 and has reached a level not seen since the real estate boom in 2005. This contradicted the claim by City staff that General Fund spending was tracking population growth.
The second chart compared growth in the General Fund with growth in other measures of the local economy. The chart showed the City Commissioners that the rate of growth in the General Fund since 2010 has surpassed growth in jobs, annual wages and property values.
Dr. Kantor was followed by two members of the Budget Hawks.
One, Mr. Brent Pichard, challenged the City staff’s presentation during the last budget workshop that indicated the staff was responsible for a 30% decline in electric rates over the last eight years.
Mr. Pichard presented documents to the City Commissioners which showed that the price for natural gas has declined significantly over the last eight years and that the decline was not the result of any City government action.
Rather, he said, base rates – which is controlled by the City – has increased approximately 56% since 2008.
Mr. Fernandez’s comments were followed by a spirited defense of City staff by City Commissioner Curtis Richardson and Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Commissioners Scott Maddox, Gil Ziffer, and Nancy Miller did not offer any comments.