Sanibel: Well positioned for the economic climate
Campaign events in recent weeks have sought to undermine the public trust in the current council and my service. In published ads in the Island Sun, “the City is in serious economic straits” and the Council “has not controlled the budget process.” The COTI ad of Feb. 19 blatantly claimed the city is facing “A Financial Crisis.” These are strong words meant to frighten residents, shake their faith in the City and turn them against the current Council.
I must set the record straight, more so for these fearful voters than for myself.
Mr. Bath has cited two issues, an unfunded pension obligation and inflated employee salaries to support his claims. He is uninformed and wrong on both counts. This so-called pension problem he is so concerned with occurs only if all 141 city employees retire at once – all together. This will not and cannot happen. The pension liability exists over 30 years and actuarial reports on the pension state flatly, the unfunded portion will be resolved by the 30th year. We have proactively started to address reducing this liability within 15-20 years.
Mr. Bath also fails to point out that the pension “problem,” as he puts it, dates to 1999 when the majority of the Council made reckless financial buyouts to several employees. Those majority council members were also members of COTI, the same organization endorsing Mr. Bath and Mr. Berger and claiming we are in “financial crisis.”
As to employee salaries, Mr. Bath claims – without stating a source – that current budget year employee average pay with benefits is $86,000 annually. When we compared the analysis of Salary and Benefits Costs for the City of Sanibel (public document dated Feb. 20, 2009) to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Third Quarter 2008 data on compensation/benefits for State and Local Government employees, we are within two percent of the National Average. Taken together, the pension and salary issues are not a cause for fiscal concern.
Mr. Bath claims the City should have seen a problem coming two years ago with the worsening economy. That is exactly what this current Council and administration saw and acted upon in the last two budgets. Currently, the City has Fund balances and reserves of $13.9 million dollars – the greatest amount of reserves in City history. The first quarter financial statement of the City (Dec. 31, 2008), as stated by the Finance Director, shows “City revenues exceeding projections and expenditures below budget projections.” In short, there is no financial crisis as claimed by Mr. Bath and COTI. In fact, in contrast to Florida cities and municipalities and states nationally, Sanibel is in a very strong condition fiscally as stated on Feb. 20, 2009 by Silvia Edwards, CPA, CGFO, CPFO, the Finance Director, “Significantly strengthened reserves, combined with conservative budget and revenue projections have positioned us well for the current economic climate.”
This Council and candidates Mick Denham, Marty Harrity and myself have, with great caution and prudence in an uncertain economic climate have reduced the city budget, reduced salaried positions, renegotiated lower health care costs and lowered operational expenses to assure the City finances remain sound. Mr. Bath asks why there are not regular budget reviews by Council? Mr. Bath seems not to know that this council has instituted this past year, monthly reviews of the budget and departmental expenses to monitoring revenues and expenditures to assure a balanced budget.
The Island Reporter, after monitoring Council meetings for the past two years since my election, chose to label me as the “unofficial financial wizard of Sanibel,” a term respecting my expertise. I believe my 30-year record in accounting and executive management of major corporations has enabled me to bring “best financial management” practices to my responsibilities on the City Council.
I urge the voters to look at the solid and successful record of the current council members as they vote on March 3. Trust can only be gained by a record of responsible action and telling the truth. I believe I have earned that trust.