Gil Ziffer is the newly elected 2017-2018 president of the Florida League of Cities, the organization that represents more 400 municipalities in the state.
Ziffer, 60, has served on the Tallahassee City Commission since 2009 and is seeking re-election next year.
President of Ziffer Stansbury Communications, Ziffer also serves as chairman of the National League of Cities Human Development Advocacy Committee and is a member of the national league’s board of directors.
Five questions for Gil Ziffer:
Q: As the newly elected president of the Florida League of Cities, you have pledged to protect the home-rule power of local government through your “Let Cities Work!” initiative. Can you explain why that is important to the cities?
ZIFFER: It’s really important to the citizens who live in these cities. People move to different cities for the quality of life they get in those regions in which they choose to live. Living in Miami is different than living in Monticello. When you allow us to do what’s right for our local communities, it’s much better than the one size fits all, which the Legislature seems to be pushing down on us.
When it comes to quality of life, when it comes to those issues that are important to people locally, like zoning, and other things that make it special for where you are, what the Legislature is doing with massive pre-emptions (of local authority) just doesn’t work for the people who live in our communities.
Q: An example of a pre-emption issue was the adoption of a new law this year that pre-empts local government control of public rights of way when it comes to the placement of small wireless equipment. Why is that a bad idea? Won’t it make wireless services more available and effective?
ZIFFER: There isn’t a city or an elected official anywhere in the state of Florida who is opposed to 5G, which is the technology that they are talking about. The problem is that our rights of way, we all treat them differently. As a result of that, we were able to work through some of the cosmetic issues and some of the other issues that required permitting.
The biggest problem is if you’re a cellular provider and you’re putting up one of these pieces of equipment in Miami, you’re gaining substantially more income generated off that piece of equipment than you are if you are putting one in Quincy. Yet the most we can charge is $150 whether it’s in Miami or Quincy and that’s just not equitable. That’s our biggest issue.
Let the local communities negotiate with the providers. That’s the way we’ve been doing it, and it seems to have worked quite well.
Q: The Legislature has placed a constitutional amendment on next year’s general election ballot that would increase the nonschool homestead exemption by $25,000. An analysis shows it could reduce property-tax revenue to the cities, counties and special districts by $644 million a year. It seems likely to pass. How will the cities handle that?
ZIFFER: It’s not a foregone conclusion that it’s going to pass yet. We’re certainly going to do everything we can to educate the people in the state of Florida because this is not a tax cut for everybody. This is a tax cut that’s fit into that category where they are getting a $25,000 homestead exemption between $100,000 and $125,000 in property value.
Commercial property owners are not included in that. If you’re a renter, it’s going to get tacked onto your rent. There are so many other people that it is just going to get shifted.
It’s really not a tax cut, it’s kind of a bait and switch. It’s like, “We’re the Legislature, we’re doing this, we’re going to save you money.” But the cities and counties are going to have to raise taxes to offset whatever losses we have. It’s really not fair to everyone. If we’re going to have tax reform, let’s look at something that is equitable for everybody.
Q: Tallahassee tried red-light cameras and then ended the program. The Legislature is likely to consider legislation in the coming year that would either restrict the use of those cameras or even prohibit them. What are your thoughts?
ZIFFER: We put the red-light cameras in initially, I think around seven years ago. In fact, it was right around when I first got on the commission. We had a real problem with people running red lights. During the initial period, after implementation, we had a substantial reduction in those people running red lights. We ended up giving up on them because the revenue sharing between us and the state changed over time to the point where it was costing our taxpayers way too much money to have red-light cameras.
I still think they’re effective, and I still think that they are worth it. But if it ends up costing taxpayers money, then it becomes something that is very difficult for us to do. I think that, once again, it should be left to the local municipality to make that decision.
Q: As a Tallahassee leader, do you believe the ongoing FBI investigation into the city government will have a long-term damaging impact on the city’s image?
ZIFFER: Right now, we live in a time where anyone in elected office is probably more heavily scrutinized than ever before when it comes to their ethics, their decisions. That’s something that we accept when we run for office, that’s something we accept when we are in office. Do I think the Tallahassee name and brand is going to be impacted by it? Probably in some form or fashion, yes. There has been so much media on it, so much coverage of it that unless if you were in a foxhole somewhere you wouldn’t know about it.
But how we deal with whatever comes out of it and how quickly we deal with it will make the determination of how long that it has a negative effect on our city. I’m confident that after this all is concluded, whenever that is, that we will do what we need to do to make this right within our government and move on and make it better.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.