Hard Candy: Common Sense Marvin

I can’t put you people down for a minute, can I? I leave for three weeks and common sense flies straight out the damn window.

OK, that may not be a fair accusation, in part because I’m not so narcissistic as to believe anyone does anything based on what I write, here or elsewhere (this includes notes left for El Cap around the house), and in part because, really, who are we kidding? Common sense rarely exists when decisions get made based on winning an election.

Except for St. Pete Beach Vice Mayor Marvin Shavlan. It pains me to say this, because the vice mayor drives me crazy: he tells me what he thinks I should write, behaving like a dog with a meaty, gristly bone when he wants to make sure I do the job he thinks I should. The problem? I often agree with him. More and more his use of common sense and good business senses impresses me. Perhaps that’s because he owns a business and although the city’s “business” deals with sewers and parks and Marvin’s business involves diamonds, it appears the fundamentals of spending money don’t change.

If you don’t follow St. Pete Beach with bated breath, as I do (it’s an illness, people, don’t judge me), you may not know exactly why I heap this dubious praise on our vice mayor. It’s simple: he treats the city like he does his own business, not a public fund with which he can do as he pleases.

Here’s St. Pete Beach’s dilemma: it needs x amount of dollars to keep the lights on, and that’s more than it collected in taxes last year. However, that amount could go down drastically if the voters approve changing from city police to the county Sheriff in November. Since the new budget year started Monday, the city couldn’t wait another two months to see what happened in the election and needed to budget for the “worst case scenario,” financially speaking.

Everyone on the commission – except Vice Mayor Shavlan – was all “hey, we’ll just raise taxes, it needed to be done anyway”, and while I generally agree that Floridians pay too few taxes, I liked Marvin’s proposal even better: take only what we need.

In a flash of common sense and fiscal responsibility so rarely seen when the upper class attains elected office, the vice mayor asked the commission to consider raising taxes only enough to stash enough money in the reserves to meet city goals. How then, you may wonder, would the city pay for the police department if the voters didn’t approve outsourcing?

Vice Mayor Shavlan suggested the city secure a loan in case that happened; if the voters approved outsourcing the police, the city could simply repay the loan early. He argued that the city planned to pay off a loan in the immediate future, so continuing those payments on a new loan wouldn’t change the game substantially. Add to that the growing public sentiment that the voters and several of the police themselves want to outsource the police, and his plan not to raise taxes quite so much made common and business sense.

My first task after returning from vacation? Watching this all replay on my computer the day after the commission met. I figured that the commission seized Marvin’s idea with both hands, but as I watched the meeting progress, I realized that not one of the commissioners even considered the idea. Meetings should allow for an exchange of ideas, right? Yeah, not so much. Marvin put forth an idea (one, he tells me, 85% of the people who contacted him loved), and the commission essentially ignored him.

That disappoints me. I understand that past commissions had kept the tax rate artificially low and that, as one resident said, if each commission had raised just a little, the city wouldn’t face the dire straits it does today. He’s right, but my point – and I believe Mavin’s – is that this is too much, and for the wrong reasons. This commission could have raised the tax rate a little, enough to get the ball rolling, and used the loan as a backup plan. Then, if the voters decided they wanted to keep the police, the city could have raised taxes to pay off the loan next year.

It almost makes too much sense for a politician to come up with this idea. I’m impressed.

With the rest of the commission? Them, not so much.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.