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The Political Package-Deal Ploy

In order to safely serve their intended purpose, public parks obviously need police. But does effective policing require better parks?

That doesn’t strike me as a very logical proposition. Which is why you could say I am a little, well, exercised about some political rumblings in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The city’s main police station is falling apart, according to published reports that quote pretty much anyone who has set foot inside the place recently. That group does not include me, although I drive by the unremarkable building every time I travel between my apartment and Interstate 95.

City leaders are contemplating spending $100 million on a new cop shop. That seems like a lot of money to me, especially since the proposed facility would either replace the current building or occupy another piece of land already owned by the city. Although security needs are obviously important, anyone who has ever watched a TV crime drama (or who has a brother who was a police officer, as I do) knows that police stations are not exactly glamorous or high-end by their nature. You need a few beat-up file cabinets and well-worn chairs, a couple of lockups, and a high podium from which the officer on desk duty can look down upon the citizenry that wanders into the place. That’s pretty much it.

If you think I exaggerate, consider: Neighboring cities in Broward County have replaced their stations at a fraction of Fort Lauderdale’s proposed cost, even allowing for the fact that Fort Lauderdale, and thus its police force, is bigger than the surrounding suburbs. Brittany Wallman, a senior reporter with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, tweeted that a proposed facility in Hollywood would cost an estimated $60 million, and Pembroke Pines estimated its new headquarters would cost between $18 million and $21 million. Nearby Sunrise spent $35 million. (Wallman said she was investigating the discrepancy, but had not yet reported back as of this writing.)

Still, I am open to persuasion. Maybe it really is necessary to spend $100 million or so on a new police headquarters. The Sun Sentinel reported that Police Chief Rick Maglione said of the old building, “We were afraid it was going to fall down” during Hurricane Irma, which is obviously not ideal for any workplace. If convinced, I would vote in favor of a general obligation bond issue that would spread the costs among the current and future city taxpayers who will benefit from the facility, myself included.

But the city commissioners who are considering this proposal are also considering marrying it to another capital scheme, this one intended to put $150 million into the city’s parks. Virtually no detail has been released about exactly what we would be getting for this $150 million package. In fairness, there likely would be time for plenty of further discussion before any such proposal made it to the city voters, no sooner than the municipal balloting next March.

But as a matter of principle, I am going to vote against any combined ballot measure of this nature. I shouldn’t have to buy a $150 million park project to get a $100 million police station – or vice versa. Combining the two projects is a purely political ploy, sometimes called logrolling. Marry two spending plans together, the theory goes, so they can lean on one another for support and get passed even when either or both might fail individually.

In fact, many states have legislative or constitutional bans on bills or ballot issues that address more than one subject, for exactly this reason. In Florida we only allow voters to launch initiatives to amend the state constitution, and those initiatives must address a single subject. But there is nothing that prohibits a city government from placing multiple borrowing projects on a single ballot question. It may be good politics, but it is bad policy and bad practice.

I expect we could do with a better police station, as well as more and better parks, here in Fort Lauderdale. I might support either or both, at the right price, but I am not interested in buying a package deal.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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