By Commissioner Doug Bankson
In the tumultuous political climate of an election, we can sometimes see the worst side of ourselves. Ad campaigns are hatched from the minds of those seeking a win, sometimes justifying the means by believing their end is noble. It is difficult for a public audience to sift through the accusations and images painted to sway minds, and we must choose to be discerning and dig beyond the rhetoric and at times misdirection that vies for our votes.
For some, the mind is made up and they don’t want to be bothered by the facts. For some, a Pollyanna image distorts their logic, and pretty pictures cloud better judgment. Again for some, the gloom and despair of negative information steals from them the hope that things can be better and they retreat into apathy and disappointment. But there are those who seek to press past the fluff and stuff, to dig for the truth and guide their path accordingly.
As an elected official I have sought to stay neutral so as not to use my influence in a manner that intrudes into the sacred right of the people to have their voice be heard. I have at times bitten my tongue rather than to speak out. I do however have an obligation to answer as factually as I can when questioned. You see I am also a citizen just like you and must separate fact from fiction and opinion from reality. I was placed in office to make decisions based upon facts and not agendas.
It is not a secret that my concerns for the general fund reserves (from 31.7% in 2013 down to 19.7% in 2017, and 18% during September’s 2017-2018 unaudited budget) have at times been a source of contention, but I see what I see and will not be moved away from my responsibilities. I will gladly be proven wrong if that is the case, but not by opinion or political pressure.
In defense of the candidates, this number can be elusive because it changes. Some have referred to previous budgets and some the last audit, while others have used more present numbers. However, we elected officials must resist the temptation to “massage” the numbers in our favor. People need and want the truth; good, bad, or ugly.
A serious misdirection of thought that I’ve been asked by many constituents to clarify is the difference between total reserves and usable reserves. Our total reserves are across several enterprise funds, but the bulk of these are restricted and CAN’T be touched for general operational needs in our city. (They can be borrowed against, but this is not sound fiscal practice.) These funds are specific in nature and are separated and unavailable for other uses.
Our general funds are for operational purposes and have their own reserves set aside for the fluctuations in daily bill paying and budgeting. Good practice as set forth by the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) BEGINS with a baseline of 2 months reserves or 16.7% of the balance for all cities, and then each one is to ADD TO this amount based on other regional contingencies such as natural disasters and economic issues unique to your area. It was NEVER the intent to say that two months is all you need, but rather that because cities and regions across a large state differ, everyone should start with the basic two months and then each add according to their unique situation.
After speaking with a professor of graduate economics at the Advanced Institute for Elected Municipal Officials conference I attended last year, he confirmed this to me. The practice of other successful cities in central Florida that are comparable to Apopka is a policy of 25-30% as a reserve for general funds.
This reserve amount differs from personal finances. Personal reserves should be 3-6 months of expenses (just ask Dave Ramsey) due to the possibility of job loss or change and thus a need for greater reserves in such circumstances. A city differs in that is can’t be “fired”, therefore experts have set the amount for the aforementioned two months PLUS contingencies. It is still possible, however, for cities to default (like Detroit which posted the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history) proving the need for adequate reserves and proper planning to deal with the ebb and flow of the overall economy.
Am I concerned with certain trends? Yes. Am I optimistic about the future? Absolutely! Having worked with budgets for over 30 years I know that with a sound policy and better planning we will be able to craft a healthy trajectory forward and take advantage of the positive economic climate and growth cycle that we are in.
So an election is upon us and this Tuesday we will together choose who will lead us forward. I pledge to both respect and work together with the people’s choice whoever I am to sit by, without compromising what I believe is best for the city. It is my hope that we will continue to be the wonderful city I know and love, and become a united Apopka as we look into the sunrise of our future.
I want to close with a tribute to my dear friend John Land, who gave us such an amazing foundation to build upon. I had the privilege of being at his bedside when he passed, and the family and I sang a hymn as he used to love to do while he made his step into Heaven.
I originally wrote this back in 2014 to honor him for his years of service to this community, and wanted to share this again to remind us of his legacy:
Like Gibraltar, it stands. A thousand storms and ten thousand sunsets may pass, and yet it is there, as faithful as the next sunrise. Faith in God is society’s foundation, as sure as Plymouth Rock where our fathers first stood and prayed, giving thanks to the God who brought them to this new land.
Like faith, that word brings an image of stability and strength, of lasting value and something tangible and worth fighting for. In a world of risky investments, it is always a sure thing. It is also a name that graced our city for nearly a century and led us for over sixty years.
There’s a reason that all who knew him, friend and foe alike, had a respect for him. One could easily point to his quick wit and humor, political savvy, amazing encyclopedic knowledge, or disarming smile. But the real reason was his faith. It was the strength that undergirded him and the compass by which he navigated. It was this philosophy that built a great and prosperous city and procured the blessings of God.
It was not an “in your face” kind of faith, yet it was there in every thought and deed, unassuming, unashamed. John Land believed in God, and in his Lord Jesus Christ. You may not have seen him “Tebow-ing”, (although he did love his Gators), but you would have seen him faithfully at his church, civic organization, or a community fundraiser for someone in need. Why? Because he lived what he believed. That is the truest expression of faith.
That’s why we love you, Mayor John H. Land. Like a rock, your faith was an example we can build upon. Thank you for an enduring legacy, a firm foundation, and a life well lived.
May you rest In peace and enjoy your rewards, my friend.
Doug Bankson is an Apopka City Commissioner (Seat #3), and the founder and Lead Pastor at Victory Church World Outreach Center in Apopka.