To the Editor,
I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight on a recent Letter to the Editor by Mr. Elton Shepherd regarding the City of Sanibel's budget for 2012/2013.
In the Shepherd's letter published in the Island Reporter, Mr. Shepherd mentions three budget items that are incorrect. As a former operator of a family owned CPA firm and a CFO of a subsidiary of Xerox, I have prepared and approved many budgets in my accounting career and I am very satisfied with the latest budget for the City of Sanibel for fiscal year 2012/13.
City Council adopts goals every year and for the last six years our number one goal has been to sustain and strengthen the City's financial outlook by reducing fixed expenses, accelerate debt reduction and protect reserves.
There have been some recent questions regarding this year's budget decision and I will clarify some of the erroneous or incomplete versions of our adopted budget 2012/13. The highlights of the budget are as follows: we reduced the taxes by two percent with property values declining by the same value, allocated $300,000 to be redeemed in 2036 and 2035 recreation bonds in 2016 and put $1.6 million back in reserves.
Additionally, we reduced the required increase for sewer fees from three to one percent as well as passed no increase in reclaimed water fees.
The first item Mr. Shepherd discussed was regarding the "Center for Life" and the major repairs of approximately $350,000 that were postponed or deferred until next budget. After a great deal of information provided by staff, it was decided that the new roof and HVAC would prohibit any other changes because of the 50 percent FEMA rule. The current property value of the property is approximately $737,000 and the allowed improvements could not exceed $368,500 in five years. Therefore, by postponing the improvements it allows us to put the funds in the ending balance (reserves) and have a complete evaluation of the options required for our "Center for Life."
Second, this year's project to maintain and clean the Sanibel River was sent for competitive bid and only one was submitted by Canoe Adventures, Inc. This happens to be operated by a person who coincidently served as a council member several decades ago. I am not aware of any link between Mr. (Mike) Westfall's past volunteer public service and this competitively awarded contract. The process was advertised for all bidders and only one was received. It is extremely disheartening to have an uninformed member of the public question the entire council's ethics.
However, I would suggest that people perform their due diligence and all care is taken before making a slanderous statement.
Third, the decision to build a new recreation center was put to a public referendum and was voted by the citizens of Sanibel by over 70 percent. While it is unfortunate that a citizen cannot embrace the will of the people, Mr. Shepherd is certainly entitled to his opinion and disagree with over 70 percent of the voters of this community who overwhelmingly approved the construction of our recreation center.
However, as one of your elected representatives, this City Council has a proven record of fulfilling the will of our citizens with the financial prudence as our top priority.
Additionally, to reiterate, we allocated $300,000 to redeem 2036 and 2035 Recreation bonds in 2016 and will continue to accelerate early redemption as the bonds allow.
Lastly, as a proud member of a City Council that has been intensely focused on the financial affairs of the City of Sanibel, our commitment has been to reduce fixed costs, accelerate debt reduction, and protect and increase reserves. As I look back on my six budget cycles on council we have stayed focused on our goals - we have reduced overall fixed expenses by over 25 percent, payment of over $20 million of debt(including $9 million accelerated Debt Retirement and $5 million in pension liabilities), and increased reserves with property values declining almost 22 percent during that period.
My wish is that other cities, states and the federal government could demonstrate the same fiscal prudence that Sanibel has of cutting taxes, accelerating debt reduction, protecting reserves and balancing a budget annually on a consistent basis.
While I always appreciate our citizens' comments regarding our financial affairs, it is only appropriate that the facts be reflected accordingly.