Destin Shows America’s Problem

On June 20th I went to the Destin City Council Meeting to help my friend and colleague, Sky Monteith, to create a less expensive police contract than that offered by Sheriff Larry Ashley of Okaloosa County.

What I came away with was a picture, in miniature, of why our country is in as bad a situation as it is.

The matter had nothing to do with the police. The issue was trash. That evening there was to be a vote by the Destin City Council to give Waste Management (WM) Corporation an exclusive five year contract. The City of Destin would act as bill collector and put trash payments on the tax bill. It exchange for this “improvement,” the move was expected to save money for citizens.

But the room full of Destin residents realized that not only was the ability to choose trash services being lost, but a person could now lose their home in a tax certificate sale for trash payments in arrears.

Citizen after citizen stood up and objected to this collusion between government and a private corporation. One businessman pointed out how he must now pay advance trash fees for the whole year. Others talked about how there weren’t enough exemptions for undeveloped properties. Some thought that condo owners would not as liable for trash fees as home owners because their associations took care of the trash bill. One asked if the City would be the point of contact to solve trash problems now (it will be).

There were advocates. Councilmember Larry Hines said thousands are not paying their garbage bills now, or are freeloading off of others. It was the “efficient” thing to do. The audience asked, quite rightfully, why should the City Council collect fees for a private corporation?

“What is clear is we’ve done a bad job communicating about this issue,” Councilmember Jim Bagby said, but he threw his support for the contract anyway. It would save money, and besides, the matter had been under consideration for more than a year.

Council members Larry Williges and Dewey Destin objected. To their credit, both thought it wasn’t the role of government to determine peoples trash handlers for them. Councilmember Destin suggested that there would be no way to renegotiate service terms once the contract was signed. Councilman Williges showed that the proposed government intervention would only save about a dollar and change per household per month.

As the swapping of views and explanations between Council Members continued, it was far from clear that the Council itself agreed on what the details of the proposed ordinance were.

Just as in our USA at large, when the time came to vote, the voices for small government did not win.

Instead of free market competition, trash collection in Destin is now mandated and centrally controlled by the government.

If service is poor, you will have to call a government bureaucrat instead of the trash man.

Waste Management gained a virtual monopoly with the help of government.

Concerned citizens advocating the free market were voted down by government.

The government created a system of special privileges based on whether a person is a homeowner, a condo owner, a senior citizen, or an owner of undeveloped property.

The government became the bill collector for a private corporation.

At a stroke government made citizens liable for unpaid taxes instead of unpaid trash bills.

A year’s worth of bureaucratic inertia worked against reconsidering the measure.

And, in the end, the Council was not even in complete agreement among themselves as to the ordinances’ details.

It is for reasons like these that I think it is not the purpose of government to own businesses, or to grant favors, but to protect individual rights.

I am also sure in the next five years Waste Management will seek a rate increase and get it.

The savings will be ephemeral, the loss of choice and economic opportunity will be real, and this government intervention will only lead to more intervention. Just watch.

It is the dysfunctional America we live in today.

Proceed with caution: Destin to weigh costs, benefits of traffic light cameras

DESTIN — After pushing hard a month ago for the city to consider installing cameras at traffic signals, Councilman Larry Hines may be rethinking his request after last week’s City Council meeting.

“In my heart I think that I favor this, but I think we need more information,” Hines said.

The council voted 6-1 to collect data from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office on the number of accidents and traffic violations in Destin before deciding on the cameras.

The city’s staff recently met with representatives from American Traffic Solutions and B&W Sensors, both vendors of traffic infraction detection systems, to gather information and present the council with the pros and cons of the systems.

Public Services Director Steven Schmidt told council members that installation costs for a system that would comply with Florida Department of Transportation requirements would range from $75,000 to $110,000 per directional installation. The city also would have to enter into a five-year lease agreement with the vendor at a cost of $4,500 to $4,700 a month.

So, for every east-west traffic signal the city wanted to place a camera, the minimum cost would be $9,000 a month, in addition to the installation costs for each direction.

Councilman Larry Williges said it would take quite a few infractions to break even.

“The city would have to have 60-plus violators just to make back the $4,500 … for the $4,700 you need 62-plus violators to break even,” he said. “This could cost us quite a bit of money for the five-year period, close to $281,000 for the lease agreement.”

Of the $158 fine collected, the city would receive $75, with the remaining funds sent to the state Department of Revenue. The city also would be responsible for hiring or training someone to administer the program, verify the infractions and issue notices of violation to motorists.

“You don’t have to do it with the sheriff’s department or the county,” Schmidt said.

City Manager Greg Kisela said there are two main issues: red light detection and speed detection provisions in state law.

“The courts are continuing to refine these enforcement issues,” he said of the legal battle over the validity and enforcement of traffic cameras. “The courts have just not supported a haphazard application of the law.”

Councilman Jim Bagby, who cast the lone “no” vote, said the cameras could cause more problems than they solve.

“I wouldn’t say that we are ready for this,” he said. “The cost is prohibitive and I don’t think we need them.”

Pete Blome, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County, said his branch of nearly 290 members is aligned with the Libertarian Party of Florida in its opposition to traffic signal cameras.

He said later that the Libertarians would protest their installation. “Absolutely. As best we can.”

“The whole purpose of a red light camera system is not safety,” Blome said. “That could be just as well served by making yellow lights longer. The purpose of a red light system is to make money for the people who have those systems and to try and get fines into a county or a town that is trying to increase its revenue because they are too unwilling to make the hard decisions about cutting their budgets. They want to squeeze the little guy to get the funds.”Kisela said that generating revenue is not necessarily the plan.

“The providers of this equipment predicted it would generate revenue, but we are a little reluctant to commit to that,” he said.

City officials will wait for the traffic data from the Sheriff’s Office.

“I’d rather see the results from the statistics,” Councilman Tom Weidenhamer said. “I want to see whether or not we have a problem.”