Commissioners will decide what will happen with budget tonight

275-cosa-commission-meetingTonight at 5:05 p.m., Historic City News readers will have the opportunity to stand before the St Augustine City Commission and tell them how they feel about City Manager John Regan’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017 — including controversial spending to maintain the city’s mostly below standard streets with many elements approaching the end of their service life.

The mayor, Hon. Nancy E. Shaver, says there is no good reason to maintain city roads at “D+” levels, and blames poor budgeting for the condition of the streets driven daily by local residents.

According to city budget director Meredith Breidenstein, not counting Hypolita Street upgrades, utility, or storm water projects with associated road improvements, the city budgeted the following annual amounts for paving from the general fund:

  • In 2012 – $90,000
  • In 2013 – $0
  • In 2014 – $100,000
  • In 2015 – $650,000

Shaver says that she receives at least one complaint every week about our street’s condition; deteriorated surfaces, potholes, and flooding due to lack of proper grading.

Todd Neville, the CPA commissioner who ran for office two years ago on the position that “tax dollars belong to the residents who pay them” and a campaign promise “I’ll ensure the City Commission always remembers that“, now seems to want to renege.

Despite letters to the editor from local taxpayers, e-mails from those constituents, and public speakers at past meetings, Neville is supporting Regan’s proposed $525,000 budget for repaving streets within the city limits, and ignoring what the citizens want.

Quoted in The St Augustine Record today, Neville said the city’s 2017 budget already shifts funds from general government services and boosts transportation and infrastructure spending over the 2016 fiscal year.

He said the $525,000 only covers paving and there are separate projects — like water main work on San Marco Avenue — that will include road improvements. “It makes no sense to just pile on more money for these projects,” Neville said.

“It’s either misunderstanding of what our budget is or it’s just political stuff,” Commissioner Todd Neville said of St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver’s most recent call for increased paving dollars in the city budget. “It’s one or the other. Our budget is solid.”

The mayor has shown that without the need to raise taxes at all, it is appropriate to shift funds to the priority need of street repaving because of the years of “deferred maintenance” — a fancy term for not doing the work that good management practices demand.

The money from come from the generic budget category of “mobility”, something the city is not prepared to deal with at the moment. So, why does Neville want to protect the “mobility” money?

A reader on a local news blog commented, “At first blush it doesn’t make sense that Todd Neville would argue against moving money from the mobility line in the budget to plus-up the street paving and maintenance line as recommended by the Mayor until you remember that his wife Heather has a for-profit transportation planning business (VRUM LLC). She’s on the Mobility Advisory Task Force and stands to benefit financially from any consulting contracts that come out of the Mobility Study. Of course Todd would argue against anything that diminishes the pot of money from which his wife could profit. Make sense?”

The reader went on to write, “Her presence on the task force and direct financial interest in the outcome makes it impossible to consider Todd fair and objective about ANYTHING related to mobility and transportation in St Augustine. This is why it was so wrong when Heather Neville, as well as others with transportation business interests, were put on the task force.”

Of course the appointment of Heather Neville to the Mobility Advisory Task Force assisting the City’s consultant, Littlejohn Engineering Associates, was made unilaterally by John Regan.

“What’s even more striking is that at neighborhood mobility workshops conducted by the city residents have repeatedly expressed their concerns that poor street conditions are very much part of our mobility problem. Some cited examples of intentionally avoiding certain streets that are in poor condition, even though it resulted in longer trips and wasted gas.”

The reader concluded, “We now have a commissioner whose views must be discounted when it comes to issues associated with transportation and mobility. A shame and completely unnecessary.”

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