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Saturday, May 19, 2007

While the Editor 'Ista begs to differ on some points, we will still share with you this well reasoned piece by another Miamista.

Cities all over Florida have gouged the taxpayers this year. That's why the State wants to force tax rates down. Cities and counties and school boards are out of control, wasting huge amounts of money. (Editor's notes, true of Dade historically but Dade and Florida are still at the bottom of per pupil spending and at least now Dade has responsible leadership of its schools.) One example is Surfside, which used to be a model of prudent management, but is now an example of largess and waste due to political abuse. This year's budget is the largest and most bloated in the town's 70+ year history. Here's the HX:

Surfside 1935: Local residents obtain state approval and create an independent municipality, the Town of Surfside, based on their desire to maintain a community with independence from Miami Beach and to have a small, accountable, and efficient local government to reflect the priorities and well being of its own residents. Over the 7 decades to follow, Surfside has its ups and downs, but generally does a superb job at serving its residents, remaining debt free, and being a widely recognized example for cities and towns and villages all over the nation.

Surfside 1990 - 1992: Mayor Eli Tourgeman enacts foolish budget policies with a 3-2 vote of his Town Commission that put the Town into the red, ending his term with town deficits. Tourgeman supports a number of major zoning variances and tries to break down the zoning code to get approval for a 20 story condo despite a height limit in the code of 12 stories. The voters turned back Toureman's approval in a referendum that defeated and reversed the condo project's variance approval. In 1990 he was elected mayor, in 1992 he was voted off of the commission when voters saw his real priorities and he came in last from a field of 10 candidates.

Surfside 1992 - 2004: Mayor Paul Novack and a new Town Commission unanimously enact budget corrections and fiscally responsible policies and every year for 12 years the town operated under balanced, stable and efficient budgets, with production of increased levels of town services, and numerous capital projects undertaken and completed that upgraded the parks, playgrounds, streets, drainage system, business district, Veterans Park, Town Hall, and much more, all with no debt, no bonds, and with the building of significant town surplus funds to serve the town's present and future. The town attracted a new Publix and many new restaurants and shops for the business district and made improvements and expansions to town parking facilities. Plans are made for a new town library and hi-tech information center to go on newly acquired property on the west side of Collins Avenue. The town was internationally recognized as a model community, and in 2003 Novack was honored as the state-wide "Community Steward of the Year" in Tallahassee. Mayor Novack was elected by the voters six times to serve as mayor, not one variance for height or density or setbacks or uses were ever approved during his tenure, and he retired from office in 2004 with official tributes from the Florida House of Representatives, the United States Congressional Record, and many others.

Surfside 2004 - 2006: Mayor Tim Will and a new Town Commission operate the town carefully and responsibly with balanced budgets, continued expansion of town surplus funds, obtaining a grant to help pay for the new library project, and making plans for the renovation and upgrading of the Community Center. The project would have made vast improvements to the facilities and would not have involved any closure or reduction in use by residents. There was no debt, no bonds, and yet there were even further enhancements of many town services. The town was honored by statewide organizations for superb levels of municipal accounting and auditing and outstanding transparency and performance with public funds. After several productive terms on the Town Commission, and service on the Town's Planning and Zoning Board, and a term as Mayor, Mayor Will retired from public service.

Surfside 2006 - 2007: Mayor Charles Burkett and a new Town Commission spurs, devises, creates and presides over a new town budget that is the largest and by far the most expensive and bloated budget in the town's history, spending more on lawyers than ever, needlessly paying millions of dollars of town funds to "settle" dubious law suits that objective outside reviews found had no merit at all with payments made to the claimants (Burkett campaign supporters) just before Courts were set to rule in the Town's favor, spending over $300,000 on a town charette to document Burkett's plans to change zoning laws and other pre-conceived notions for the benefit of non-resident commercial interests, hired a large law firm for a minimum annual fee of $600,000, no town projects or improved service levels, serious draining of town surplus funds, hired many new consultants with large fees paid by the town, and initiated plans for a public relations campaign to approve putting the town into deep debt with bond issues for as much as $50 million to substantially raise tax burdens on residents for many years to come. The town newsletter is expanded to include political attacks and misinformation every month at a cost of approximately $100,000 in taxpayers' funds for the one year alone. No projects are undertaken, and the community center pool is closed on a ruse after a pool pump has a minor short that the town fails to repair or replace. During his first year in office many respected town employees leave Surfside including its Police Chief, Town Engineer, Town Comptroller, Tourist Director, Public Works Director, and others, all of whom are replaced with "old friends" and campaign workers of Mayor Burkett. Burkett refuses to release his financial disclosure documents from court cases and his membership on City of Miami Beach boards and committees. Information surfaces that indicates he is really a resident of Miami Beach despite owning a house (one of his many, many properties in Florida) in Surfside. Mayor Burkett seeks to contract out services such as fire service, sanitation services, police services, and administrative services to the City of Miami Beach and private companies. His first year in office ends with a disastrous record of misfeasance, a vastly inflated town budget, and negative results for the community.

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