The pension issue
Although I have given up the weekly grind of column writing, I still pay attention.
There have been a few things going on that made no sense to me, like trying to make Whitney Beach into a successful shopping center, micromanaging the Colony future, and changing the codes to destroy the peace, quiet and ambience of Harbourside as well as Islandside, but if the voters approve, so be it.
However, the Town Commission is now playing with dynamite with a policy change that could totally destroy what many of us labored over the years to make a true paradise.
That is the idea of switching to a 401K type of pension system instead of the defined benefit plan for the two uniformed services that has succeeded in creating the best emergency medical care in Florida and arguably the entire country.
When I first came on the Town Commission, the turnover for the police and fire people was 50 percent. That’s right; we lost half of our policemen and fireman every year.
We also had a constant stream of older people in effect evacuating the key when they reached an age that made access to the hospital a serious concern. We then affected the changes that made Longboat Key a destination not a launching pad, a proper pay package and benefits.
Mistakes were made. That is obvious. For reasons I never understood, candidates for the Town Commission made a big deal out of cutting taxes; and what could be an easier way to reduce the budget than lower the contribution to the pension fund? Now cutting taxes sounds like a good idea but on Longboat Key, given the assessable valuations, taxes should never have been a serious consideration. At first, we thought we did well in keeping them below 2.5 mils, but today the millage is so low it is only a political not a financial consideration. Even a modest raise could take all of the heat out of the liability.
However, even if it would prove painful, the pain of a few extra dollars a year would be pennies on the dollar to the loss of value in the residential real estate if Longboat Key would go back to the quality of staffing that was present in the late eighties and residents didn’t feel comfortable in knowing that at the other end of a 911 call was top drawer emergency care that has saved countless lives.
Police and fire personnel work their jobs for many reasons, not the least of all is the lifetime security it provides. With every neighboring community providing for this benefit, the best of the group will be leaving post haste.
Don’t mess with success. Don’t succumb to the national hysteria of making taxes the total criteria. It is screwing up communities all over America. Don’t let it happen on Longboat Key. You can’t afford the consequences.