Orlando's city government responded to its current budget crisis — a $31.4 million deficit — the way most cities do: They blamed everyone and everything else for their fiscal problems. Increased energy rates, spiking health care costs, lower sales tax revenues, the constitutional amendment that passed in January forcing property tax cuts statewide — you name it, they blamed it.
Sure enough, those factors all played a part. But what you didn't hear about Sept. 15, when the city passed its $371 million 2008-2009 budget, was any admission of responsibility from Mayor Buddy Dyer or the city council. This was, they would have you believe, entirely out of their control.
Except it wasn't. Over the last year the city council has approved all sorts of questionable spending aimed at making things look nicer than they really are. We've found more than $8 million worth, and if space and time permitted, we probably could have found a lot more. We didn't include the $35.5 million the city dropped on land for the new arena in February 2007, which would have more than covered the shortfall. (The city says it will make up that money when the Centroplex is redeveloped into a Creative Village someday.) Nor does that $8 million include the $893,000 the city dropped on its two-year Downtown Ambassadors pilot program.
At its core, governing is about priorities. So we thought it'd be nice to detail what you're paying for, since property taxes are going up, the city's slashing services, 52 city employees got canned, another 54 open positions are being deep-sixed and the city is borrowing $9.7 million from its reserves just to make ends meet.
Traffic signal upgrades: On Sept. 17, 2007, the city decided on a rent-to-own deal, via financing through Bank of America, to trick out stoplights and make "walk" signs talk. In total, it will cost $2 million over seven years. This year's total: $327,200
Laptops for bike cops: Although they got a sweet deal from the state's contract with Dell last September — only $1,861 apiece — do bike cops really need laptops? Cost: $94,911
A Kronos timekeeping system: It cost 5 percent more in 2007 than it did in 2006 just to keep time. Get a watch. Cost: $77,634
Environmental remediation at the events center site: Oops! Even though the city dropped $35.5 million on the majority of the land for Rich DeVos' Golden Pleasure Dome, they failed to realize that it was a pit of pollution. That set them back a draining half-million dollars, though that amount will be reduced by a state tax credit. Cost: $310,050
Electronic signs for the Amway Arena and Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre: Who throws money at dead horses? We do. Cost: $75,714
New mobile radios for the police: A state discount cheapened the Motorolas, but the 35 shiny new units still produced a deafening price frequency. Cost: $121,205
Escalator maintenance at the Citrus Bowl: Get up to the WWE, get down to the monster trucks, get out. Cost: $66,288
"Green Works" consulting: The city paid Lake Mary's ClimateCulture to come up with a comprehensive plan to implement the obvious. Red is the new green. Cost: $49,375
Customized embroidery: While uniforms might be an integral part of uniformity, surely a recession trumps a puffy "City of Orlando" emblem on a polo shirt. Cost: $250,000
A new, "green" police car fleet: In a post-Christmas January hallucination of economic viability, the city decided its old cars were no longer functional and dropped a ridiculous sum on 86 examples of the flex-fuel ethanol Impala trend. Cost: $2,126,674
Pagers: Hey, babe, listen for my beep. What's that? Nobody uses pagers anymore? Au contraire! The city still has 1,347 of them. Cost: $89,710
New garbage trucks: In February the city bought 12 new super garbage trucks. Which is kind of ironic, since now they're laying off a bunch of trash collectors to pay the bills. Cost: $2,416,032
Painting mast arm assemblies: What does that mean? Exactly. Cost: $193,100
More new laptops for the cops: Their old Panasonics were "technically obsolete," so the city went for a cheap mobile rollout of 130 Dell Latitude ATG D630s back in March. They saved $300,000 by doing so, they said. You're not really saving when you're spending, are you? Cost: $238,795
Pavement markings: There are already lines going down the middle of the city's streets. Long, dotted lines to nowhere. Cost: $200,000
Sulfide control system: This apparently controls the odor at the city's wastewater lift stations. Guess what? Shit stinks. Cost: $231,000
Installing fences: We should be building bridges, not fences, right? Also, this is not Texas. Cost: $258,467
Golf carts for Dubsdread: The much-vaunted reopening of the city's historic Dubsdread Golf Course this summer heralded the return of the leisure class, but also brought with it a framed portrait of a shoeless black caddy. Somehow, this deserves 78 new electric carts. Cost: $272,532
An automatic car wash system for the Orlando Police Department: Super-flowing superfluity. No thanks. Cost: $70,591
Asphalt rejuvenation: Infrastructural plastic surgery that, while perfectly acclimated to its surrounding Botox environs, could probably hold for a while. Cost: $457,600
Street surveillance cameras: So, let's get this straight: There are more cops in better cars, but we need 18 strategically placed cameras to patrol high-crime areas? Maybe if we were rich. Cost: $225,530
Total cost: $8,152,408. Enjoy your tax firstname.lastname@example.org