Sunday, September 21, 2014

Final Budget Hearing This Monday

This Monday, September 22 at 6:00 p.m., our City Council will be convening a special meeting to review and approve the final budget for the upcoming fiscal year. You can find a copy of the proposed 2014-2015 City Budget linked below.

This proposed budget raises a number of questions, many of which were detailed by Commissioner Nielsen in a recent letter to City Manager Keith Severns (linked below). Public discussion about our City's proposed budget has been extremely limited to date, primarily due to Mr. Severns' request that Commissioners' concerns about the budget be brought directly to him outside of any scheduled public meeting.

Many of these questions should ideally be answered by the budget document itself. Section 5.04 of the Belle Isle City Charter details exactly what is required in a proposed budget. For example, one such requirement is that the budget "show comparative figures for actual and estimated income and expenditures of the preceding fiscal year."

A review of the current proposed budget reveals that such actual income and expense figures are not provided for comparison. While the prior year's estimated income and expenditures are provided (in the form of 2013-2014 approved and revised budget figures), the actual income and expenses are conspicuously absent.

Hopefully, the important questions raised in Commissioner Nielsen's letter will be addressed publicly at the budget hearing tomorrow. To date, residents have not been given access to our City's process of developing the 2014-2015 proposed budget, which was developed through a series of communications and individual meetings outside of the public view. Therefore, publicly answering these questions would go a long way towards creating the transparency envisioned by the Sunshine Law and City Charter as our City completes this vital annual process.

Even more importantly, providing these answers will allow our residents and Commissioners to become better informed about our City's finances - helping everyone understand how our City's funds are being raised and spent.

Hope to see you at the final budget hearing on Monday, September 22 at 6:00 p.m.!

2014-2015 Belle Isle Proposed Budget

Letter from Commissioner Nielsen to City Manager Severns re: Budget Questions

Monday, September 1, 2014

First Belle Isle Budget Hearing This Wednesday

Last week, our City Council began discussion of the proposed 2014-2015 Belle Isle City Budget at the morning workshop meeting. These discussions are set to continue at the specially-held budget hearing this Wednesday, September 3 at 6:00 p.m. This special Wednesday meeting replaces the usual Tuesday night meeting, which has been cancelled for the month of September.

Based on the discussion at the workshop meeting last week, it appears that increasing the revenue collected from Belle Isle residents is the top priority for many of our City officials.

Not but a few months ago, City Manager Keith Severns spoke strongly in support of seeking a $2 million low-interest bond to increase available funds in Belle Isle. On Wednesday, he reversed course, stating that "down the road, we are not going to be able to pay for the bond." Mr. Severns gave no reason for this drastic change in his assessment, leading some residents to wonder whether Belle Isle is unable to procure such a bond because of our City's debt ratio and inability to pledge an income stream for bond repayment.

Instead, many officials, including Mayor Brooks and Commissioner Van Dyke, strongly supported increasing the power company franchise fees collected from Belle Isle residents. These franchise fees are additional costs tacked on to residents' monthly power bills, and they are a popular revenue stream in many Florida municipalities. I personally believe that such franchise fees are popular among city governments because these fees are paid directly to the power company on a separate schedule from residents' regular taxes, meaning that many taxpayers will not recognize that their taxes have effectively increased.

Although there was a lot of discussion last Wednesday about ways to increase City revenue, very little time was spent discussing ways to realistically cut our City's expenses. You can get a look at these planned expenses in the proposed budget, linked below.

I have heard from many residents regarding simple ideas which could significantly cut our City's expenditures. I hope that anyone with similar ideas will attend the budget hearing this Wednesday, September 3 at 6:00 p.m. and make themselves heard!

Belle Isle Proposed Budget 2014-2015

Special Meeting Agenda - September 3, 2014