Now that the national elections are over, the focus turns to local politics. The most disturbing issue for me is the creation of the Office of Inspector General of Palm Beach County. Elections and initiatives approved by voters have consequences.
Let me explain why the county commissioners now want a special taxing district to fund the OIG. Basically the seven members of the commission and their advisors apparently did not do the math back in 2009 when they proposed a self-funding OIG.
On Dec. 1, 2009, Commissioner Jess Santamaria said that he favored an OIG that was fully funded like building departments. He was “100 percent” in favor of a one-quarter of 1 percent fee to be collected from contractors doing business with the government. He said, “If it is a little bit short, then you make it higher than the one-quarter percent the following year.” He emphasized that the OIG would be “fully funded by the fee charged to the people doing business with the government.” But he apparently did not expect the OIG to cost $7.6 million to run each year.
In effect, Santamaria believed that the OIG would not cost taxpayers one cent, but now he supports a new taxing district, and this is what he had to say about those who do not want to impose a new tax on us: “These are schemers. These are people who don’t want the inspector general. The public has got to rise up and stop it. The public has got to stand up and speak out.”
Call it wishful thinking or incompetence by the drafters of the OIG ordinance, but any good businessman would have known that no one starts a business without an initial investment. The fact is that the OIG is not self-sufficient and needs taxpayer funding. In fact, it will never be self-funded.
The truth is that the OIG cost taxpayers $7.6 million in 2011. The following are line items from the 2011 Palm Beach County budget: 2100 inspector general-administration $913,779; 2110 inspector general-audit $713,338; 2120 inspector general-investigations $1,050,135; 2130 inspector general-contracts oversight $397,391; 1483 PBC Office of Inspector General $3,299,643; 2100 Commission on Ethics $570,108; 1484 PBC Commission on Ethics $637,022; and 2012 4100 120 1110 1201110OA 4990 inspector general fee $62,069. Total cost to taxpayers: $7,643,485.
Based upon the cost to run the OIG at one-quarter percent of certain government contracts, local governments would have to spend at least $3.04 billion per year paying contractors. In other words, the amount taxpayers would have to spend to fully support the OIG is equal to the entire budget of Palm Beach County every year.
Seventy-two percent of Palm Beach County voters wanted the OIG, but how many want to support it with their taxes now? I don’t know what the grand jury was told, but they were probably not told about the fantastic job that local, state and federal law enforcement did in identifying, convicting and jailing three individuals on the county commission, and it didn’t cost voters an additional $7.6 million to do it. In fact, they got the job done with no extra taxes at all!