Sunday, April 26, 2009

WHAT IF?

Our recent budget workshop reflected how pitiful the City's commitment to economic development actually is. We have thought of economic development as money donated to the Chamber... Commit and forget.

We have to start thinking differently about how we not only exist in this new economy, but how we can thrive and attract the kinds of business and new residents that will grow our community. We now have excellent colleges and universities yet are one of the poorest and most undereducated areas in the region and turn away students each year for lack of funding...this gap continues to grow and residents continue to leave the area for better access to education and more employement opportunities.

What if the City of Pensacola could find a solution to decreasing property values, a solution to an undereducated workforce, a means of making Pensacola a premier spot for economic expansion of current businesses and a hot location for prospective businesses and an area that those outside the City(who use our services and infrastructure without paying for them) were excited to be annexed into the City of Pensacola?

What if we could make ourselves the envy of all of America and it would not cost the City an extra dime of new tax money? What if in these hard economic times, when it is hard to put food on the table, we all knew our children's or grandchildren's future was set out in front of them...taken care of!

I am not dreaming...nor is this idea original. Pensacola, let's copy Kalamazoo!!!

Kalamazoo Michigan has adopted a policy that every child educated in the city limits of Kalamazoo (the school district is the same as city boundaries) can attend college and his tuition is covered. City of Pensacola residents ,educated at public schools, would benefit from this type of plan.

How can we do this when our budget is tight and there is limited funds for our future?

This past year PJC graduated 1700 students but turned away 1500 others for inability to pay tuition. These 1500 people now are not acquiring the skills to advance in a meaningful career, making less than even one year in college would give them. They will more than likely live in the City but not live in appreciating housing. Many City, County and State services will try to assist them in developing a skill or finding a job. Education is what provides opportunity!!

How do we pay for it? Simple. Students that live in the City will be guaranteed tuition to either PJC of UWF. At PJC either an Associate of Arts (university prep) or Associate of Science (a skilled profession). Funds would go to the School directly. Students with bright futures or other scholarships could apply the benefit to books. The max amount per student is fixed. The money stays in our community providing jobs, benefits and growth. Sorry but if you don't live in the City limits NO BENEFIT! Want to grow and learn, want your kids to have a better future, buy property in the City and LIVE here.

Where does the money come from? Also simple. This past week the Council passed a sale of airport land for $3.3 million over the next 4 years ( $900K, $800K, $800K, $800K) There's our foundation. It isn't in the budget recently presented and therefore is found money. In 2011 Mr. Barker pointed out that we will finish paying for a bond issue that frees up approx. $3 million per year of General Fund money. There's the annual amount.

We have talked about waterfront parks and economic incentives. Those moneys are hoping that outside investment comes to town by the lure of the concept. Why not invest in our own citizens and if others come fine, but if they don't we have made ourselves a better community.

I have plenty more on this topic and will presenting more in the weeks ahead. Please check back here and research what Kalamazoo has done.

Pensacola, we CAN do this and not raise taxes. We CAN do this and make ourselves better. We CAN do this and give our kids a brighter future. Just think YES and don't jump to no. Just think What IF?

Scenice Bluffs Park...What a difference 3 hours can make!

District 3 citizens along with off duty Pensacola Firefighters and Parks and Recreation employees spent Saturday morning cleaning, cutting, clearing and pruning the Scenic Bluffs Park. What a difference in only 3 hours!

We cleared seven areas in key locations where illegal activities have occurred in the past. The clearing of dense areas improves safety and gives visitors a visual path to walk throughout the boardwalk. Police will now be stepping up their undercover and uniformed officer patrols and enforce closure of the park at DUSK.

Residents of Dover Landing and Inverness joined in. Dover Landing had just completed their PCIP landscaping project yesterday and were looking to "Pay it Forward". CJ Lewis , having recently reclaimed his city park on Forest Glen in Scenic Heights, also helped clean the low growth areas down by Pensacola Bay.

The firefighters jumped in with chain saws and brush trimmers and cleared some otherwise untameable areas as only heroes can do, many of them having just come off a 24 hour shift.


Total cost of yesterday to the City...ZERO! The Parks and Recreation team, along with Director Dave Flaherty,volunteered their time on Saturday to bring their expertise and knowledge to our project.

A community came together to make their City a better place to live. Neighbors made new friends, visitors from Kentucky, North Carolina and Louisiana marveled at the natural beauty and the amazing clay bluffs. People who use the park regularly saw that others care enough to donate their time for their park. Reggie Slack, former Auburn Quarterback and Pro Football player, was doing his regular jogging and stair-climbing workout yesterday and wants to get involved and possibly do the first Bay Bluffs Boot Camp workout classes.

While another Pensacola waterfront park is getting all of the headlines, District 3 is committed to making OUR waterfront park the best it can be. Come check it out this week and hike the entire boardwalk. The view is amazing, the workout can't be beat and you will hopefully leave feeling refreshed and relaxed from all the natural beauty.

We will host nature walks, "A Coffee and A Sunrise" and many other events in the coming months so let me know what your interests are and let's "Get Out...Way Out" at our 50 Acre Bay Bluffs Park.

Thank you to the following volunteers that gave a few hours of their weekend to make Pensacola a better place to live. You made a BIG difference! Revonda Stewart, Karen Harper, Mr. & Mrs. Gee, CJ Lewis, Jennifer Simmons, PFD engine 1 -Simmons, Longsworth and Daehn, John Chapman,Chad Dunn, Chett Lyuker, Jeff Wilmoth, John Jones III, Cliff Ragsdale, Leroy White Jr., Hugh Patroni, Martin Stugeon, Mark Snyder, Chris Eadler, Chuck Sansom, Larry Bruner, Neil Jones, Nathan Edler, Kim Agmiar, Frank English, Art Boykin, Larry Williams, Eric Johnson, DeWeese Family.

See you at the Bluffs!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Line in the Sand

I have returned from a great Spring Break with my family. We went to Virginia Beach where I lived for 3 years before moving home. Jeff sits on the Board for a defense contractor in the area and had meetings. I took the chance to share a bit of my past with the kids and explore some of the changes that Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area has experienced over the past 2 decades. They are 20 years into their revitalization program, to say there is progress is an understatement. More on this soon. It's exciting stuff...

When I returned , council had our General Fund workshop. To say I was disappointed would also be an understatement. The County, the School Board and other government entities are forecasting at least a 7% decrease in property taxes and our staff submitted a budget with tax revenue flat and equal to last year. While staff stated they did not want to speculate on proposed decreases at this time I pointed out that we are fooling ourselves if we think a decrease is not coming. No one else would join me in rejecting the proposed General Fund budget to the next step. Although the vote was a straw poll, I stated that we are only creating a crisis in the coming months in the eyes of our citizens.

Let me be clear. What was passed was a start at best and will not be the budget going forward. If you are like the DeWeese's you have seen your property values decrease 10-20-30% in a last year. To think that real estate assessments will be level is an illusion and unrealistic.

In the proposed GF budget we have already eliminated all Human Services yet maintained 40K for the Arts Council. I have a fundamental problem keeping one and cutting the others. In this economy we must be fair and balanced and above all else realistic about what our taxpayer's funds are supporting.

In reviewing the budget I can not find many more non-employee costs to cut. Sooner or later we must face the reality that we can no longer afford to maintain an 892 person workforce with all the benefits, compensation and retirement they currently receive. That is 892 families, some of my family, dear friends and people I know to love serving this city. We are all in this together and must ALL make some sacrifice in the coming year. We need to be creative, flexible and think of new ways to sustain our city.

At it's core, this issue is about what a city and it's tax base can support. We have city government to provide services and keep our citizen's safe. The reality is also a human issue that wraps around our discussions... peoples jobs and livelihood are involved and their sense of well being too. Everyone in Pensacola has been touched in some way by the free fall our national economy has taken and these same citizens can not sustain the level of employment and benefits currently offered to employees of our city.

The DeWeese's have lost most of our retirement and had no pay raise in 2 years, pensions were never a consideration in our retirement plan since most companies have eliminated them and shifted to more reasonable investments in their employee's future.

How can government expect to maintain this higher level of funding with the limited funds we are expecting over the next 2 to 3 years. What is committed already is not even on the table, we must stop the free fall our city dollars are in and get smart about the future.

Longevity, DROP and overtime are all areas for immediate consideration in an effort for all to participate in right sizing our budget.

I have not met one person that works for our city that does not wake up every day and work toward making our city the best it can be. They bring passion and commitment to their work and their teams. There is no question about their contribution or value to Pensacola.

We must work together to find our path through this crisis our city is facing. I look forward to your comments and insight. I would like to have some meetings with District 3 residents over the next few weeks. However, I ask that your suggestions respect the service and commitment of our city employees, but bring real world solutions to our real world problem. Each and every one of us can make a difference in this process...let's get to work.