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Council Watch 

Like most perfunctory opening acts, this week's city council dry-hump lacked that hint of intensity required to maintain a sense of things getting done. Late September can only mean one thing in these beige chambers of echoing yeses, after all, and that one thing is the city's dwindling budget. A 5:01 p.m. second hearing of the city's financial plans to make it all look nice transparently would absorb all of the council's energy later, so the regularly scheduled meeting was an exercise in pacing and winking. "This job gave me my husband," said retiring deputy police chief Karin Weaver. "He was as cute as a button and mean as a rattlesnake." Ouch.


Commissioner Sam Ings, who would like nothing more than the sound of his own voice for Christmas, used the civic lull as an opportunity to eulogize the suspension of the city's hall-monitors-on-wheels, the Downtown Ambassadors, for budget reasons. "Hopefully, as things get better, we can reinstitute the program," he said, disintegrating into a puffy cloud of misplaced priorities. Poof.


Item: The city approves an award and execution of contract to construct the Mills Avenue improvement project to Kiewit Southern Co.


Translation: By now, the city is so accustomed to closing its eyes and pressing down on its eyelids with its palms in order to see the streetscaped, mixed-use fantasyland in our future that it's a wonder all of our thoroughfares aren't color-treated stills from Pleasantville yet. This project, which has been bouncing around for several years, will see to it that a one-mile stretch of North Mills Avenue – just north of the charming ViMi District and populated mostly by doctor's offices and scenic views of Florida Hospital – will get a tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly rehab. Anyway, the glaring omission in the city's blind spot is the giant dustbowl that was going to be Mills Park, now a festering wound of speculation. Maybe dressing up the concourse with puffy trees in a 26-foot-wide median will make it all less embarrassing … or more apparent. The project – set to replace a number of the concrete slabs currently comprising the "street," build a pedestrian/bike bridge over Lake Estelle, and add some curbage and "colored" crosswalks (oddly, south of the one-mile stretch, at Marks Street and Lake Highland Drive) – was estimated to cost about $4.5 million, but the low-ballers at Kiewit say they can do it for $3.3 million. Cheap!


Item: The city approves an amendment to its agreement with Ronco Communications and Electronics Inc. for its telephone system, and approves the exercise of the city's option for ongoing system maintenance.


Translation: Tired of tugging at strings between paper cups, the city dropped $2 million back in 2006 to have Ronco (not the knife people, although that would be awesome) update their telecommunications situation. Now, because the one-year warranty has expired, the city has been negotiating the cheapest way to secure some kind of maintenance on them. What they've come up with is a four-year deal that increases annually by 7 percent, meaning although the first year should only set them back $39,486, the fourth will cost $47,246. Moreover, those dispatched to city offices will receive an $82-an-hour service rate, or $123 during off-hours, with a shift minimum of two hours. Nice work if you can get it.


Item: The city approves an extension of its agreement with Immix Technology Group for Kronos hardware and software maintenance support.


Translation: Next time you find yourself clenching your fists and shouting things like "Time is money!" at those beneath your lofty station in life, take comfort in the fact that the city can quantify that. Last year the city said it was getting a deal from Immix in the maintenance of its very important Kronos time-clock system – or very expensive watch – when it forked over $85,268 for a year's service. "We're saving $3,323," it pointed at its watch and halfheartedly smiled. This year that savings has been swallowed up, with the city pledging $88,978 for another year of watching those punching the clock.


Item: The city approves a business assistance agreement between Gelato & Such LLC and the city of Orlando.


Translation: Because nothing sells expensive ice cream like a recession, a street that's about to be repaved (North Orange Avenue) and very little foot traffic, the city will assist Gelato & Such (and such!) in conquering the challenging dessert market of the Lake Ivanhoe region. G&S are proposing a $48,000 capital investment to make their walk-up walk-uppable; the city will toss in $2,166 in nominal assistance.


Item: The city approves an extension of its annual agreement with United Healthcare for group health plan coverage.


Translation: Oh, look! The city utilizes employee-baiting United Healthcare for their HMO. In its third year with the insurance monster, the city will be billed an additional 10.5 percent in premiums, meaning … wait for it … $48.5 million, with about $38 million coming out of the city's pocketbook – and the rest, presumably, from staffers' paychecks. No need for that public option.

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