As published in Friends & Neighbors

Over the past few years, Stuart and Martin County have been very lucky not to have had much impact from hurricanes. We were especially fortunate this year with Dorian. If it had been a few miles to the west, there could have been total devastation of the area.

There are other ways beside a direct hit that could affect us as taxpayers. There is a financial component for government gearing up for a storm. What that response entails is crucial to containing costs or having costs explode. I wanted to look at Stuart’s costs and how the City handled the last three storms from an economic perspective. I especially wanted to understand payroll expense and how it was dealt with.

The one thing that can be totally controlled by the City Manager is payroll costs before and during the storm itself. For Irma and Matthew, the total payroll costs with overtime, benefits and salary were substantially higher than for Dorian. Those costs were $241,509.89 for Matthew, $105,408.26 for Irma and $74,608.27 for Dorian. Why the differences?

It may have been David Dyess’ first hurricane as City Manager but not his first time understanding how to respond to a storm. After nearly 30 years with Stuart Police, he has seen what works and what does not. Over that time, he formulated and planned for what is necessary to adequately protect residents and their property. He began working with his staff to come up with a more realistic emergency response plan. What are the essentials he asked?

In past storms, the City’s EOC (Emergency Operations Center) would be opened at the Public Safety Complex with all city departments providing staff. Dyess decided that there was no need to have someone from Human Resources present during the storm. He also decided that department heads who were on duty would be given comp time instead of earning overtime. These two moves contributed to a large difference in personnel costs. For Matthew, overtime was $174,704.47; Irma $58,743.96; and Dorian $9,971.32.

Dyess further decided that, since the EOC has a kitchen, why not order the food and have it prepared internally instead of by a caterer. If there is one thing that Dyess does well, it is saving a buck, and the City benefits from that.

The total costs for each of the storms were as follows: Matthew $511,957.03, Irma $538,612.43, and Dorian $102,327.26. This shows me that, when governments want to pare costs, they can. While there was no substantial damage to Stuart in Dorian and there was minor damage with the other two storms, more money could have been saved with correct staffing. Sometimes government can get things right. This is one of those times that Stuart taxpayers benefited from public employees that do the right thing.