Friday, January 30, 2009

Pensions, Protection, the Park and Potholes

I wanted to briefly share my thoughts on four activities that occurred this past week.
  1. Pensions - I made the personal decision to decline participation in the Florida Retirement System. I did so for three distinct reasons; the City's annual pension liability is almost as much as the entire amount of property taxes collected which is scary and if not checked immediately will exceed property tax revenues in the near future, the role of City Council is a part time job and I did not run for City Council to collect a pension but to serve my neighbors in District 3 and finally, any area we can cut without affecting services or safety should be reviewed and the tough decisions made. I could not in my mind reconcile cutting expenses while still costing the City a pension contribution. Stay tuned here, there is more to come.
  2. Protection- Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege of participating in the Citizens Police Academy and visiting the Fire Station. I am in awe of these true heros, they expect the best from themselves and each other every day. I want the citizens of Pensacola to know as discussions continue along consolidation of services, I will NOT vote for any consolidation plan that degrades the quality of service or compromises the safety of our City residents. Our Fire Department, the oldest in Florida and celebrating its 200th anniversary next year, is a class 1 fire department, with Advanced Firefighter training, the highest rating possible and the only one in the County. Until the County system is equal to the PFD I don't see how consolidation can occur. I will be reaching out to the County Commission to ask them to ensure that the County Fire department is continually improved until they meet the Pensacola standard of perfection in both Police and Fire protection.
  3. The Park - We had a workshop on the Community Maritime Park. While I thought the workshop was good and brought the groups together to close the loop on several issues, I left with some concern over Mr. Barker's financing report and how he plans to pay for the park. I will be spending a significant amount of time studying this issue over the next few weeks and will share my research on the financing issues and possibilities in this blog.
  4. Potholes - Finally, while many tasks tackled by a City Council person are interesting and even sometimes exhilerating I have found that there is no satisfaction quite like hearing a neighbor let you know about a pothole and taking steps to help them get it repaired. I found myself not only going out to meet with them to witness the growing crater but driving neighborhoods looking for potholes that I had seen walking District 3 during my campaign. Soooo....if you see them, let me know and we will work together with Al Garza, the City's engineer and quite possibly the most knowledgeable person in the City regarding infrastructure, to get it fixed before it swallows your cars. We do this one right and quickly!! Thanks to an amazing team lead by Mr. Al Garza.

Stay in touch and feel free to call with any questions or concerns.

Maren

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bingo, the VOTE and Our Future

I want to clarify a few issues regarding the Thursday night Bingo vote.
  1. The staffs position was that Bingo would not be allowed in C-1 but would be allowed in C-2 thus a vote for the change to C-2 was a tacit vote to allow Bingo immediately.
  2. I voted no as I believe that C-1 is fine for that area and we need more time as a City to investigate and regulate this form of gaming in our City.
  3. If we decide to allow Bingo, the Zoning to me is a formality but I will always side on the most restrictive zoning to potential less desirable uses.
  4. Our City has no ordinances or restrictions on Bingo as one has never been proposed in the City.
  5. What appeared on the agenda and was noticed as a Zoning Hearing did NOT clearly identify to citizens that if this change was made the Bingo proposal would have no further hurdles to pass for opening a Bingo Parlor around their homes.
  6. Many operational issues are still lingering...if 500 people show up on Friday night to play Bingo, where will they park. If you look at the site, it will not accommodate large crowds and the overflow parking will flow into the neighborhoods. That is unacceptable to me.

I do not oppose Bingo or gaming, in the right location or venue. My husband works with many gaming interests routinely in his business, they have their value and their proper place in a community. But I believe the citizens around the proposed site and throughout the City should have the opportunity to be presented with an open process of voicing their concerns ,having the developers answer questions as to traffic flow, hours of operation, parking, security and that logistical and regulatory issues associated with the development must be addressed PROACTIVELY not after they occur.

Finally, it saddens me to see our local economy fall to a level that we consider a Bingo parlor as economic development. We as a City are spending millions of dollars to build a rental car pavilion at the airport. I would hate to think that a visitors first impression of Pensacola to be a Bingo parlor as they head north from the airport out to 9th Avenue possibly on their way to Ellyson, GE or UWF.

As a citizen said " I just think at some point we have to get into the discussion about what we want our community to be in 20 years and perhaps that can serve to develop the filter for all decisions. You know the old saying "If you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there."

Our Mayor wants Pensacola to go from good to great. I support him wholeheartedly. I just have reservations that Bingo in this location isn't moving us towards great.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mr. Cohen's Response and my opinions

Mr. Cohen responded to me as follows. My position is laid out following the response.

-----Original Message-----
From: Thaddeus Cohen
Sent: Friday, January 16, 2009 12:34 PM
To: Maren Deweese; Helen Gibson; Edward Spears
Cc: HOA's
Subject: RE: PCIP worksheet and recommendations

Councilwoman Deweese

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to your questions stated below.

In the information previously forward, which includes the application, under section heading General Information item 2 are examples of improvements that would and would not be considered eligible. The committee that reviewed the applications believes brochures to fall under the category of “Eligible Programmatic Activities” similar in nature to cultural exhibits in this case they are maps.

The reservation of $24,900 is my response to on going budget constraints which is affecting all City services and programs. In light of projected continued revenue short falls in the General Fund, the setting aside of $24,900 is a prudent step take. These General Revenue dollars represent the contribution the Community Development Department would make to assist in closing the budget gap if and when the need arises.

Your concern of the relative value of brochures vs. landscaping I feel is taken into consideration in the application within the context of item 4 which discusses competitive status, how first time applicants are considered, as well as, past history and ability to execute. As you can appreciate these judgments are being made within the areas that have been deemed eligible. In this particular case as previously stated the brochures would fall under “Eligible Programmatic Activities…..”

You have indicated that there are other funding sources i.e. Historic Pensacola Preservation Board or the CRA which may be able to fund the brochures. While various areas have funds; that does not diminish the current position that has brochures as an eligible activity for which PCIP fund may be expended.

I agree that the commitment shown by our citizens to find the resources needed to continue the “improvement of their neighborhoods and fostering a higher sense of community” is something the City encourages and will endeavor to strengthen. Each neighborhood within the guidelines of the PCIP programs believes they have put forward an application that furthers those goals.

I hope this explanation provides some idea of the context in which the decisions to fund various applications was made.


My Opinion

The committee that reviewed the applications believes brochures to fall under the category of “Eligible Programmatic Activities” similar in nature to cultural exhibits in this case they are maps.

I disagree on two fronts.
A) PCIP application 5(b) states that "Costs incurred prior to an award or after a contract is ended will not be eligible as a match." Since the brochure has already been designed and is ready for printing the funds are not eligible for match as they have already been incurred pre award.
B) PCIP application item 2 paragraph 4 states "Funding for ongoing programs or adminstrative expenses will not be considered." Is this a one-time brochure? When they run out they arent going to reorder? Seems like either an ongoing program or a waste of city funds.

The reservation of $24,900 is my response to on going budget constraints which is affecting all City services and programs. In light of projected continued revenue short falls in the General Fund, the setting aside of $24,900 is a prudent step take. These General Revenue dollars represent the contribution the Community Development Department would make to assist in closing the budget gap if and when the need arises.

Mr. Cohen unilaterally cut the funds in response to a "projected" short fall and would be the departments "contribution" to close a budget gap "if" the need arises. I point out three items:
A) This department has enough funds to loan an executive to the CMPA including compensation and benefits free of charge for over 2 years but has no funds for one of its real purposes.
B) No budgetary need has arisen to date and staff has not informed any departments that the additional 5% will be required.
C) In the end, Staff makes recommendations and City Council makes final decisions. We (the people elected by the Citizens) are responsible to them for the spending and allocation of their tax dollars.

Your concern of the relative value of brochures vs. landscaping I feel is taken into consideration in the application within the context of item 4 which discusses competitive status, how first time applicants are considered, as well as, past history and ability to execute. As you can appreciate these judgments are being made within the areas that have been deemed eligible. In this particular case as previously stated the brochures would fall under “Eligible Programmatic Activities…..”

In my discussions with the affected HOA's they followed the advise and guidance of the staff in preparing their proposals just to have their projects deemed ineligible after the budget reduction unilaterally performed by the Director.

You have indicated that there are other funding sources i.e. Historic Pensacola Preservation Board or the CRA which may be able to fund the brochures. While various areas have funds; that does not diminish the current position that has brochures as an eligible activity for which PCIP fund may be expended.

I repeat my eligibility concerns noted above and note Mr. Cohen does not deny other funding sources exist for this project.

I agree that the commitment shown by our citizens to find the resources needed to continue the “improvement of their neighborhoods and fostering a higher sense of community” is something the City encourages and will endeavor to strengthen. Each neighborhood within the guidelines of the PCIP programs believes they have put forward an application that furthers those goals.

I agree, but I believe that the tourist brochures selected are the weakest proposal submitted and in no way go to either the spirit or purpose of the PCIP program.

I need your support and voice at the committee meeting in order to make our case for your projects. Maybe I'm new but if they cut 100% of these GR PCIP funds this year do they think next years budget will for some reason be flush with cash to fund these projects.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Upcoming PCIP Funding

The following are questions I have posed with regard to PCIP funding recommendations that have been made for the 2009 cycle.

-----Original Message-----
From: Maren Deweese
Sent: Thursday, January 15, 2009 8:51 PM
To: Thaddeus Cohen; Helen Gibson; Edward Spears
Cc: HOAs
Subject: PCIP worksheet and recommendations

I wanted to request an email copy of the applications for La Belle Terre, Bayou Lane and Dover Landing. These neighborhoods are all within District 3.

I have analyzed the worksheet and looked at which requests were classified as GR fund recipients and which were LOST recipients. I have the following questions:

Neighborhoods of Seville is receiving 100% GR funds available due to Mr. Cohen reserving the $24,900 earmarked for these projects in the current budget.

Can the printing of brochures logically be considered under the financial impact statement for the PCIP funds?

From PCIP guidelines:

FINANCIAL IMPACT: These funds will provide infrastructure improvements in neighborhoods to preserve and enhance property values and in turn ad valorem revenues to the City.

How do printed brochures bring ad valorem value to the city?

How can we justify reserving 100% of community initiative funds set aside for this program and be more ½ way through the budget year?

One concern is that brochures are consumed and replacement is needed, requiring additional funds. Landscaping is more durable and remains in place, enhancing the surrounding property values.

It appears that funding can be found for the brochures from within CRA monies or funding provided to the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board.

The Historic Pensacola Preservation Board states: the HPPB provides benefits to the city, including their work in the promotion of tourism through enhancement of historical attractions.

A total of $8,984 is being pledged by citizens of La Belle Terre, Bayou Lane and Dover Landing for the improvement of their neighborhoods and fostering a higher sense of community. Surely their tax dollars would be better used enhancing their neighborhoods, as opposed to printing brochures for non tax paying tourists. This appears to be a flaw in the system and final analysis of what PCIP is intended for.

We have asked our citizens to get involved and make commitments of their money and their time, yet are unable to follow through with our funding proposed in August.

I look forward to hearing from you on Friday as Monday is a holiday and Tuesday is committee meetings.

Thanks for your attention to this matter, I have copied the interested parties within District 3.

Please reply to all with any emails in the interest of open discussion to resolve.

I recommend the three requests be funded with PCIP GR funds that are being held in reserves.

Regards,
Maren DeWeese
District 3 Councilwoman

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dream LARGE and Good Luck!!

The following letter is from a citizen that does not want to be characterized as a Naysayer, yet has concerns about the Maritime Park as it is proposed.

I want to offer some clarification and answers to the public about the proposed Park and Multi Use Stadium.


Citizen Letter: ( Editorial Note- I have edited to condense the citizen's comments to capture major points of his letter)

In the months leading up to the Maritime Park referendum, opponents were continuously characterized as “naysayers”. I wanted to vote for the park, but as a life-long baseball fan, the “multi-use” stadium was a deal breaker for me. I had always hoped to see minor league baseball return to Pensacola.

* Class AA Southern League would have been a much better fit for Pensacola than the independent Pelicans.

* After the 2004 season, the Atlanta Braves moved their Southern League affiliate from Greenville, SC to Pearl, MS, a suburb of Jackson and upgraded their stadium to Class AA standards. The relocated Mississippi Braves opened play in a new 8,000 seat stadium in April of 2005.

* A Southern League team would bring a number of significant benefits to Pensacola.

* Fans would be treated to quality baseball and the opportunity to watch future major leaguers field.

* Four of last season’s playoff teams - the Cubs, Dodgers, Brewers and Rays - have affiliates in the Southern League.

* Pensacola would have an instant rivalry with the Mobile Bay Bears.

* The community’s profile in the Southeast would be raised, joining a league with teams in Jacksonville, Mobile, Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville, Raleigh, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Jackson, MS.

* Fans of other league teams might look at Pensacola as a possible vacation destination, giving them the opportunity to visit our beaches and catch their team on the road.

* Over time, a minor league club would provide a sense of identity for the community. As players made their way to the major leagues, locals would begin to feel a part of something larger.

* Some major leaguers might vacation in Pensacola, or decide to retire here after their major league careers ended.

* The idea of minor league baseball in Pensacola is certainly not out of the question. At the very least, the possibility should have been a point of discussion during the run-up to the Maritime Park referendum.

* The stadium at the Maritime Park will be too small for a Class AA team and the location is not ideal for expanding the stadium at a later date.

No, I am not against change, but I believe that Pensacola needs more activity-based enterprises that would bring people downtown on a daily basis. Special events several nights a year might help businesses survive, but it will not help them thrive. Businesses need more incentive to locate downtown. Foot traffic would help.

As newly elected officials, you have the opportunity to help create a new vision for Pensacola, a vision that encourages activity, fosters a vibrant community and provides jobs in the process. In the past, some have confused change with progress, creating a patchwork of disjointed development. You are now in a position to oversee the development of a master plan for our community and show us what Pensacola can become.
Dream large and good luck!

My Response and clarification.

The Multi-Use stadium is being built to be just that ...able to accommodate many different events with numerous configurations. If we build now to AA Baseball standards then the entire plan shifts and profitability throughout the year is drastically changed. A Multi-Use venue is the vehicle we need to have diversification and year round access & use of the waterfront park. IE: profitability.

It is my understanding that expansion for extra seating is possible within the current plans, with an upper deck and outfield seating...should that become a need in the future.

Current plans have the stadium built above the Flood Line from Hurricane Ivan. The center area of the Maritime Park will stand between 13 and 14 feet above sea level. More than enough height to weather even the most serious of storms.

I agree with the advantages of having a AA Baseball Team in Pensacola and see it as yet another opportunity that will be available to us once the Maritime Park and Museum are built. This proposed project will spur private investment in all of downtown and bring vacationers and Pensacolians downtown and create an environment we have only dreamed of until now.

We have an opportunity, within our reach as a community, to make Pensacola a thriving and vibrant place to live, work and play... Let's get started.

I invite your comments, concerns and input to foster open discussion and help us all learn what the many options and opinions are about the future of our city.




Monday, January 12, 2009

We need the Maritime Park...especially now!

I received an email recently from a resident outside of my district who is against the Maritime Park. Always has been and always will be. While I am NOT happy as many with how long this project has taken and how little we are getting for the money, I believe we need this project to move forward. It does bring jobs. It will bring new business to downtown. Let me address the issues the citizen proposed and offer some additional thoughts. (Editorial Note I have edited the Citizens comments but have tried to capture the issue.)

Citizen:
The Master Developer says that we should start the project and that he will get the funds from the US Government. From what I understand, that is 14,000,000 dollars. My question is who funds this development if he fails?

Response:
The MD is planning on using his lobbying firm in January to start that process. If he is unsuccessful in obtaining the funds, obviously that will reduce the planned scope of the initial project. I believe it is essential to move forward with remediation, clearing and prepping the land NO MATTER WHAT. Of the $40 million, it appears that $25 million will be required just to remediate, clear, and turn the site into a green space (no buildings at all). Every single person I have ever met on this issue wants SOMETHING on this site. Some a park only, some a stadium. So regardless of your beliefs as to what, the $25 million is a sunk cost. So take it off the table. We ALL want something more than 23 acres of weeds and thats the cost, period! If we dont get the money, there are many alternatives that cost the taxpayers of Pensacola NOTHING MORE.

Citizen:
The Maritime Museum is from what I understand around $9,000,000 underfunded and the State is several billion in the red. The legislature will be meeting in January to determine what needs to be cut in order to balance, I am assuming non-essential projects like this could top the list. Furthermore, when the park plan was first presented the Museum was a "Must" before anything else, however, that is not how it is sounding now. What changed?

Response:
The Maritime Museum is a must for me even ahead of the stadium. The funding for it is a match between the State and private donors. From all I have heard the private portion is close to securing its half. I believe the State will continue to match investments of private donors, as it is a great leverage of tax payer funds (otherwise, many projects fall 100% on the State...a worse option). If there is anything I am sure of in this project is that Nancy Fetterman will stand in the doorway of the John H. Fetterman Museum and cut the ribbon. The lady does not know how to fail. I will do anything I can to help this aspect of the park succeed.

Citizen:
The original plan for the Maritime Park was for a commercial development at a much larger scale than the current plan. The commercial developments leases were to help pay for the park. In the current Master Development Agreement these developments will not be until some later phase for which there is no guarantee that they must be built. With that being said, the business model for profitability has changed and the park will make less money. Therefore, who will be responsible for the deficits from the reduced leases? My obvious concern is without a viable anchor, there will be nothing to draw visitors to the park on a daily basis, but only on days of games and other usage throughout the year.

Response:
The private development is unknown at this time. Would you sign a lease or commit to a project that has taken over 2 years to get to the STARTING LINE. The only private development commitment to date is the $12,000,000 Studer office building 100% funded by Studer. This is a significant commitment that many people conveniently forget in addition to the stadium lease, the $2.25 million to the museum, the $1,250,000 committment to the CMPA over 5 years. As the project progresses, the private development will come. I know of a 100 room hotel project interested in the site that already has preliminary financials done and a flag identified. I can't help but chuckle that the people that want the site to remain a vast $25 million open space with picnic tables 100% cared for by City Parks and Recreation on the public dollar are all the sudden concerned that we don't have enough private development. BTW private development is funded by private dollars just to be clear.

Citizen
The Baseball Stadium / Multi-Use stadium is by far the most controversial part of the park. Everywhere and everyone that I talk to expresses the least support for this park feature. Mr. Studer's lease is for him to pay 175,000 per year for the stadium which amounts to 1.2% of the overall cost of the stadium alone. That barely pays 25% of the interest on the note and that is before anyone ever turns on a light, pays for insurance or maintenance at the stadium. We hear that the stadium will compete with the Wharf, however, the Wharf has 10,000 seats and ample parking. The Maritime Baseball Stadium has 3500 seats and 300 parking places with the nearest parking 2500 feet away. Furthermore, if you were a manager for an artist, where would you play, 10,000 seats or 3500 -- it is pure scale of economics. Also, other uses for the stadium such as local baseball, etc could never cover the lease payments that would make this a viable entity.

Response:
The stadium is the draw to bring people downtown in large numbers. I'm encouraged even more that Dr. Bense and UWF are now considering football. The stadium will eliminate the need for the University to pay for a stadium and will accomodate football and seat at lease 8,000 people for it. (see the design criteria) The stadium will seat more than 3,500 for concerts when the field is considered. It will compete with the Wharf and be the middle ground between the Saenger and the civic center. Managers don't chose venues. Private promoters pay acts to show up and play whether for $1 or $100,000. They then charge admission. Would you rather go hear a concert on the bay in an urban environment or by a ditch. With a hotel adjacent to the stadium, high school, college and recreational tournaments in many sports will also be attracted in addition to festivals and community activities. Movie nights also are popular in similar parks. Once again there are many additional funding possibilities that cost the citizens of Pensacola nothing extra.

Citizen
It is widely known that the Park is being paid for using CRA funds. However, we are facing a housing and real estate correction or collapse. What risks are there to the funds generated by the CRA. What I am saying is the CRA is based on the tax amount above a certain level. But, if property values drop below that level then the funds of course will dry up as well. What then?

Response:
In no way do I see CRA values falling to a point where this project is outside its capacity to cover. Simple math.

Citizen
My largest concern is that when advertised the CMP developed what has come to be known by many as "The Fantasy Renderings" which are the artist concept of the park. The current plan shows a great lawn and the stadium and parking. I can still remember the drawings with the kids eating ice cream on the boardwalk along a waterfront maritime exhibit with the Maritime Museum at the end of the boardwalk in the background. The next drawing I saw was people shopping in what looked like 4 story buildings with a road which looked like Palafox street. No waterfront dining or shopping and now the latest has nothing in it.

Response:
The private development depicted is not included in what the CMPA is paying for. The current drawings show just what has been committed to by the master developer. Other features are not cancelled, just funding has not been identified to date.

Please keep the comments coming. My priority in 2009 is cleaning, clearing and preping the site while we watch closely how the master developer performs. I will make sure the peoples money is not at risk and that we get what we are paying for as promised.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!!

I wanted to share a bit of tradition.
Dinner for One is played 15 times on every channel around Germany and even more all around Europe on New Year's Eve. We watch this every New Year's Eve, sometimes with our family in Stuttgart Germany and other times from our own celebrations.

What a Joy to share it with you.

Cheerio Miss Sophie, same procedure as every year!

Happy New Year to you and yours, let's make 2009 the best together!

here is the link to youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1v4BYV-YvA

enjoy