Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lake Worth Volunteer Boards

Lake Worth's Volunteer Board interviews are scheduled for September 30th.  Applications will be accepted through noon on September 20th.  They are accepting applications for the following boards: 

     Firefighters Pension Board
     Community Redevelopment Agency
     Planning & Zoning
     Sister City

If you have questions, please contact the Deputy City Clerk:

Valerie Hurley
Deputy City Clerk
City of Lake Worth

Friday, September 3, 2010

Better living...and weight loss...through mass transit...

The report

Reviewing the South Florida East Coast Corridor Study report -

Right now, I am about half way through the 150 plus page report. This is one of the foundations for implementing passenger transit service on the FEC (eastern tracks) through Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties. It's a rather technical report, at times, so as I go through it, I'll try to summarize the major points and findings. All in all, it is a good reminder that Lake Worth - all 40,000 more or less people that live in the city are a small part of larger urban region that faces many similarities and obstacles in the transportation of goods and people.

Lake Worth is not an island, nor should we pretend to be.

Growth for the region is showing increases - which reverses a recent trend of decline in population due to economic conditions - lack of jobs here and difficulty persons wishing to locate to this area have in selling their homes in Northeastern or Midwestern states. If this growth is going to happen, where is that growth best to take place? Laced throughout the report is the answer - in the older, established municipalities that grew up along the Florida East Coast (FEC) railroad to begin with. Much of our future as a region will depend upon us reaching back to our past in order to sustain our regional economy. If we really want to become a sustainable environment and conserve land that otherwise might be developed, it only makes sense to redevelop what has already been environmentally disturbed. It also makes sense to make an effort to reduce the distance between place of work and where you live. But, you have to create a land use pattern that supports this sort of redevelopment and reliance on transit.

Starting on page 34 of the report, we have the following text:
We are setting ourselves up to be one of the obstacles in the success of mass transit in our region. A three story height limitation near the FEC railroad tracks will do nothing to support transit and will not wean us from dependency on the automobile as a primary means of transportation. That's what ended up in our Comprehensive Plan.
The report lays out four alternatives (above) that range in financial and operational impacts. These are reviewed in the tables below. From left to right, they begin with buses providing linkages on existing roadways (US-1) to Tri-Rail, to buses actually using the FEC right-of-way with freight traffic, to self-contained diesel units (DMUs) to equipment that is like the present "push/pull" engines that provide Tri-Rail service. There are pluses and minuses to all of the various approaches, but this does a good job at laying out the alternatives. Let me know if you have questions.

The conclusions of the report will be the subject of the Public Hearing at the Kravis Center on September 14th.

Dalai Lama

When concern for others' feelings and welfare is missing, our activities tend to become spoiled. Through lack of basic human feeling, religion, politics, economics, and so on can be rendered dirty. Instead of serving humanity, they become agents of its destruction. Therefore, in addition to developing a sense of universal responsibility, we need actually to be responsible people.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tropical Ridge Neighborhood Association - Update

Tropical Ridge Neighborhood Association Meeting
Monday, September 13, 2010, 7pm at Compass
Come out for the 2010 Lake Worth Candidate’s Forum!

Banner Initiative
Help us raise some money for neighborhood identification with a chance to win an awesome prize!

The 212 Collier Avenue project was postponed this weekend. Read more about the circumstances and where you can go if you are interested in helping out somewhere else this weekend.

South Florida East Coast Corridor Study - Local Passenger Train Service on FEC (Eastern Tracks)

Public Hearing
Tuesday, September 14
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
Parking Garage, 3rd Level First Floor, Salons A & B 701
Okeechobee Blvd.
3:30 – 5:30 p.m. OR 6 – 8 p.m.

Public Transit Options:
a) Take the Tri-Rail train to the West Palm Beach Station stop.
b) The following Palm Tran Routes can be taken to Downtown West Palm Beach and to the drop off near the Kravis Center; #2, #31, #41, #43, #44, #46, #53.

Click title for DRAFT ALTERNATIVES ANALYSIS REPORT (large document) - I am taking time to review it now.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This is making national news...

Fetus found on South Fla. beach

Fetus discovered along Lake Worth Beach

Another tale from Utility Customer Service...

A reader called me this morning about his latest trip to pay his bill at the Utilities office in the City Hall Annex. By the way, this person insists on paying in person and getting a physical receipt so there is no question as to whether he paid his bill or not. This may be the underlying reason for a lot of people going to the office to pay their bill. But that's just learning to live in Lake Worth by a seasoned resident and not the essence of this morning's story.

The office wasn't too full. It was early. While in line to pay his bill, a lady sat down at the customer service desk and immediately announced, loud enough for others to hear, "I don't know what the #*^@ you people are doing. I was here yesterday and paid my bill. In fact, I talked to you (looking at person behind the glass) and you told me that I owed $40. So, I go home, thinking its taken care of, and my power is OFF. I go to my mailbox and there is a bill saying that I owe over $200 and need to pay that before my power is turned back on." The person behind the desk snickered and the manager came up and attempted to deal with the issue - about getting the reconnection fee taken off. The reader left before it was resolved. In the meantime, the ticket counter wasn't working which was causing more confusion about who was next.

Over the past two days, the Commission talked about the physical condition of the building and how shoddy/depressing it is - especially since it is the first impression many people have when they come to the city - whether they are a business owner, a homeowner, landlord or renter. It didn't sound like anything will be done soon as there are major improvements needed to the building for ADA compliance and bathrooms etc. It sounded like the City Manager would like to have Community Development operate out of there due to its central location, but other issues are preventing that like lack of dedicated parking. Whatever is done, I hope that they realize it is one of our buildings that is on the National Register.

If you would like to share your stories about your interaction with the utility department, send me an e-mail and I will try to work it in.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The past two days of City Commission work sessions regarding the budget...

I don't know if you were able to listen to them. I probably heard about 70 percent of them - actually more of what went on yesterday more than today. Today's highlight was immediately followed by a low. Jessica Plotkin made her excellent presentation on the reason to use CDBG monies for capital improvement projects - like expansion of the gymnasium and sidewalk improvements around schools within the CDBG target area (previous post for map.)  This is consistent with the recommendation from the Finance Advisory Board and not fund an affordable housing program that would be run by the city.  Many reasons were laid out related to burden on staff, unpredictable flows of CDBG monies from year to year, redundancy in other affordable housing programs and the limited yield (13 houses) related to the broad benefit for the community for the gym expansion and sidewalks.

These points were rebuffed, primarily by Commissioners Jennings and Golden, but Mayor Varela and Commissioner Mulvehill supported some type of housing program run by the city as well. Commissioner Jennings expressed surprise that this was a change from work they had done to establish a department and that many of the County affordable housing programs and others had waiting lists. Commissioner Golden said that she wants to take care of the people that are here in the city first and many are in older homes that need repair. Many cannot afford the repairs. The format of the "work session" got in the way as no one could firmly decide through a vote on whether or not to agree to the housing program or not - that would have to be done at their budget hearing - but it was clear which way the vote would go. Commissioner Jennings complained that this is coming at the "last minute" and didn't understand why the establishment of a housing program by the city was an issue now. Again, here we have a situation where the recommendation from an advisory board is discounted and termed a "surprise" - their recommendation is part of the procedure. It seems that much of the Commission is challenged by procedure.

Other items I picked up on is that no one seems to be sure if the pool is going to be closed or not. If it is going to be closed, the State has to be notified since their grant money went to renovate the pool. And it seems like the pool itself and how it is going to be integrated into the ultimate refurbishing of the casino building and the renovation of the beach is still up in the air. The concept of an internal auditor was brought up by Commissioner Maxwell as someone that would be able to lend an objective opinion on the city's finances. Click here to read what the Charter says about an internal auditor - it is one of the positions appointed by the Commission, along with the City Manager and City Attorney. It was hard to tell where that discussion ended up, although the director of Finance gave a good summary of the difference between an internal and external auditor.

There is wide acknowledgement that the five year projections are an educated guess and will likely not come to pass exactly as portrayed. The answer to the question of how the city will address the significant projected funding gap in future years was addressed, but without any conclusion.

They also collectively talked about the marketing of the city. They were of the mind that it is important to do, but that they don't really have the money to hire someone - most of this discussion came during the golf course portion of the meeting, but it had larger implications than just the golf course. They talked about hiring someone who would be "at risk" - meaning the city would be marketed by someone for free and only paid if it worked out? I think this came from their discussion regarding the Construction Manager At-Risk that they are talking about for the beach project. In my mind, anyone who works for this city as a professional is "at risk", in one way or another, whether paid or not.

The last part of the meeting deteriorated to a point where Commissioner Maxwell didn't like inferences or statements regarding the nature of his relationship with the city manager - meaning that it is negative. The Mayor suggested a future meeting where they would talk about the nature of the relationship between staff and the Commission and the procedure for requests for information. Commissioner Maxwell is not being given some basic information - like monthly financial updates.

If anyone else listened to or attended these meetings, please feel free to comment here. For the amount of time allocated for these meetings a commensurate amount of progress was not made.

Tonight at the Cottage

Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 – Plog Photo Blog

Click title for link to series of color photographs from mid-20th Century U.S.A. Really fascinating.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Click here for Presentation by Jessica Plotkin, Finance Advisory Board Member, re: Redundancy of Affordable Housing Programs and Use of CDBG funds.

Ms. Plotkin has been asked to make her presentation before the City Commission tomorrow morning at 8:30 as part of their budget work session. Click here for minutes of the August 18 Finance Advisory Board meeting. Click here for live link to City Commission work session on 8/31.

Click here for link to live audio from the City Commission budget worksession - 8/30 - a.m.

Going line by line through the capital improvements budget. According to the City Manager, the City Hall Annex building is "dysfunctional" - be prepared for some major changes to the use of that building. Commissioner Golden is trying to make a push to keep the money for affordable housing and wanting to give benefits to the people that are here already. Commissioner Maxwell is pushing for that money for $7.1 million for improvements in the Park of Commerce. The City Manager said that she has heard from the community and that everyone wants to use CDBG money for capital projects.The Mayor is talking about a new NSP3 program that might be used for rehabilitation.
The Mayor is still making a point that the city should have a role in rehabilitation, but not use CDBG money to do it - where and what money is not determined. Golden is "upset" about the notion that the city shouldn't have its own housing program. Commissioner Maxwell says that it would never be a magic bullet for the city's problems.
Commissioner Jennings is not there this morning - at least I haven't heard her, which would be unusual after an hour of listening. They are on break now at 10:05 a.m.
Joe Kroll now is reviewing public works projects. The boat ramp will be closed for 8 months to a year for reconstruction.
They are going to break for lunch at 12:40 p.m. - going to be back at 1 :10 p.m. - but it's "loose."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

City Commission Work Session on Budget - 8/30 at 8:30 a.m.

It may not be the ideal way to start a Monday morning, but you may want to check out the discussion on the Capital Improvements Program and the city's five year financial projections. You can click the title for a link to the back up - I pulled out some items that I thought were important.
I always jump to the assumptions. This is from the five year financial projection - the second part of the back-up. The cuts proposed this year - including all of the labor concessions - are included in this forecast. Per the above, staff is predicting a further reduction in revenue from property taxes - reflecting lower property values - of 15% next fiscal year, 0% change the next and then 3% increases in the next two years. Has anyone done an analysis of the increase in the number of properties that are falling below $50,000 that carry a full Homestead Exemption and therefore pay no property tax? Given this increasing phenomenon, I would expect more than a 15% decrease for the next taxing year. I have no faith in the 0% or the two 3% increases in property values predicted for the last two years of the five year projection.  What are we doing - other than the Park of Commerce - to diversify our tax base?  And, as pointed out before, the Park of Commerce is not an immediate economic panacea, will take significant money for improvements and its success or failure will be realized past the horizon of these projections.
If you really want to shed some tears for future commissions, city staff and residents, check out this summary page, complete with a dire graphic representation of the city's financial position. Where is the money going to come from to eliminate these negative numbers? Say good-bye to any reserves.
The first part of the back-up material is the Capital Improvements Program budget for the next five years. Not only does this need to be approved through the budget process by the City Commission, but it should be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Board and included in the Comprehensive Plan - and ultimately approved by the City Commission as an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.
By the way, our Comprehensive Plan is still in "limbo". Also, if Amendment 4 passes, the city would also have to vote on the Capital Improvement Program budget since it would be a change to the Comprehensive Plan. If you have any idea how this could possibly be done on a ballot, I would like to know.