Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to Budgets Beginning this Wednesday [UPDATE]

This Wednesday, August 27 at 9:00 a.m., our City Council will begin addressing the issue of Belle Isle's 2014-2015 City Budget. The September budget hearings will decide our City's short term and long term plans for the coming years.

Readers may not be aware that the 2013-2014 Belle Isle City Budget adopted by our Council was unlawful under our City Charter and Florida state law. Under section 5.04 of the Belle Isle City Charter, "The total of proposed expenditures shall not exceed the total of estimated income." Similarly, Florida Statutes, section 166.241(2) requires that the amount available from taxation and other sources equal the total appropriations for expenditures and reserves. Put more simply by our Orange County Commissioner, Pete Clarke, "budgets by law must be balanced."

A quick review of the 2013-2014 adopted budget (linked below) reveals that it does not meet the requirements of Florida law or our City Charter. Expected revenues, shown on page three, total $5,778,710. Planned expenditures, shown on page five, total $6,340,509. These figures are prominently displayed and easy to understand, so our Commissioners clearly knew that they were voting on a budget that authorized the City to spend significantly more than it would take in during the year. Voting in favor of this unlawful budget at the September 20, 2013 meeting were Commissioners Van Dyke, Ady, Shuck and Pisano.

It is vital that residents attend the upcoming budget hearings to monitor the development and approval of the 2014-2015 City Budget. While no one wants to raise taxes in Belle Isle, it is clear from the waning condition of our City's roads and drainage that refurbishment of our City's aging infrastructure is going to be a huge cost in the near future. It will take extremely careful budgeting - including elimination of all unnecessary expenditures - to address these infrastructure issues without a tax hike.

The 2014-2015 City Budget will be discussed at the workshop meeting this Wednesday, August 27 at 9:00 a.m. (the new starting time for workshop meetings). The workshop agenda is linked below. The second budget meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday, September 3 at 6:00 p.m. (there is no meeting on Tuesday). The final budget hearing will take place on Monday, September 22 at 6:00 p.m.

The Belle Isle City Budget will affect most residents' everyday lives more than the laws coming out of Washington or Tallahassee. Don't miss this opportunity to help decide how your money will be spent or saved!

August 27, 2014 Workshop Meeting Agenda

2013-2014 Belle Isle City Budget (Adopted)

UPDATE 8/27/14

At the August 27, 2014 meeting, Mayor Brooks strongly asserted that the 2013-2014 budget does not violate the City Charter or state law, suggesting that there are other revenues from fund appropriations, not included in the 2013-14 budget figures cited above, which would make the revenue and expenses equal.

Reviewing the adopted City Budgets from 2011-12 and 2012-13 (linked below), it is easy to see that those past budgets complied with the Charter and Florida law by the fact that the total revenues matched total expenditures. This is required under the City Charter, section 5.04, which states that the budget "shall show in detail all estimated income" arranged in a way that the reader can compare with expenditures from the present and prior years. Here's a simple table comparing the pertinent figures in last three budgets:

Budget Year
Total Expected Revenue
(page numbers in budget)
Total Planned Expenditures
(page numbers in budget)
2011-2012 Approved Budget
(pages 3 and following)
(page preceding 1)
2012-2013 Approved Budget
(pages 2-1 & 2-2)
(pages 2-3 & 2-4)
2013-2014 Approved Budget
(pages 3 & 4)
(pages 5 & 6)
- $561,799

This pattern of matching revenues to expenditures was broken in the 2013-14 budget, when the expected revenues were short of planned expenditures by $561,799. Furthermore, all revenues from any source should already be included in the 2013-14 revenue figure, which is labeled as the "Total Revenues" for "All Funds" in the 2013-14 adopted budget (pages 3-4). There is nothing in the 2013-14 budget noting a change in reporting methods from prior years which would explain this discrepancy.

If City Hall provides any further information explaining this discrepancy, this article will updated accordingly.

2011-2012 Belle Isle City Budget (Adopted) 

2012-2013 Belle Isle City Budget (Adopted)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

FDLE Investigation Update & Tuesday Meeting Time Change

Readers have requested an update regarding the recent City Council workshop meeting. While it would be tough to provide a comprehensive summary of the three-hour meeting, it was refreshing to see some actual discussion of City issues - even if this discussion focused on some of the less important issues presently before the Council. The recent workshop meeting included an hour-long discussion the proposed "golf cart ordinance" and an extended discussion of the proposed "Belle Isle Neighborhood Grant" program.

But despite the lengthy meeting, the Council provided residents with little information about the most pressing issue on many residents' minds: the status of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation into the recent incident involving City Manager Keith Severns and Chief Jackson of the Belle Isle Police Department. The Council engaged in a brief discussion of this incident at the request of Commissioners Nielsen and Readey, but did not address the question of an interim Council response to this incident.

While it is sensible for the Council to refrain from making any final judgments until the FDLE investigation is complete, many residents have inquired as to why the Council has not even considered temporarily suspending the individuals involved in this incident for the duration of the FDLE investigation. According to a number of residents, this would be the expected response in most other Florida municipalities.

However, the majority of our Belle Isle Commissioners appear to be against taking any Council action in response to this incident. In fact, Commissioner Shuck described his outrage at the Sun's reporting of this incident, yet did not even express mild disappointment at the individuals admittedly involved in the actual wrongdoing.

Although the Council did not provide any significant update regarding the status of the present FDLE investigation, I received the following information from Special Agent Danny Banks in charge of the FDLE Orlando Regional Operations Center:

"As with all our cases, FDLE will be choosing the lead agent for this investigation, and I am confident that our team will do a thorough, unbiased review of the facts surrounding the allegations. I am very proud of our agency’s reputation in fulfilling this role, and equally proud of our ability to provide accurate reports which document our investigative activities."

Special Agent Banks stated that he cannot comment further on this active investigation, but anticipates that the investigation "will be completed within a matter of weeks."

Apart from the ongoing FDLE investigation, the other major issue presently faced by our City is the creation and approval of our 2014-2015 City Budget. On Wednesday, the Council discussed an initial budget proposal made by City Manager Keith Severns. It appears from this discussion that the Council's focus in the upcoming City Budget will be the Capital Improvement Program - especially issues surrounding repaving our City's roadways. You can learn more about these repaving issues by reading Commissioner Nielsen's recent Sun article entitled "Everything You (N)ever Wanted To Know About Repaving."

Discussion of the 2014-2015 City Budget will continue at the upcoming City Council meeting scheduled for this Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. This is a change from the previous 5:30 p.m. meeting time, made pursuant to the recent City Council decision to change meeting times. From this date forward, regular Tuesday meetings will begin at 6:00 p.m. and Wednesday workshop meetings will begin at 9:00 a.m. Citizen comments will continue to be permitted at Tuesday meetings but not at Wednesday workshops.

The 2014-2015 City Budget must be approved by next month. Any residents who want to provide input regarding our City's infrastructure, budget, or any other topic should plan to attend the City Council meeting this Tuesday, August 5 at 6:00 p.m.

Everything You (N)ever Wanted To Know About Repaving

by Sue Nielsen

I recently asked David Morgan, Public Works Coordinator for the Roads and Drainage Division of the Orange County Government, for his assessment of our Belle Isle roadways. Mr. Morgan’s knowledge and expertise really helped me understand the condition and needs of our streets, and I want to share some of what I learned with the citizens and commissioners of the City of Belle Isle. 

First, the principal method of repairing streets used since the early 2000’s is a “mill and overlay” paving process. This process requires the damaged streets to be milled down 1½ inches. The streets are then resurfaced with a thick layer of asphalt known as a “super pave” mix. This mix must be put down at a depth of at least 1½” or reflective cracking will result. Streets resurfaced by this method will last an average of 15 years. The cost for this process is approximately $10/square yard, and it is considered the proper means for repairing roads with a good base.

However, in the 1980’s and 90’s, a cheaper method of restoring roads known as “microsurfacing” was popularized. Before applying the microsurfacing process, asphalt sealant is applied to repair cracks in the pavement. Then the road is then microsurfaced with a layer of asphalt 1/8 inch thick, or about the thickness of two pennies. Two sequential applications of this microsurfacing were recommended. The microsurfacing treatment was said to last 6-8 years, but the appearance deteriorates much sooner than that because the tiny bits of rock wash out, leaving the ugly sealant patches visible. The rock pieces cause problems by accumulating on or near the road, in drainage systems, and eventually in our lakes. 

Mr. Morgan calls the microsurfacing process a “bandaid.” The microsurfacing process should never be done more than once, as repeating this process after a few years is like putting another bandaid over the first one. One reason for the past popularity of microsurfacing was its cost of around $2/square yard. But even with its seemingly low cost, microsurfacing is today considered a poor value for the money. 

The good news is that Mr. Morgan believes that the roads in Belle Isle are generally solid with a good base. However, many need to be repaved, and some require more thorough evaluation. The standard for determining the condition of roads is called the Pavement Condition Index (PCI). Roads are assigned a PCI number within the range of 1-100, with 100 being the best. PCI ratings under 70 indicate the road will need to be repaired in the very near future. PCI ratings are very useful for government planning and scheduling of road maintenance. PCI values below 70 are described as poor, very poor, serious, or failed. In some parts of Belle Isle such as in Lake Conway Shores, the asphalt is only 3/8 inch thick. In cases like this, it is good practice to obtain core samples because to mill and overlay at 1½ inches will remove some of the base, and you want to be sure of the condition of the base before you begin. 

Mr. Morgan and I did not drive every road in the city, but it was apparent that many of our Belle Isle roads are in dire need of attention. The roads in Lake Conway Estates were assigned a PCI of 65-70, as were the streets in Windsor Place, where granite bits from the degrading paving have collected in the cul-de-sacs. Mr. Morgan could tell that Chiswick had been microsurfaced twice, using granite aggregate first from Nova Scotia and later from Georgia. He said that the streets in Lake Conway Estates are in good condition but that the valley gutters should have been repaired before paving. Lake Conway East streets differ from one another in condition, but Quando Drive has serious asthetic issues requiring attention. 

The Lakes and Landings streets are in good shape, but Trentwood Blvd was rated at PCI 60 (poor) due to high level cracking and broken ribbon curbing. Daetwyler is on the County schedule for repair in the near future, as are Seminole and Hoffner (which is a state-maintained road). 

Belle Isle Pines and Wind Harbor streets are in need of immediate attention, while those in Belle Isle West probably have another three years left.  In Wind Harbor and the Pines, the condition of the base needs to be checked as well. Horizon Court off Matchett is in “terrible” condition with a PCI of 30-40. Delia, Gibson, and Stockbridge are “on borrowed time” according to Mr. Morgan.

We did not have a chance to drive through the Pleasure Island and Oak Island area, but a quick tour at a later date revealed that those streets are also likely in need of attention.
Belle Isle has around 850,000 square yards of roadway that the City Council has charged our City Manager with maintaining. At $10/square yard, the cost to do them all at once would be over $8.5 million – more once you figure in the cost of repairs to our city’s gutters and curbing. 

But to maintain our property values, we must maintain our streets. For the last several years, the CIP has listed the streets of Daetwyler Shores, Wind Harbor, and the streets around Warren Park to be “resealed and resurfaced.” Some residents recall that the streets in Wind Harbor were last paved 30 years ago. 

I submit that our streets need more than “bandaids” that will leave ugly scars in 2-3 years. We need a Capital Improvement Plan that addresses the needs of the city. We need a well-reasoned, definite schedule for maintenance and improvement of our infrastructure. We cannot afford any longer to postpone the road maintenance that is already well past due.

Legal Note to City Commissioners:
According to the Florida Attorney General in Advisory Legal Opinion number AGO 2008-07, a City Commissioner may post an article or otherwise distribute written materials to other members of the City Council regarding city matters without raising any issues under the Florida Sunshine Law. However, City Commissioners should note that any responses to such an article or written material would run afoul of the Sunshine Law. Therefore, responses to the author of this article by other City Commissioners are NOT permitted.