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The Business of Government

rose-editorialRecently Mayor Peyton sent everyone an e-mail in which he said that it was his intention to run the City of Jacksonville like a business. The problem is that the City of Jacksonville should not be run like a business at all.

His Honor does not own the City of Jacksonville . The individual citizens who own businesses and residential property own it. Our needs and wants are few, amounting to no more than to be able to live in a safe and clean city, and to be supplied with water, power and other basic utilities. That’s it. The Mayor is not the boss and the city workers are not his employees; they are all of them official custodians of the public trust, from the Mayor right on down to the fellow that cleans the restrooms, and surely the people of Jacksonville are not stockholders who expect to receive a profit. We are citizens who expect our rights to be upheld, our taxes kept down and our elected officials to be humble and honest.

The Mayor and the City Council are not entrepreneurial tycoons who should expect to get rich, they are servants of the people, and should expect to lose money and opportunity as the cost of their public service. Yet there is at least the appearance that quid pro quo from city contracts paid for by the taxpayers, result in large contributions and personal advancement for elected officials. They accomplish this by creating gigantic capital improvement plans, not to provide jobs for the common man, but to provide large profits for their friends. They implement countless social programs that are not in universal demand, in order to buy the votes of the economically and educationally disadvantaged. We agree that it is a good thing for the children of Jacksonville to get an education. This is why we elect a school board to make provision for it. We are quick to endorse the idea of a public library system, and are willing to pay for it. However, programs that lack an overwhelming mandate should be done away with.

The purpose of a business is to make a profit and to grow. On the contrary, the purpose of city government is to provide service at the lowest cost. My fellow citizens do not want Jacksonville to become like New York City . They do not want it to become like Atlanta , either. I believe they want Jacksonville to remain the “biggest small town in America ”, a smaller, quieter Jacksonville than the one that we have now. If growth is inevitable, it should be deterred instead of hastened, and financed by entrepreneurs, not the taxpayers. The mission of city planners is not to callously wield eminent domain like a club, as was attempted in Mayport Village , but to preserve the regional culture, deter urban sprawl, and make provision for the necessities, such as farmland to feed the masses that already live here, and water for them to drink.

In 2008, the people of Florida voted in overwhelming numbers to save nearly $10 billion in property taxes with the approval of Amendment 1. This tax relief was in addition to the $15 billion tax cut passed by the Florida Legislature in 2007. Together, they added up to almost $25 billion in property-tax cuts over five years for Florida homeowners and businesses. By this action, the people of Florida , including the citizens of Jacksonville , demanded that their city governments reduce their budgets, not pass additional taxes. It is ridiculous for them to ignore the present reality. City government must shrink, not grow.

As public servants, our city council is expected to obey the will of the people. When elected officials attempt to circumvent the will of the people they cease to be public servants and become public enemies. Accordingly the Jacksonville City Council should take immediate action to repeal Solid Waste Fee ordinance (2007-837), Stormwater Authorization Ordinance (2007-836-E), Fee Ordinance (2008-129-E), and JEA Franchise Fee Authorization (2007-838). If the city council finds itself unable to do so, candidates will be found who will run on the promise to repeal these fees, and refund the money to the citizens from whom it has been unjustly taken. It should, I think, be enormously popular with the voters.

(Louis William Rose is a political philosopher and the parliamentarian of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Northeast Florida.)

15 Responses »

  1. How does one close the budget gap?

    would you agree that Duval runs one of the leanest local govt in the State (per capita)

    • Jax has been reducing it's income producing ability every year by lowering the millage rate. They could get away with this because the overall value of the tax rolls was increasing at a rate that offset the drop in millage and allowed for expanded spending. However, a large number of people were constantly sounding the warning that this annual increase in value could not continue indefinitely and that it would in fact more than likely reverse itself at some point. I don't think anybody envisioned the extent to which that reversal has gone, but irregardless it was a foregone conclusion by many that this budget situation was going to manifest itself at some point.

      Duval isn't "lean", being "lean" implies healthy. Duval is more along the lines of "anorexic", it got skinny without considering the consequences.

  2. I don't mean to be argumentative. However, this Editorial sounds good, but has some basic flaws. . I actually agree with most of these assertions; however I do not think the case has been properly made.

    1. A critical flaw in this letter is the analysis of Amendment #1. Yes this amendment did reach the Super Majority threshold in order to pass, however this Amendment actually lost in Jacksonville by receiving a 47% minority of the vote. We were therefore only one of two Counties that voted against the tax break. In fact, this vote would actually lead one to believe that the citizens of Jacksonville are okay with higher taxes as long as it correlates with a higher "quality of life".

    2. Actually the citizens are very much like shareholders. However, instead of receiving "profits" they should receive a "quality of life". Good government provides good "quality of life". In using this expanded perspective the analogy is sound. For example, some services are “loss leaders”, etc.

    3. In regards to the administrative functions and job responsibility of the Mayor, he actually is the "Boss" of our City Employees. Philosophically, I understand your argument, but he is Jacksonville’s CEO. For example, a Citizen cannot realistically go to a City Employee and have them perform some other duty as if they were his/her supervisor.

    4. It is not fair to impose any one person’s interpretation or beliefs on a Community. The Author does this when he speaks of “Our needs and wants”. I am not willing to provide this Author my proxy, and am certain that countless citizens will disagree with what the City should "provide". Some would like more services, while some less.

    5. My understanding is that last year’s fees generated $27 million in tax revenue that was needed to fill a budget shortfall. I don't like taxes either, but please provide specific and detailed alternatives to this tax increase.

  3. I totally agree with this. The city of Jacksonville and it's journey into my wallet has done no more than make everyone struggle. The city government can not afford to grow at this time.

    There is a major flaw with everyone jumping on board to raise fees.

    Let us not forget, the housing boom increased city profits in a 2 year time span almost 100 fold in property taxes alone.Are we to believe that the cities budget can not be brought down to 2003 levels? How can they justify the continuation of this increased spending of the housing boom. Are we as tax payers supposed to try and keep up with the previous years taxes (housing boom)?

    On another note, it would be nice if we had clean water and a safe city. However with all of these rate hikes we still have neither. They continually waste money on additives which are unhealthy into our water supply. Fluoridating our water is the equivalent to giving every one Prozac. But complacency may be the true objective.

    On another note, the more police they hire it seems the worse the killings get. Except now it is the police doing the killing.

    Slavery is not the answer, and Jacksonville continues this philosophy of socialism.

    ON a personal note, I will no longer purchase property in Duval. i will take my business of rentals to St Johns where the tax payers are at least treated with some sort of intelligence.

  4. Shelby,
    Okay, seriously I like low taxes as well but we need to be in a better practice of framing these arguments. Several of your statements don’t seem to be accurate.
    1. I have a hard time seeing a report showing “increasing city profits in a 2 year time span almost 100 fold in property taxes alone.” I went to the City website as this assertion seemed odd. The budget has increased only 14% in the last two years and property tax has represented approx 49% of these general revenues during each of these periods. In fact, I don’t see any 2 year time span that reflects this kind of increase.
    2. Someone that is more of an economist can attest to this, but I saw studies which show the City Budget over the last 3 to 4 years staying pretty much flat when adjusted for population and inflation. Therefore, a return to 2003 levels would not take into account these variables and would therefore not seem reasonable. I can go and research this but am pretty sure our population has averaged a 35,000 to 50,000 increase each year since 2003.
    3. Most obvious is the incorrect statement that “the more police they hire it seems the worse the killings get.” It’s well documented that “killings” have decreased by an estimated 15% so far this calendar year. I would at least partially attribute this to an increase in the Sheriff’s budget and him putting more officers on the streets.

    Sorry guys just trying to keep the facts straight.

  5. With all respect, I find certain assertions to be rather confusing. After a fine start with asserting that a city should not be run like a business, the argument seems to reverse itself and then proceed along the lines that it should be.
    1. Similar to what another blogger observed, if the mayor is not the CEO, then who is?
    2. Water, power and other basic utilities are not provided by the city, but by JEA- an independent authority.
    3. The presumption that the writer can speak on behalf of all citizens was refuted by the local rejection of Amendment 1, combined with the strong support for additional spending requests on various social programs. Perhaps some residents of Jacksonville are seeing a need for higher taxes, rather than lower?
    4. Would Jacksonville programs that “… lack an overwhelming mandate should be done away with.” include the civil rights laws that were a threat to Jim Crow regulations? Does the writer believe that a minority view is not worthy of legal protection? Or a program that is of critical value to only a few persons (cancer research, wheel chair access) should be unfunded due to unpopularity? Note that Plato thought that the minority should be protected from the ill effect of the whims of the majority. Do all citizens want the same thing?
    5. “… the purpose of city government is to provide service at the lowest cost.” Here we have turned full circle to a city that is run like a business … What about ensuring health, safety, and welfare? Protecting domestic tranquility? Executing justice? Providing a general quality of life, protect property values for future generations? The city is nothing more than the utility company?
    6. I don’t recall hearing about any “city planners wielding eminent domain like a club at Mayport”. There was a proposal by Jaxport (again an independent authority, not the city per se) for development on property that is owned by Jaxport. (In what context was eminent domain ever discussed or involved?)
    7. To advocate for repeal of the controversial fees, does the writer propose an alternative funding source to address the federal mandates? Do we want trash to fill the roadside ditches, the roads and living rooms made impassible by high water, and even more flesh eating bacteria and poisoned fish in the waterways? Aren’t those relatively minimal services appropriate functions for a city?

    • Withholding judgement or comment on the opinion made above by Starbuck, this is a well written, factual and cohesive arguement. Good job. Reading your comment was enjoyable and informative.

  6. Duval County voted down Amendment 1 in large part because of the scare tactics employed by local politicians. I have over a half dozen pieces of propaganda promising that if Amendment 1 passed that all the fire, police, and teachers would be laid off. Schools would close, houses burn down, and criminal reign. Yes FEAR does work.

    There is nothing that prevents all the people who voted against Amendment 1 in Duval County from foregoing their tax savings by donating it to the city or the non-profit of their own choice. Isn’t it better for YOU to decide how YOUR money is spent? If you want to spend someone else’s, then ask.

    Who exactly is clamoring for all these new programs? Most public hearings and committees occur during work hours. Indeed, it is no surprise that while the rest of us are at work, the heads of non-profits and government programs are asking for more of our money to spend.

    JEA, JTA, JAA, JPA, all the independent authorities are extensions of municipal government with directors appointed by the mayor and confirmed by council. They are “owned” by the City and can be disbanded, sold, etc. Why do you think they are exempted from paying property taxes?

    In Duval County we have had over a 15% increase in inflation adjusted per capita spending over the past eight years. Have you seen a commensurate increase in services?

    When we spend more on public safety and crime goes down politicians clamor that we are not spending enough. If we spend more and crime goes down it is because we spent more. Is this fallacy in this reasoning only apparent to me?

    Perhaps the recent downturn in crime is due to overall national trends

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090601/ap_on_re_us/crime

    Or Duval county spending changes the entire country’s crime? You pick…

    When you take something without asking it is called theft. It is no different when government does it. Government is force and very single tax dollar is obtained through coercion. That is why government must be limited to those services absolutely essential and nothing else:

    public safety,
    perhaps infrastructure,
    maybe libraries and parks,

    City Council is not a group of philanthropists or venture capitalists who have a mandate to fund whatever social or corporate welfare sounds good at the time on the taxpayers dime. Individuals who wish to fulfill this role can join an appropriate organization of their choosing and pursue those interests without the force of government.

    • Victor,
      I don't like taxes either; however your comments suggest that government "can't" versus "shouldn't" increase taxes. In addition, your argument concerning the funding of anti-crime measures is not accurate.

      Our system of government allows elected officials the ability to legally increase taxes within certain constraints. For example, we have seen certain kinds of fees and property tax changes that can be done by City Council approval, while others have to be approved through a referendum (ie Better Jacksonville). In fact, it was the exclusion of a mandatory voter approved referendum which was the reason that Gov Crist vetoed a bill in this past session. It would have allowed the City Council to impose a ½ cent sales tax to fund health organizations such as Shands, which would have been the largest tax increase in the history of Duval County. Funny how we didn’t even know that this was about to happen. This measure was passed in the State House and Senate unanimously. When politicians such as Gov Crist make brave stands like that against other elected officials and contributors we should pour into the streets to support his action. Instead he was beaten up in the paper and has seen no support of his actions. Thank you Gov Crist!

      As for the murder rate, in the second half of 2007 the City of Jacksonville approved additional over time funding for the JSO, and Sheriff Rutherford formed a short term partnership with the Florida Highway Patrol in order to get more police on the streets. These additional officers and hours led to the murder rate being cut in half in the second half of 2007 as compared to t
      he first half. There were no other factors at this time. The National trend was increasing; Orange County saw huge spikes in violent crime, etc. Clearly there is a law of diminishing returns. At some point the JSO is funded to the level of comparative cities and at a level that will meet our needs. However, until then it is a proven fact that additional funding in Jacksonville saves lives, reduces murder regardless of other variables at hand.

      Finally, I have one qeustion. I hear a lot about the budget. I am not familiar enough with it to suggest specific recommendations. My understanding is that the three fees that were passed raised $27 million dollars to fill a budget gap last year. Please provide a specific list of cuts that you believe we should make in order to offset the need for those fees. Help us look past the "fear" and better understand what you believe reasonable cuts would be.

  7. Victor- If majority of the citizens vote opposite your views you think it is all fear?
    The arrogance of you and your kind.

  8. All the Independent Authorities are assets of the City except for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority(JTA).

    If it had not been for taxing limitations at the state level and local level(not by the elected but by the people) we could have found ourselves in an almost unmanageable revenue shortfall because our spending levels would have been a lot higher..

    Control of revenue to government is the only way the citizen has to manage spending. Your elected representatives will spend all you allow them to have and then put you in debt , if you allow , so they can spend more.

    Because of our instance on restricting increase in ad valorem revenue, taxes on our homes has remained comparatively reasonable. That is protecting us from huge losses in ad valorem revenue now. Although the market value of property may have decreased most properties assessed value is still below the market value and the appraised value is below that.. That means we probably will not see a huge reduction in ad valorem revenue.

    The largest impact in revenue short falls will be lack of new construction ad valorem revenue and in gas and sales tax revenues.

    Insist on not increasing spending over last years level. You will have to find a few cuts you are willing to recommend if we do wind up with less revenue than last year.

  9. Specifically I would immediately reduce funding in the following areas before touching critical services:

    Jacksonville Economic Development Commission
    Jacksonville Childrens Commission
    Jacksonville Journey
    Special event funding (such as "Make a scene downtown")

    AMIO (political appointees) are at an all time high. For example, one position is "Art in Public Places" at $60K+ per year, not a core function of government. At least 100 of these positions can be eliminated.

    More than enough savings here to undo the fees and keep the same level of service for police, fire, libraries, and parks.

    Before delving into the budget, take a look at the most recent digital Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (2007-2008), specifically pages 10, 12, 22, 32, and 74. Most importantly pages 32 and 74

    http://www.coj.net/Departments/Finance/Accounting/CAFR.htm

    Instead of biasing you, come up with your own conclusions and remember this was at the same time the city implemented the fees.

    • Victor,
      Thank you for making some high level suggestions that would go towards the $27 million shortfall which led to the fees. However, I don't see how these total $27 million. As you have clearly put much thought into this matter, please feel free to share more specific data.

      For example, how much would you reduce the JEDC and Children's Commission? In addition, if you are planning on shifting greater responsibility to the Chamber/Cornerstone for Economic development I don't think you should assume that these membership based organizations can fund these efforts. So who pays for that? Jacksonville Journey, Mayor's Literacy Programs, etc are all programs that can be eliminated but what would then be your long term solution to crime and literacy. We shouldn’t assume that these initiatives are effective are adequate, but something needs to be done. What would you do?

      You have a great point in regards to the Special events budget. I think it was cut in half last year. However, how much would further cuts really save? As for appointed positions, I'd like to hear more about these specific positions. Cutting 100 positions without creating any unintended consequences doesn’t seem plausible. However, I hope you can prove otherwise. For example, I am personally not in favor of a mandated public arts budget. However, this is a statutory requirement, and therefore mandated by law. A certain percentage of construction budgets (i.e. Arena, Library, etc) by Law has to be set aside for public art and its proper maintenance. This large budget needs to be managed by someone. Who will this responsibility and especially fiduciary liability fall under?

      Finally, please feel free to bias me, I am eager to hear more about your specific recommendations. You have made some general assertions that I am sure surpass simple rhetoric, and that you must have thoughtful alternatives. I look forward to hearing more.

  10. You are correct. The savings are far in excess of $27 million.

    1. Jacksonville Journey is a $20+ million

    2. JEDC. Completely eliminate it. $15 (08-09 proposed budget pg 5) some years more, some less. The $30+ million for the Shipyards (failed twice, Tri-Legcay and LandMar) project comes to mind as bad years.

    3. Jacksonville Childrens Commission is ~$22.5+ million. (08-09 proposed budget pg 5)

    What unintended consequences from eliminating AMIO positions? It is not incumbent upon me to prove the negative. You name the consequences that existed before the creation of AMIO positions that have now been eliminated.

    OR eliminate the AMIO designation and place the positions in the civil service structure with minimum qualifications, pay schedules, and competitive placement and promotion. It’s good enough for police and firefighters why not crony appointees?

    Before digging into public safety, infrastructure, parks, and libraries cut the above three FIRST! Sorry I can not think of a more sophisticated means to convince you. If you were having a hard time making payroll would you lay people off or reduce “luxuries”. I submit that the items enumerate above are luxuries relative to public safety, infrastruture, parks, and libraries. Do you disagree?

    The statement that: "We shouldn’t assume that these initiatives are effective are adequate, but something needs to be done" is reckless. Something, ANYTHING? Before defending these programs or creating them please show some performance measures before experimenting with taxpayer money.

    Look, I do not disagree that some of these programs do good things, I disagree with the coercive means of extorting money from people to pay for them. There are plenty of examples of where these services are provided by private individuals voluntarily cooperating. Gates Foundation, Chamber of Commerce, Mad Dads, Boselli Foundation, etc.

    I understand it may seem a hard proposition for people in government to prioritize their budgeting, but families have to do this everyday.

    You are very knowledgeable Mr. Dogwood. Please come to a Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County meeting where we can go over the new CAFR in detail together.

    http://www.jaxtaxpayers.org/

    With phrases like "fiduciary liability" you sound very well versed in areas that could be useful for finding the savings we are both looking for.

    • Victor,
      You are passionate and engaged, but it is becoming clear that you have no creditable or reasonable alternative to offer. I certainly don’t have a solution, but then again I never claimed to have one.

      Just in this exchange you have contradicted yourself over staggeringly large issues. You first suggested reducing the budgets for JEDC, Children’s Commission, Jacksonville Journey and Special events. Now you suggest eliminating them completely. That is quite a shift in recommended policy over a five hour period in response to a few simple questions. In addition, there is still no answer on who would handle these functions. Primarily, unless you have spoken to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and have made a secret agreement for the Chamber to absorb all the economic development functions for the City….oh yeah and the large cost associated with this, then your suggestion to eliminate the JEDC is simply reckless. I recently read that the Chamber just had huge layoffs, and is a membership based organization and therefore has no dedicated funding source? How can we expect them to pick up the slack? What kind of long term strategy would it be to have no funded cohesive economic development effort? Part of our long term recovery solution has to be to “grow” our way out. It’s not the answer to the problem but has to be a piece of the puzzle.

      Secondly, I don’t think it is plausible that there are 100 AMIO positions that contribute no value to our Community. I didn’t even know that many existed, is there a list somewhere? Even if they contribute little value, who will do these functions. The full cost doesn’t simply disappear.

      In addition, I would absolutely look at public safety, infrastructure, parks and libraries while discussing the previous funding. We should not make drastic cuts while protecting a handful of other departments. Perhaps there are underutilized fire stations and/or libraries. It’s a heck of a tough choice to close something like that but everything ought to be on the table.

      Furthermore, calling my statement regarding accountability and long term planning as “reckless” just doesn’t make any sense. Your alternative to existing programs like Jacksonville Journey and Literacy initiatives is “ANYTHING”? That’s just silly. However, your request for performance measures is dead on right! We need consistent, objective metrics that will either make or break the case for funding on a program level. If any program doesn’t meet a set of clear performance goals, than figure out a plan to make it do so, or pull the plug. Don’t throw good money after bad.

      In addition, your example of private Foundations that are efficiently managing resources is excellent. We should embrace a model that allows these groups to do their job even better. This is a great point.

      Finally, I am flattered that you would invite me to dialogue with you and your members. However, I am looking to participate in groups that are providing credible and reasonable solutions. I have not found that here. Respectfully, this seems to be a lot of well informed rhetoric. I’m hoping to be proved wrong, but is just my impression so far.

      Do you have a process in place with your group that will fairly evaluate this issue and determine a collective outcome? The test to any fair process is whether or not it may result in an opposing position than its participants may have been predisposed to? Sounds like your mind is made up and your group will be sitting around a table saying that everyone else is wrong and you are right? I hope I’m wrong.