Editorial: A teachable moment for the City

300-COSA-VISIONINGRelegated to the very last item on the published agenda for the Monday night meeting of the City of St Augustine, is a $59,500 request presented by Roxanne Horvath to pay the balance now due on her $74,500 “visioning project”. I suppose they figured everyone would be worn out, bored to tears, and lulled to sleep by the monotone drivel that passes for city business before this commission.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to work out so well — or at least not as well as they are hoping for. City residents, fatigued by four-year’s worth of fraud, waste, and abuse in the mismanagement of a 450th Commemoration that still doesn’t have a clearly articulated master plan, with measurable objectives or deliverables, are saying that they’ve had enough.

“Who the hell is Roxanne Horvath and how did this pet project skyrocket to our first priority?” one Historic City News reader wrote to our editorial board. Of course, we know who Roxanne Horvath is, and we do give her full credit for delivering this half-baked snipe hunt to the city taxpayers on a $74,500 silver platter, but our reader’s question is reasonable.

Local residents, taxpayers, citizens and tourists, have all remarked on the deteriorating traffic conditions downtown, the “brown” water resulting from a crumbling water and sewer system laid out hundreds of years ago, underneath brick streets that haven’t really changed that much in the same amount of time, but the City never seems to have the money, horsepower, or manpower to deliver on those basic government services.

The watchword at the City of St Augustine is “deferred maintenance” — you are going to hear a lot about that as the tax collector prepares to mail out TRIM notices reflecting millage rate increases to pay for the maintenance that was already scheduled, and paid for, in a previous budget.

FOR EXAMPLE, also before the commission Monday night, although on the consent agenda so as not to alert any particular attention, is the approval of an emergency expenditure to replace three elevator motors in the amount of $39,600 and authorization to replace a utility vehicle in the amount of $29,302 and to transfer $16,000 from utility reserves to cover the difference between the purchase price and the insurance reimbursement.

According to the Director of General Services, Jim Piggott, a lightning strike on Friday 13th, coupled with a power surge in the three-phase electrical service to City Hall, took out three-of-four of the elevators that service the building. Damage to the motors, which were each less than 10-years-old and have an expected life of 20-30 years, required immediate replacement. “This was an act of God,” Piggott explained. “The expenditure of these funds was not budgeted”.

Nonetheless, we are approving the payment of $68,902 to pay for things that are clearly part of the city’s responsibility to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens in the community. My point is, of course, that the money to pay for these “unbudgeted expenses” could have been easily paid with money left over, but Commissioner Horvath wants us to pay for this ridiculous feel-good study by a consultant who doesn’t even live here.

I hope cool heads will prevail. I hope common sense will prevail. And, some day, I would like to be able to report headlines indicating that the City of St Augustine has returned from their vacation in Fantasyland and gotten back to the basics of providing local taxpayers with the services they need from city government.

If you are planning to attend, the regular St. Augustine City Commission meeting will begin at 5:00 p.m. tonight, Monday June 9th, and will be held in the Alcazar Room; on the first floor of City Hall, located at 75 King Street in St. Augustine. Watch the meeting live over the Internet at http://COSAtv.com or on the city government channel on AT&T U-verse or Comcast X-finity.

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