Friday, November 25, 2011

"Sorry, We Don't Have Money for Your Doggie Bag"

"However, we will fine you if you don't pick up after your dog."

That's the message out of a recent StarNews article.
Faced with looming budget cuts, it's possible the city of Wilmington's parks department could dump more, if not all, of its dog poop stations.

Some of the stations for disposing of dog waste have already been removed as a cost-saving measure.

Kevin McRill, of Wilmington, found that out the hard way on one of his usual runs along the Riverwalk with his lab. The station behind the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce that he usually uses to dispose of his dog's droppings was gone.

"I think they've got better places to cut money than doggie bags," he said. "I think it makes no sense at all."

Firstly, there are no "looming budget cuts." This year's budget is 4.2% higher than last year's budget and that's been the general trend for many years (in fact, the general trend is higher than 4.2%, but we'll leave that for another day.)

Secondly, Mr. McRill is right. They have many better places to cut than doggie bags, especially if they're going to fine people for not picking up after their dogs.

[Nina Johnston, parks superintendent] said last year the cost of supplies and labor for maintaining the more than 40 stations in the city was about $30,000.

"And that's crazy," she added.

Yes, that is crazy.

Let's put aside the fact that we could probably save millions by privatizing parks maintenance. Let's put aside that we would probably thousands upon thousands by effectively auditing all of the Parks Department's purchases. Let's just assume this is a completely reasonable cost and things couldn't be done anymore cheaply.

Are these stations worth having?

Well, one way to tell is to compare it to other things we spend our money on:

This totally ignores the savings we'd find by having public employees pay half for their benefits.

So, the point is, yes, there are plenty of other places to cut than this, especially if you're going to fine people $250 for not picking up after their dogs.

This article does, however, bring up a subtler point about why it is always better to have the private sector provide something than the public sector.

If this were all private, people could protest with their dollars and either the company providing the service would get the message or potentially go out of business. In the public sector, it's much more difficult, especially when you have people like our current city council running the show.

Is it possible to privatize parks?

Yes, in fact, the majority of Tokyo's parks are private. There is a website devoted entirely to the concept. NJ Governor Chris Christie is currently pushing for public private partnerships in state parks. So, yes, like anything, it can be provided by the private sector.

The danger is that once the government gets into something it makes it more difficult for the private sector to compete, because anything run or owned by the government has an inherent advantage.

At the bare minimum, we need to look into privatizing our parks' maintenance.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Hanover County: Land Speculator

Apparently, New Hanover County owns nearly 4,000 acres of property, much of which is vacant.

Just from a brief look at this website, I'd say a conservative value to put most undeveloped property at in New Hanover County would be $50k/acre. I'd imagine developed land would go for even more.

Now, this is just a back of the napkin calculation, but I would not be surprised if the value of the government-owned land is over $200M. Now, of course, some land is probably being used for legitimate government functions, but I'd bet (wait, no, I know) a whole lot is not.


New Hanover County owns almost 4,000 acres of property containing cemeteries, museums, office buildings, parking lots and an array of other entities.

There’s also quite a bit of vacant land[...]

Shell cautioned Berger not to link the potential purchase of the bowling alley building to any other property the county owns, saying the deal “should stand in its own merits.”

“It’s very short-sighted to sell property that may have value in the future,” he told Berger.

Yes, folks, it's not that the land could be used for something; it's that it could be valued at something in the future. Don't you love when local government officials act like land speculators with your money?

[P]ointing to that list of property, Shell said each of the nearly 200 parcels has a use.

That includes property the county owns that has remained vacant for years.

There are lots purchased for parks and recreation space that
can’t be developed until the county seeks private donations or state grants, said Jim McDaniel, who heads the county’s Parks department.

Eighty-five acres are set aside to expand the new Smith Creek Park off Harris Road, for example. The land was purchased this year, but it will likely be years before anything is built there. Additional land sits for the expansion of Castle Hayne Park, too.

[...]The county also has majority interest in about 60 acres off Independence Boulevard, known as Bryan Farms, that sits in a trust with strict guidelines. McDaniel said the county can only use the area for farming or gardening functions, and he and other staff are exploring options for it.

“It just has great potential for this community,” he said.

Yes, folks, the local government may get involved in farming. Does anyone remember how this worked out for Russia or China? Of course, in this case, the government wouldn't be the only supplier of food, but do they not realize that if they enter into private business they crowd out private firms?

Vacant land also remains where a library on Northchase parkway is supposed to be built. The land, about 3 acres, was purchased in 1996.

Shell said many other parcels were purchased before they are ready for development to avoid paying more for them in later years.

“Spend a little money, save a lot more,” he said. “That’s what I’m all about.”

Does anyone fell like telling Bruce Shell that the real estate market is still going down? Thanks for all your prudent investment, Bruce. How about you take the losses next time?

The county also holds the deeds to several small tracts of land that were foreclosed because of unpaid property taxes.

All of those tracts are less than half an acre, and Shell said there aren’t many uses for them. He said the county will work with Wilmington officials to determine if any of the larger of
the parcels can be used for low income housing or economic development uses.

Yes, low income housing. More central planning. Nevermind that "affordable housing," which this seems to be, has proven to be a disaster wherever it goes. (Pruitt-Igoe anyone?) Shell doesn't even seem to realize that selling the parcels could allow the county to reduce its tax burden, which is the number one factor correlated with economic growth.
No, economic growth can only come as a result of the actions of our glorious central planners.

He’s [Catlin] also interested in opportunities for the county’s airport land, in an area called a foreign trade zone. “It could also be a launching pad for more international business,” Catlin said.

I had heard of this "foreign trade zone" before and thought it seemed like just another lofty idea. Then I happened to read a story about foreign trade zones just the other day and they seemed like a really great idea. They're a way around some more burdensome government restrictions on trade. Here's some info on them.

County commissioners will soon decide on the fate of another vacant property – a government building at 320 Chestnut St. that used to house the Public Defender’s Office and other departments.

The building has sat vacant for more than a year since a water leak and subsequent asbestos issues dislocated the

Shell said he’ll present a feasibility study for repairing and renovating the building to commissioners in January.

Jason Thompson has said that if this building were knocked down he would actually like to see the county build a totally new building in its place. This is some of the most valuable land in the county. It's right downtown, and we don't collect property taxes on it because it's publicly owned. Does this make sense to anyone?

So what, if anything, would the county manager choose to let go from the government’s inventory?

The first and practically only thing Shell mentioned
in an interview Friday was the Lucile Shuffler building at 2011 Carolina Beach Road.

[...]“I’m not anxious to sell anything,” Shell said.

Is anyone surprised? He has no incentive to sell anything. Every piece of land he owns, every dollar in the government budget elevates his status. You, however, have an incentive to get people with this mentality out of office.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wilmington Post-Election Meltdown

Once again, those idealists with dreams of serving the best interest of the local citizen, with well thought plans of budget-saving measures and tax relief, were put in their place by a small band of voters armed with nothing more than the desperate desire for status.
"...and the best part is, they don't even care that we're milking this town dry!"

As the numbers rolled in at the New Hanover County Government Center last night, it became clear what motivates the typical Wilmington voter. One would think that an incumbent whose legacy is swanky junkets on the taxpayer dime would be turned out handily by voters. Not so fast - this is Wilmington, after all. Laura Padgett, the timeless fixture on Wilmington City Council likes to travel on public money so much, that a new set of rules had to be enacted to keep her in check. After going through all of the council's budget for travel, she demanded more - since her presence at the International Shoelace Makers BBQ, Wine Tasting, and Beauty Pageant in Aukland, New Zealand is imperative to our very economic survival here in the Cape Fear region (or is it the Riverfront Beaches and Island Coastal Estuaries and Salty Marshlands and Bad Traffic and Roads region? I always forget...).

However, the opinion was clear that voting Padgett had its social benefits. Pity the poor sap who dares go against the grain and vote an outsider. This is the very purpose of our elections, after all - one must demonstrate one's worth in the social arena. Can you imagine attending the annual Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend Ball at the Cape Fear Country Club next year and not have a history of Padgett votes to your credit? Ahh... the horror. One may be inclined to think that such a person has no place amongst the elite establishment. Social suicide indeed.

The queen of last night's ball was none other than Madam Margaret Haynes, draped in designer fare from head to toe, with cheeks armed and willing to receive the barrage of showy kisses from the ostentatious gallery of  artificial idiots. Haynes, who has proudly proclaimed that those who do not support her fail to do so simply because of their intellectual deficits and departure from intelligence, was ensconced by a faithful entourage of 60-something look-alikes, short silvery hair and gaudy jewelry sure to lure onlookers into a false sense of intellectuality. Those who believe in the heresies of limited government and fiscal constraint, are nothing but hapless peasants who are to be treated with the greatest disdain, and offer little social reward in entertaining; and social reward is the driving force behind Haynes. With her signature dark beady eyes and painfully forced smile she searches high and low for it - as do the loyal dolts that could not wait to replant her once again on city council for four more years of pretentious fabulousness.

Neil Anderson, the newest import on the social totem pole made his concessions early to the round table of kingmakers, and was swept into office ala O'Grady. Anderson, who speaks in slow Southern tenor, played the part of a working class conservative well throughout his quest for social.... errr... political office. Even well-known local conservatives were heard vouching for his name on the ballot. However, a simple glance at Anderson's campaign reports reveal the truth. The same wealth and power machine with pure disgust for anything conservative and fiscally responsible funded the entire Anderson affair. In fact, Anderson's reports read almost identical to none other than Padgett and Madam Haynes. Support such as this almost guarantees one a seat at the table, but does not come cheap. Those seasoned power brokers that hold out campaign cash in exchange for favorable representation are far too experienced to make the mistake of accidentally supporting someone with true conservative integrity.

One could not help but also notice the obvious display of  kinship and alliance between the Anderson and Haynes camps throughout the campaign. Poll volunteers report each candidate's campaign team pitching for one another at early voting locations. Haynes, known for her utter contempt for all things conservative, would never align with someone she would describe as a dirty unintellectual conservative simpleton. Therefore, the Anderson charade must be called into question, as this was certainly his effort in making nice with the elitist snob cartel in order to curry favor in local social circles.

And of course, like time-honored clockwork, the Saffo coronation ceremony was in full swing at last night's event. Perfectly timed with the flash of fawning media cameras, King and Queen Saffo made their grand entrance, expertly working through the crowd of desperate socialites praying for a chance to kiss a ring, cheek, hand - anything - just to be seen among their peers and idols. Queen Saffo was loyally positioned at Herr Billy's side, marionette strings hardly showing, shooting off plastic smiles and accolades - endless hours of rehearsal paying off dividends to that effect. Media robots scurried over each other for the chance to garner favor with their masters with a chance shot of glorious pomp and circumstance - or a couple of witty one-liners, for the sad masses that vicariously prove their worth with pseudo-celebrity mush.

The revelation that Saffo stands to personally profit from the current Skyway Bridge plans had zero effect on his cred as the glittering, shiny-haired superstar of local fame. The desperate throngs dutifully rushed to the polls to proclaim their unyielding support for photo ops and ribbon cuttings.

It didn't take long for the Monday morning quarterbacking to begin Wednesday morning. One morning talk radio show featured the same weekly media hack, positioned for this occasion as an "expert", analyzing why newcomer conservatives such as Joshua Fulton came up short in the race. The agreed upon diagnosis was that he was assumed among voters as being the city council equivalent to Commissioner Brian Berger; conveniently ignoring the historical fact that all outsiders that don't fit the cloned mold of social stalwart and willing idiot to the great power structure of the Wilmington political complex are rejected by voters in Wilmington. Where is the great social payoff in electing someone that isn't a Gold-level member of the Cameron Art Museum? What is to be gained by a limited government candidate not seen at the head table of the GWBJ Power Breakfast events? Someone not affiliated with WID would be a waste of time. After all, what are local elections about if not to serve as a referendum on who carries the most societal credit?

Congratulations Wilmington. You have once again proved without a doubt that you are nothing but an unoriginal mass of society whores, with nothing short of pure disdain for factual and calculated voting based on choosing the best fresh perspectives to solve the issues that face us everyday. A conservative candidate not chosen in this circus of plastic pageantry should hold their head high, and take pride in their intact character.