Bond referendum and village budget raise vexing questions

Musings about the $100 million GO Bond referendum and the budget -- although maybe this should be “The Exorcist,” because the devil is in the details .

1. The GO Bonds

Whatever the ballot language is (“financing authorization,” etc.), it’s a means to an end in spending up to $100 million -- raising this obvious question: What happens to our property taxes to repay this money? So far, it simply refers to the village’s “power of taxing”and our low low mileage rate.

Putting forth a huge, mind-boggling number like this, and exceeding the debt cap, has big repercussions. Throwing taxpayers into conflict with those behind it -- council, manager and “Sustainability & Resiliency” Officer -- as “blue sky” thinking and incomplete staff work.

Yes, we know the money is supposed to be used for infrastructure projects. Take rising sea level, for example. An environmental problem for the entire island. To be reassured that this project money is going to work, get answers to these questions:

(1) Are we talking about the entire island, or just VKB?

(2) Does the project have a design concept to describe it?

(3) What is the estimated cost, over what period of time?

(4) Is it in partnership, sharing the costs, with the feds, state, and county?

(5) How will it be managed from start to finish?

(6) What is the likelihood of success and what are the risks, if any?

In a practical sense, you’d think this would be a series of GOBs, each tied to a specific project, with answers to these questions. In complete context. And for sufficient space use a mail-in ballot for 2021-22.

As it stands right now, a lump-sum $100 million GOB lacks sufficient detail to make an “informed decision” in the poll booth.

2. The FY20/21 Budget.

I have mixed feelings about this, and it is difficult to make an overall judgement because it results from a severely distressed situation caused by Covid-19. Overall, it was a good job -- finally -- of hacking costs down to equal a 6% loss of revenue.

Council members questioned very few line items. They were mostly concerned about meeting the values and standards of VKB.

I don’t want to get bogged down discussing line items here, but two things totaling about $1 million, should be highlighted: (1) The $562,000 “contract services” money that goes to City of Miami mainly for fire department back-up, and (2) FreeBee getting $442,000, and inflated numbers submitted for ridership. It should be more self-sustaining using a pay-as-used “punch card” for 30 trips at $4 each ( 2/3rds the cost ).

I’m troubled by the suspicion that not enough work is being done to determine cost / benefit effectiveness. The evaluation work is not up to expectations. The council needs this, but rejected the idea of a Budget Review and Planning Committee of community professionals. We once had that and it gave us the debt cap.

To put it bluntly, it needs the “grass roots” input of people who live here! Walking the walk…

Ed Meyer