Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—For $227 Million

By Rick Outzen

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward wants to spend a lot of money next year, and he is counting on people not caring how he spends it.

The mayor didn’t always have that attitude.

During his first term, Mayor Hayward focused on cutting cost by reducing the size of government. State of the City addresses that outlined his goals for Pensacola accompanied his budget proposals for FY 2012 ($222 million) and FY 2013 ($221 million).

His FY 2014 budget address was a multimedia affair delivered in the Saenger Theatre and followed by a press conference. Mayor Hayward had much to celebrate. He had reduced the city’s overall budget by $20 million in three years, dropping it to $192 million.

Then, Mayor Hayward went dark. After his 2014 re-election, he no longer saw the need to explain his budget personally. Meanwhile, his budgets rose, increasing to $227 million for next year, the largest city budget since FY 2007. Since the mayor began his second term, the budget has grown 18-percent, jumping by $25 million and erasing all the savings from his first term.

The remarkable reversal of the city’s financial fortunes almost slipped past the voters with little chance for public comment or any explanation.

Mayor Hayward deleted any workshops and forums for discussion of the proposed FY 2017 budget from his schedule. He planned to not allow citizens to voice their opinions about his spending until mid-September when the city council held its two mandatory public hearings on the budget.

Yes, the mayor provided a written budget message, but it was a cut-and-paste document that read like he was trying to pad the report to meet some unknown word count. There were numerous out-of-date references to decisions and policy changes made five, 10 and more than 15 years ago.

How much longer will the mayor bemoan the 2007 drop in property valuations?  Should he still be citing 2001 council votes to establish a more stable gas rate structure and make a Port of Pensacola a landlord port? Or reference a 2007 sanitation rate study? Isn’t it time we move on to more relevant facts about the current state of city finances?

Fortunately, all is not lost. Councilwoman Sherri Myers has insisted on budget workshops to give the public a chance to hear from their mayor. They have been scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 1 and Wednesday, Aug. 2.

Will Mayor Hayward show up?  Will he give a 2017 State of the City address?

For $227 million, would you?