Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What's in a city budget?

Key West Police dogs get to train, too

By John L. Guerra

You always know you're dealing with a rookie reporter when he or she writes a budget story that numbs you with numbers. Many reporters groan when they have to do a budget story, and I don't blame them. Faced with pages and pages filled with rows and rows of numbers, reporters plunge into their work with the excitement reserved for eating a plate of liver and onions. Then the poor reader suffers through a budget story that doesn't excite.

So what do I do? I just pick the interesting stuff and list it.

If you don't live in Key West, take a look at what's in this tropical city's municipal budget and draw your own conclusions. The Key West City Commission approved the 2013-14 budget at its meeting last week.

For the Christmas Parade and tree-lighting ceremony this year, the city has set aside $2,000. For something called the "Holiday Party," $5,000.

For fireworks and other Fourth of July expenses: $5,000.

The city's Fleet Management Department expects to spend $546 in stamps and postage and $20,566 for the global positioning system it uses to track its pickup trucks, city cars and the Key West Cemetery vehicles. The department has set aside $1,800 for local towing of city vehicles should they break down.

The city dedicated $400 to a city employee to take city vehicles to and from the "mainland" for repair in the next fiscal year.

The police department, of course, has the most interesting stuff on its budget.

Police officers, detectives and support staff will receive $7.5 million in salaries and pay; overtime pay will be around $750,000. This does not include part-time work outside bars and stores and other similar work.

The police department will spend $3,612 for random drug testing for its officers and staff and $2,500 in veterinary services for its K9 units, aka police dogs.

To pay confidential informants and to buy drugs during undercover stings, the police department has set aside $20,000, or enough to buy 1,000 pieces of crack.

The police department has $1,500 to repair bicycles for its bike-mounted officers. For the repair of police motorcycles: $2,000.

For Taser repair and maintenance: $4,000 (they have to be reloaded after firing with these microscopic paper dots that identify which Taser was fired. They also can contain little chips that record when and where they were used).

I like this one because the police dogs get to practice, too: An Ulta Kimono Bite Suit for $1,500.
This is the puffy suit one sees in films of police dogs attacking humans as part of their training. The German shepherd's training, that is.

The police want to buy 10 Remington 870 shotguns for $3,250; two dozen bullet-proof vests for $14,880; and crime scene tape.

Police want to spend $1,000 for training officers in hostage negotiating and an undisclosed amount for "covert audio and video training."

The other powerful law enforcement agency in Key West, aka the Tree Commission, has put aside $5,000 to pay contractors to trim trees and $25,000 to replace trees that have died or been removed during construction, etc.

In Parks and Rec, there are surprising items on the budget:

A tennis pro, to the tune of $9,100; something called "sod consultation" for $8,000; and $50,000 for the Key West Wild Bird Center. Not sure what the bird center has to do with recreation, but that's OK. Keep funding it.

Of the city sports leagues, the one that gets the most money is Li'l Conch Baseball, which gets $19,400, followed by the controversial and rich Key West Junior Football League, which will get $18,000.  Girls Softball will get $10,800; the soccer league, $10,000 and hockey, $7,000. There is no ice rink in Key West. They play in a roofed floor rink near the high school.

So there you have it. You get a sense of what this city is about by its budget, but the budget doesn't measure the personalities and dedication of the wonderful people who work in Key West government. Their efforts show up in the great events, services and society they support. They make this island a great place to live.
They are part of what is known as the Human Budget, which is not measured in dollars. They are priceless.


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