Published June 8, 2011

TWISler Breakdown: Money, Money, Money – Politicians spend it while citizens cough it up

It was kind of therapuetic for the TWISler to take a few weeks off the usual rants to write about some of the good things going on in Sarasota. Unfortunately, every new week seems to come with yet more cheery news about how we’ve been wasting vast swaths of taxpayer money over years of shady bidding processes rigged to ensure contracts for crony companies. The worst part is what they apparently view as the solution: to gouge us citizens for every penny we’re worth in the hopes of recovering lost funds.

So, here we are two weeks in and how’re those paid parking meters treatin’ ya? That is, when they’re not malfunctioning from the humidity… Honestly, the fact that our brand-spanking new pay stations aren’t big fans of moisture in the air may be a positive for us lowly citizens. These little technical difficulities at least offer a chance for extra breaks with some complimentary “free tickets”, which are one-time-only warning shots before you earn the real thing running you a cool $35. (Tip #1: Get as many “free tickets” as possible…)

And from the makers of the $35 parking ticket comes the even newer, even sneakier $158 red light ticket, thanks to our handy dandy new red light enforcement cameras. And the best part? No police needed! You can easily get your hands on one of these sought-after little morsels by simply driving through eleven of your favorite intersections. Try to time it right as the light turns “pink.” Then wait a few days and your ticket will be promptly delivered to your mailbox with no previous knowledge of your violation. It’s like Christmas all year round!

Of course, asking citizens to pay all of these new fines is merely the downside of the economic climate we now live in, right? Our city is in a financial hole, and we all need to grab a shovel and start filling it in. It’s our civic duty. But it sure makes it hard to be all gung ho about filling up our hole when half of the purchasinging department just got canned for digging the damn thing. Especially since we have to hear about their past shovel loads each week just as we’re getting used to all these new fines to replace the dirt they tossed.

It might not be such a bitter pill to swallow if we had some idea of how much money these big investments, such as parking meters and red light cameras, are actually making on a monthly basis. Are they driving new revenue or steering people away? Is a few hundred thousand dollars a year worth the potential for millions in lost business? A bit more transparancy on how much we’re expecting to bring in might be in order. Because downtown streets are starting to look pretty bare these days.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. It’s great to find an open spot in front of Smokin’ Joes at 5 p.m., but it’s a bit concerning to find ten of them.

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