By: Howard Melamed
The citizens of Coral Springs have voted against more debt on their heads and on their tax bills. They did not take the bait of politicians trying to pull the wool over the their eyes by holding a special election for three bond issues totaling $77 million which history has shown attracts a low turnout.
Less than 6,700 people turned out for this expensive election. A majority voted this bad spending down. It’s about time.
The City of Coral Springs campaign with their logo “Investing In You” failed. This should have been an investment into the city’s overspending and incompetence in running the business of the city.
Here is how we got here:
The city passed a tax increase last October. The increase was one of the largest ever. Almost $10 million per year so they can spend on city services. The increase was built in to property values rising, by way of an increase in the millage rate, or the amount the city can collect based on the appraised value of property owned in this city. That meant that the city can count on $10 million more coming in every year as property values continue to rise. No one liked this increase except the city commission and city manager despite protests by packed city hall of citizens. Mayor Skip Campbell wanted a small increase, while Commissioner Dan Daley wanted a larger one. They compromised, and they still could not balance their budget.
This was after the commission ran up the cost of the new City Hall, which was originally $27 million to $40,000,000. There was no belt-tightening, and instead we have a Taj Mahal type of city hall that is too big, and a parking garage too expensive for a city of our size. City staff now has big offices with nice balconies.
So this put the city budget out of balance since they spent $40 million on the city hall and nothing on fire stations, parks and other infrastructure projects. Along with the white elephant of a building comes the expenses associated with it which includes paying the debt.
The same city commissioners who didn’t listen to us before, decided they need more money for three bond items a few months after they jacked up the taxes on property owners and businesses, to pay for the important projects they should have spent the money on.
Several projects that were supposed to be funded by the $77 million bonds were projects already finished (Fire Station on Atlantic Blvd. for instance). This was a slight of hand approach that we caught them at. They looked for places to say they needed the money so that they could justify wasteful spending and cover up their poor financial decisions of the past.
Let’s be clear: the city did not put out their best efforts to get out the vote. No signs on poles, no big effort to provide us with any more information than a document sent by mail. They also did not want to wait for the general election in November, expecting that a low turnout would normally go in the favor the bond items. Put it on the March ballot, and surely the public would no doubt be fooled and vote for it.
A pathetic 6,700 voters, that’s 8 percent of the 82,000 eligible voters turned out at the polls or voted absentee for the bond items. In a regular election, 30,000 people would show up. I am proud to be one of the 8 percent and know how important my vote was.
Simply put, the city needs to tighten their belts and reduce their spending. In a city that is built out, they did not need to double the capacity of the city hall and hire more people. They did not need to renovate a fire station that was already renovated. They need to sell the old city hall and the land associated with it to generate funds for essential projects. They need to rethink taking over the two water districts, Coral Springs Improvement District and North Springs Improvement District, and consolidate it into the city water department.
There is another election coming up in November. No doubt the city will put the same $77 million bond on the ballot to once again try to fool the citizens. No doubt the citizens will remember when the city increased our taxes to the highest level ever, and tried to pull a fast one and put us another $77 million in debt.
The city commissioners needed a good wake up call. It looks like the defeat of the $77 million in bonds may have done the trick.
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Howard Melamed is a long-time resident of Coral Springs. He is a civil engineer and CEO of CellAntenna Corporation which has been located in Coral Springs since 1992. He serves on the City of Coral Springs Economic Development Advisory Committee and is the editor of Coralsprings.com.