August 3, 2010
Each week, CPR reports to its land owner members and elected officials on issues and trends affecting property rights in Florida and across America. In our efforts to alert citizens to dramatic erosion of their freedom, we do not paint a particularly pretty picture of local government and often for good reason. What we are witnessing at the city and county level is very ugly and represents an assault on the American ideal of freedom.
However, this week, we are reporting that we are seeing a few “signs of hope” out there. Some local officials appear to be experiencing a new level of “economic enlightenment.”
Perhaps the impact of the recession has done what sound intellectual argument could not.
Perhaps the task of managing increasingly deeper budget cuts and watching their own colleagues being laid off is teaching an important economics lesson that regulation and the wholesale suppression of property rights directly affects the health of both private and public sector economies. The public sector is generally the last sector hurt in floundering economies, but in the current prolonged recession even the public sector has been impacted.
Local government staffers, from entry level contract employees to the highly-paid managers are no longer immune from budget-based terminations. Their taxpayer-funded benefits and pension plans are no longer guaranteed to continue untouched in the wake of falling property values.
Incumbency is not a virtual guarantee of re-election and in fact, many incumbents are pulling out all stops to distance themselves from what is being called the “taint of incumbency.” Voters are angry and savvy officials recognize they can either change their mindset or be sent packing.
Perhaps the personal fear for their own jobs has made finally brought home the everyday economics property owners and all private sector employees face each day. The lessons of Main Street are becoming personal to the government leaders and employees formerly insulated from economic risk.
CPR recently witnessed a very small glimmer of hope and an indication the recession’s impact may be reaching line level staffers who have previously treated property owners as second class citizens instead of as their true employers.
CPR participated in a 2-day public workshop held by the Planning and Zoning officials in Osceola County. The zoning staff appeared to be earnestly seeking input from land owners and local business owners on revisions being considered to Osceola’s sign ordinance.
Unlike other municipalities which provide little to no direct notice to individual property owners when making significant changes to regulations, Osceola County’s Zoning Manager individually notified all affected property owners within “Sign Zone A” in addition to the standard notifications. This direct outreach is worthy of commendation and appropriate when considering regulatory changes which directly impact the use and value of properties and the health of local businesses.
Osceola County is reviewing regulations across a wide array of sign options, from the square footage allowable on large-scale pole signs preferred by large commercial plazas to the inexpensive store window decals relied upon by many Mom-and-Pop businesses. CPR’s input was welcomed and we were provided an extended opportunity to express the property rights’ perspective on each of the changes being considered.
We were pleased to learn the County is considering increasing and expanding some signage options in the apparent effort to both listen to and support the health of local businesses. This is an approach worth replicating!
To be fair, Osceola may still be considering restrictions of some signage options, but it appears there is at least an appreciation of the need for increased flexibility in some categories of business signage. At a time when we are seeing many municipalities still moving forward with additional restrictions affecting land owners, the fact that any municipality is advancing measures of relief which provide greater freedom of choice is noteworthy.
CPR pointed out to representatives at the workshop that much of the content of sign regulations, in general, goes beyond the basic duty of government to protect the public’s health and safety and is applied as an aesthetic preference.
We asked Osceola’s Zoning Manager, as a pre-cursor to moving forward with any additional restrictions, to consult with other government agencies charged with the protection of health and safety as to whether there is any empirical basis for increasing regulation. They should consult agencies, such as the Department of Health and other authorities as to what threat to the public’s health or safety is occurring that would trigger a reason to increase regulation of a certain sign type. Have any deaths or illnesses in Osceola County been linked to signage height, width or square footage? Are window decals causing a new type of flu outbreak. If not, why increase regulation and limit the freedom of property and business owners to communicate with their customers? When no genuine threat to the public’s health or safety exists, regulations should not exist.
In the absence of such evidence, sign regulations and restrictions are nothing more than an abuse of police power to assert the personal preference of a handful of citizens on all property owners.
It is also important to remember the primary purpose of signage is to drive customers to business.
Restrictions on signage, in the absence of a documented threat to public safety – such as a real structural safety concern – unnecessarily limit the ability of businesses to communicate with and attract customers. Businesses without customers are not generally healthy businesses.
For government entities dependent on tax revenue, regulatory actions which decrease the oppoortunity for success of local businesses brings to mind the idiom, “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.”
It would be interesting to survey the employees in various local zoning departments to see if an increasing number are acknowledging the direct link between the success of local businesses and their personal job security.
In the past, many agents in local government have viewed property owners as “the opposition.” Some prioritize “empire building” and believe regulation is the key to expanding their fiefdoms. If these individuals had paid rapt attention in their economics courses, they might better appreciate the fact that private sector expansion is the only mechanism that can support public sector expansion without government borrowing or printing more money, which in turn devalues a nation’s currency and can lead to full economic collapse.
With even long-term department managers now facing budget guillotines and projections that local government budgets will continue to hemorage into the foreseeable future…CPR is hopeful that this awareness will continue to spread.
Imagine what could happen to the economy locally and at the state and national level, if government staff and elected leaders began truly listening to the property and business owners who have the power to create wealth and jobs about the need to remove the extraordinary regulatory weight now stifling our economy. Imagine if that weight were lifted off the American economy and individuals were freed and encouraged to build their dreams.
The cultural appreciation of property rights and the benefit of limiting government regulation are the ideas CPR is working to advance every day.
(Note: Osceola’s ray of hope is regretfully a narrow one. Unbelievably, four members of the County Commission, including Commissioners Fred Hawkins, Ken Smith, Brandon Arrington and Michael Hartford cast votes this past week to put an additional sales tax increase on the November ballot. Osceola County’s economy has been hard hit by the recession. It boasts the highest foreclosure rate and highest unemployment rate in the Central Florida region. If the rate hike is approved, the County could also boast the highest tax rate. Let us hope Osceola’s voters send the unenlightened members of the Commission who backed this tax proposal packing in the coming election cycle. Commissioner John Quinones cast a lone dissenting vote and should be applauded!)
REPORT A “RAY OF HOPE”
This week, CPR members and readers are encouraged to report any de-regulatory actions being undertaken at the local level in Florida. If you are witnessing local officials repealing any aspect of land use regulation or adopting pro-active pro-property rights measures as a mechanism for stimulating the local economy, we’d like to hear about it!
Reader responses welcomed! firstname.lastname@example.org