Five Ways Fort Lauderdale Could Spend the $14 Million It Found Lying Around

Feldman: "Honey, you won't believe what I just found."
Feldman: "Honey, you won't believe what I just found."

The Fort Lauderdale city commissioners must be patting themselves on the back right now for hiring Lee Feldman as city manager: Turns out he's a master at rooting around the couch cushions of city budgets for money that's gone missing.

Bucking the trend of cities like Lauderdale Lakes and Hollywood that sheepishly announce they're missing $10 million or so, Feldman actually found $14 million in unused funds.

So what can we do with it? If the commissioners have their way, says the Sun-Sentinel, it's as good as spent on things like 911 dispatch services, a pension bond, and restoring the South Side School. Sounds boring and responsible, totally unfitting our local climes. Here are five absolutely objectively better ideas. 

1. Fix up blighted lots.
Like every other town around here, our empty lots and abandoned buildings show the scars of the housing crisis. Meanwhile, a few enterprising folks have found new life for empty space. For example, former architect Michael Madfis runs an organic vegetable farm and education program in the Sistrunk neighborhood. Sometimes, such positive projects meet an ugly end, like when City National Bank foreclosed on a Flagler Village community garden and bulldozed it. But with a well-curated selection of grants and a sympathetic code-enforcement style toward those who want to rehabilitate empty space, Fort Lauderdale could foster real change while waiting for the market to turn and developers to bite once again.

2. Make the Fort Lauderdale Strikers absolutely huge.
Did you know that we have the only professional soccer team in South Florida? For that matter, did you know that we have a fairly large soccer stadium within city limits? To those who say "no," first of all, welcome to town. Secondly, you should. Soccer is finally being embraced by cities all over America, and while there might be slim pickings down here for now, the area's large Latin American population should be able to provide something of a fan base. Then again, that's what they said about the Marlins. Still, if Miami's able to shoehorn through a taxpayer-subsidized publicity blitz for that team, why can't Laudy do the same on a smaller scale, for a scrappier team with lots of potential? We might actually be able to convince Miamians to come up and visit north of the county line. Just put some half-naked soccer dudes on billboards on 95, host a weekly ladies' night, and rake in the ticket revenues.

3. Save the sea turtles.
There is probably no cause less célèbre for Mayor Jack Seiler than saving the sea turtles -- his impatient exchanges with hyperactive activists last year fueled a head-smacking, totally avoidable controversy. Still, while activists were screaming bloody murder (literally, with pictures of scores of dead baby turtles littering the road), the city did install a long stretch of turtle-safe streetlights along the beach, and several businesses took the lead in turning down their lights to avoid distracting wayward turtles. The city says it has invested $2 million in such initiatives (PDF link), but it can go further. Why not become a sea-turtle-friendly showcase city, complimenting A1A's raucous nightlife with utter, enforced darkness on the other side of the road? Advertise it. Crack down on businesses or reward businesses that exceed requirements with tax breaks. Fund turtle-rescue excursions. And yes, march the mayor on down a couple of times a season for a photo-op. The investment will pay off.

4. Bike lanes.
The new B-Cycle bike-sharing program in Broward sure is nice -- if you can find a place to ride the damned things without getting your head smashed like a cantaloupe in six-lane traffic. This is the deadliest biking market into which B-Cycle has introduced its program. The solution? A sorely needed investment in bike infrastructure, driver awareness programs, and bike rack placement that encourages and informs biking without pissing off drivers and injuring riders in the process. We don't have to be Portland or Minneapolis -- we never will be -- but even Miami has us beat, hands-down, in bike-friendliness. You could paint a lot of bike lanes -- and possibly save a few lives -- for $14 million.

5. Fund programs to help -- not hurt -- the homeless. 
The city recently dished out $26,000 to put up offensive signs around the city warning against panhandling -- and portraying the needy as "the problem" akin to wild dogs. Nobody likes panhandling (either doing it or being the target), and now that the city has made it illegal in many areas, it's time to find some alternatives. Sure, groups like Food Not Bombs or Love Thy Neighbor pass out food despite the City Commission's wishes. But how about an actual, robust, program -- maybe those homeless food trucks the mayor was talking about? Maybe just paying actual food trucks to come to Stranahan Park and pass out food. Perhaps Nacho Bizness and Ms. Cheezious wouldn't mind a government handout if it came with a good deed. Other, more serious options would surely be within reach.

Well, enjoy those pension funds and 911 calls, Fort Lauderdale. Can't say we never had any constructive suggestions!

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