BY MIKE RYAN
As part of the on-going wrestling match between the County and municipalities over the funding of a regional E-911 system, Commissioner Chip LaMarca published a particularly astonishing letter.
The County has proposed draft “Municipal Services Taxing Unit” (MSTU) Ordinance and an Inter-Local Agreement which must ultimately be agreed to by all participating cities … without any changes once final. For anyone who has read these draft documents in detail, they are deficient at best, irreparably defective at worst.
County Commissioner Tells Residents to Demand Cities to Act
In his letter published in the Sun-Sentinel here, Commissioner Lamarca lectures cities about being “good stewards” of tax dollars:
“However, city leaders will not commit to returning your tax dollars to you if the county increases its tax for this purpose. This scenario creates a dangerous precedent and equates to a “shell game,” in my opinion, because cities can lobby the county in the future to tax you for most any collective service and then move monies around in their own budgets without being accountable to you, the taxpayer.”
I specifically asked the County Commission how does a city “return tax savings to the residents” if the city is in a deficit? I wanted a real answer, not a bumper sticker political slogan. I even offered a solution – force every city to disclose the estimated savings in the budget process.
The response: deafening silence.
County is the Master of Shell Games
Since some want to talk about “shell games” and “good stewardship”:
- The County Commission has been subsidizing BSO contract operations, even after being warned about “double taxation” in 2009? The “shell game” costs over the past decade are estimated to be over $150,000,000.
- The County Commission has been using county taxpayer dollars for Port Everglades services. The Port is an Enterprise Fund, responsible for its own costs. E-911 communications “shell game” costs alone are estimated to be $600,000 annually. When will the County Commission seek reimbursement of the millions of dollars from Port Everglades so they can pass on the savings and recovery to the residents?
- The proposed MSTU seeks authority for the County to issue bonds and indebtedness … for a system that was supposed to be only dealing with operational costs. The proposed ILA defines “operational expenses” to include “capital outlays”? What type of “shell game” is being planned – where cities do not vote on the capital outlays or bonds, but pay for them?
- The County is unwilling to define “infrastructure”, a term from the County Charter which sets forth the County’s financial obligations. Is the County planning a future “shell game”, by redefining current Charter financial requirements as new MSTU expenses?
- The MSTU costs $775,000 more annually because Community Redevelopment Agencies are entitled to Tax Increment Financing payments from any MSTU by law. Why did they propose a more costly system?
- Cooper City has no reason to sign the MSTU because their (sweetheart) contract with BSO covers communications costs … for the next 7 years. What “shell game” will be employed by the County to allow this funding for BSO?
- There is NO limitation on future millage impact on the cities, and cities have no say in the budget or governance. Are we simply to trust future County Commissions to be “good stewards” with our taxing authority and not play new “shell games”?
Political Slogans Eclipse Good Decision Making
Some County Commissioners voted against the recommendation of the Implementation Board and what cities representing 87% of the County requested – fund this like a regional system through countywide budget dollars. Why? Some were concerned that in shifting the costs and achieving overall savings, the County says it might impose a 1/10 or 2/10 millage increase.
Tax Bad, Chaos Good.
However, the MSTU is also a vote to raise taxes. It is a County imposed tax, accomplished with city acquiescence – but without giving cities a vote on the impact for their residents. “Taxation without meaningful representation”?
An alternative was available — take the $9,000,000 in available bridge funding, recover the Port costs, and adjust the County Budget. Result: it is unlikely there would have been an increase in taxes for the coming year, particularly since the entire system will not be fully operational October 1.
I say, do not blame the cities for being scared to sign in haste and under pressure complex (and presently defective) documents involving one of the most serious public safety issues for our residents …. particularly when the County has mastered the budgetary “shell game”.
(Mike Ryan is the mayor of Sunrise. He is also, along with Broward County Commissioner Lois Wexler, a former co-chair of the Broward County Consolidated Communications Committee. )