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Defending our City Commission

September 30, 2010

I have never before had reason to tell you about a unanimous decision of the Winter Park City Commission that I strongly agreed with. I have a reason now.

Unfortunately and unwisely, the commission decided in their budget decisions to provide for the possibility of increasing their pay ($200/mth for commissioners and $250/mth for the mayor) which has not been changed since my mother changed my diapers. This is virtually all the Orlando Sentinel had to talk about (here also) and it sends a very incomplete message.

We should be focusing on the bigger picture.

All Winter Park citizens should thank the city manager for recommending a budget that kept the tax rate constant while faced with declining property values, resulting in lower property tax revenue. City management made this recommendation knowing it required further cutbacks for city employees.

All Winter Park citizens should thank each member of the city commission for accepting the budget proposed by the city manager and then asking to remove an additional million dollars in spending to further boost the city’s depleted reserves. These were unanimous actions by our commission.

This means that while some may see a slight increase in their 2010-2011 Winter Park property taxes depending on their assessment and Save Our Homes status, overall, the property tax revenue claimed by the city will decline by about 9 percent and unrestricted city reserves are now expected to increase from less than $2,000,000 in September 2007 to over $8,900,000 by September 2011.

Restoring reserves has been a critical priority for the city since they were severely depleted by the 2007 legal settlement over the city’s refusal to proceed with the previously approved post office redevelopment. Reserves are critical in providing for hurricane impacts and other uncontrollable events, and offer much needed flexibility in executing long term plans.

This unanimous outcome is somewhat unique among political bodies and clearly indicates that our city management and commission have the correct financial priorities for Winter Park. On this most critical of issues they are representing our long term best interest and doing so unanimously.

Now, we need to make progress on fixing our flawed Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code policies so we can build our tax base in a way that is compatible with the character of Winter Park.

Regards, Pete Weldon

Posted in Money, Policy.

11 Responses

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  1. brad saint-laurent says

    As always, I appreciate your keeping me up to date. Thanks.

  2. Pitt Warner says

    The entire team deserves congrats.
    We get intelligent, decisive and strategic decion-making from folks making $200-$250 per month. I think if the pay goes up the IQ’s will go down.

  3. Ray W says

    Maybe you can look into the fact that it can take 30 minutes to 1 hour waiting on the phone to talk to a city utility representative.
    Ray W.

  4. Fuzzy Math says

    Perhaps the reason the Sentinel and others have chosen to fixate upon the the Commission increasing their own pay was the audacity of its timing. While it has been established that no raise in compensation has been enacted in more than fifty years, it is equally true that all of the current Commissioners have been in office for less than three years. Coincidentally, the recently passed 2010-2011 budget heralds the third consecutive year city employees will do without any increase in their income. In years prior to this current economic downturn, these employees could hope for, at best, a 4% increase in base salary and perhaps a 1-2% COLA. To see five part-time “employees” vote themselves a 400% raise while simultaneously rejecting even a token increase for full-time workers was surely insulting.

    Adding insult to injury was the hypocritical rationale for the salary boost as offered by its champion, Mrs. Dillaha. This Commissioner contended that the raise was necessary to increase the potential pool of quality candidates for elected office, while at the same time cited the lack of a competitive market for the services offered by city employees. Dillaha further made her case by comparing the salaries of Winter Park Commissioners to other local boards, but minimized studies that have shown the pay and benefits of our general city employees languish in the bottom third of those offered by local governments (one wonders if, “We Offer More Than Eatonville” will become the new recruiting pitch to potential employees.)

    Was a pay raise overdue? Absolutely. However, its timing was this Commission’s Marie Antoinette moment, and it should come as no surprise that it overshadowed otherwise good work in the public eye.

  5. Pete Weldon says

    My sentiments exactly. So nice to see a critical thinker weigh in.

    Now, we just need to find a few intelligent, thoughtful, experienced critical thinkers to run for city commission.

  6. Ed Sabori says

    Personally, I’m for electing commissioners who really feel the job is a public service–plain and simple! I find it difficult to believe that pay is the answer to better commissioners. Better commissioners is the answer. Having said that, I can understand the concern regarding the timing relative to increasing the salary of commissioners; however, has anyone stopped to ask why, as Commissioners Dillaha and Cooper have implied, that the job has now become a full-time event? For example, I bet if you poll present and past commissioners, you’ll find that they consider 10-15 hours per week to be adequate to fulfill their duties as commissioner. On the other hand, if Commissioners Dillaha and Cooper’s position is that “staff doesn’t do their job, so we have to research everything,” which in turn becomes a full-time job, then I guess there’s a point to be made. So my question is: Could it be that some commissioners are intent on micro-managing City Staff and thus negating the fact that we have a very competent and dedicated City Manager who is more than capable of taking the load Commissioners Dillaha and Cooper cherish so much? And why so many two and three hour work sessions, which are often scheduled on Fridays around noontime or Saturday mornings, how convenient is that for the normal working citizen? In support of my argument, perhaps a check of how many emails Commissioner Cooper sent City Staff before she was elected might give us better insight into her rationale for why it’s a full-time job. Almost, sounds like someone with a desire to be a city employee, but then again, the budget calls for staff positions and salaries to be frozen. In conclusion, the Commission should let the City Manager and Staff do their jobs and hold off the salary increase until after the next city election in March 2011.

  7. Pete Weldon says

    Ed offers a clear picture of what is going on. We can either elect people with experience and judgment who understand the role of city management and city commissioners, or we can elect inexperienced people with no judgment who righteously cling to the wonderment of their commitment to the city. I support the former.

  8. Bev McCartt says

    Well considering that the Dillaha Commission has chosen to close Fleet Peeples Dog Park to poor and struggling middle class folks & their pets, maybe those user fees could be put to hiring back the city workers so Madame Dillaha doesn’t have to cook her statistics all by herself (with help of course from Bonnie Jackson). Yeah I’m angry. But I recognize that a person of my poor income level has no voice in Winter Park. I just never expected to be told flat out that the working poor & our pets weren’t allowed in the City Parks.

  9. Pitt Warner says

    Over the weekend, I received an email survey on commissioner pay from Carolyn Cooper. The results will probably be revealed at today’s commission meeting. My question is : When did commissioner pay become an issue? I can’t find any mention of it in 2010 election. Or 2009 election. Maybe it was there, but I can’t find it. I know it was on 2010 Charter Review but after the fiasco of Amendment 10, I think that whole “Review” was window dressing. (I’m sorry, participants in Charter Review, but that’s how the commission made you look.)

    The only election that commissioner pay was an issue was the recent one. Both candidates who supported it, lost. There has got to be a reason this keeps popping up. And it isn’t b/c a theoretical commissioner can’t afford a baby sitter. What is the real reason?

  10. Pete Weldon says

    Having attended Monday’s meeting I suggest the reason behind all the hubbub about commission salaries is a righteous concern of Carolyn Cooper about only having “elites” serving on the city commission. She also noted at the meeting that her son will be graduating from Duke University this Spring.

    Maybe David Strong would like to finance a $12,000 annual salary for at least one commissioner. We will call it, “The David Strong Endowment for non-Elites.” I am sure Carolyn would contribute and maybe David wouldn’t then feel compelled to spend $10,000 to $15,000 each year funding candidates through his numerous real estate companies.

  11. Pitt Warner says

    I only want “elites” serving as a city commissioner. If someone can’t afford a baby sitter I don’t him/her any where near an important position like commissioner.

    And for the record, I like the “elites” we have serving us today. (Maybe I’m a closet Royalist. “Long live the commissioners!”)

    Seriously, it seems to me they’re too timid to say they want to get paid more dough so they hide behind this nonsense about babysitters. They knew the pay rate whe they entered the race. If you don’t like it, quit.

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