The Pinellas county government is now charging each car $5 to go into the public park we all know and love: Fort De Soto. The county government complains that unless they raise $2 million with this fee, they would need to cut $1 million in expenses? Huh? Where did the other $1 million go? Straight into the bureaucracy black hole! Seems like the county is playing yet another shell game to gather in ever more dollars off the back of the people it feels should serve them. They seem to forget that they are supposed to serve the people – not the other way around! Turns out that the county budget for Fort De Soto has grown about $600,000 since 2010 (see page D-275 of budget document here).
The park has operated for decades without this fee. It used to have over 70 employees and now has under 40. What is the reason that after years of successful operations simply off of tax collections, they must now raise fees? The answer is simple: employee benefits. You see the County government, like most municipal governments, don’t see themselves as a body to provide services needed or wanted by the community. The county government views themselves as a jobs programs. A means to provide employment to the most senior government workers with a grand benefit package.
The county could easily find a place to save about $1 million merely by reforming the government employee benefit program to be more like the benefit program of the actual taxpayers supporting them. Sadly, the county government continues to provide defined benefit plan pensions (PENSIONS!), Cadillac health insurance for employees and family members of employees. In fact, the employee’s family members are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers. For instance, for monthly coverage, the family health insurance premium is $305.49. Yet if that employee left work and had to buy that insurance themselves, the insurance would cost $1,423.84. Thus the county is subsidizing nearly 80% of the cost of a family health plan!
As a representative of the charity I founded (Pinellas Medical Foundation), I have been trying to get the Pinellas County Government to encourage enrollment in health savings accounts for years now. Sadly, the employees appear to be in charge so the taxpayers must pay for their bloated benefits, their taxes AND Five bucks to go to the beach. The premiums of employees using more expensive Cadillac plans should be raised to encourage HSA participation or cover the costs of the more expensive insurance.
So when you are handing your five bucks to the park employee on your way to the Ft. De Soto beaches, just remember that you are paying for about 80% of their FAMILY member’s health insurance too. If these employees had to live with the same economic hardship you did, they would be paying their own family member’s health premium and you would be enjoying the beach with $5 more in your pocket!