Volume 6 Number 16 April 17, 2009
As many of you know, I serve as the State Fire Marshal as well Florida’s Chief Financial Officer. I am honored by this responsibility and extremely proud of the work done by the people in the State Fire Marshal division – from investigating arson to training firefighters, State Fire Marshal employees work aggressively to protect Floridians from fire hazards.
This week, I had the opportunity to honor the courageous efforts of firefighters around the state at the Fire Service Awards and by recognizing April 13-18 as Florida Firefighter Appreciation Week. I also led a “Last Call” Ceremony, where we rang a bell to remember the fallen firefighters and honor their service.
We all know it takes a special person to fill the boots of a firefighter. All of our firefighters go above and beyond the call of duty, risking their lives to protect Floridians, and I encourage you to take a moment to thank our firefighters for their service.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink honored Florida firefighters in a ceremony and at the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday, recognizing April 13-18, 2009 as Florida Firefighter Appreciation Week.
CFO Sink remembered Florida’s fallen firefighters at a ceremonial ‘last call’ bell-ringing in Florida’s Capitol. CFO Sink was joined by State Senator Charlie Justice and State Representative Bill Heller, sponsors of legislation creating the Florida Firefighter Memorial Flag.
“We all know it takes a special person to fill the boots of a firefighter,” said CFO Sink. “All of our firefighters go above and beyond the call of duty, risking their lives to protect Floridians. I encourage all Floridians to take a moment this week to thank our firefighters for their service.”
During Florida Firefighter Appreciation Week, Florida’s firefighters and paramedics are recognized for efforts to raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Last year, Florida’s firefighters raised nearly $2.2 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) during their annual “Fill the Boot” campaign, ranking second in the nation and making them MDA’s largest single source of giving in Florida.
On Tuesday, Florida’s finest firefighters were honored with Fire Service Awards. Fire Service Awards are coordinated through CFO Sink’s State Fire Marshal Office annually and are sponsored by one or more of the following fire-service related organizations: the Florida Joint Council of Fire & Emergency Services, the Fire Training Director’s Association, the Florida State Firefighters Association, the Fire Chiefs’ Association, the Fire Marshal and Inspectors Association, the Professional Firefighters Association and the Emergency Preparedness Association.
CFO Sink recognized the following individuals and one training center with a Fire Service Award at the Cabinet meeting Tuesday:
Florida Chief Financial Officer Sink joined Florida Realtors® and Sadowski Workforce Housing Coalition members during two separate events on Wednesday to promote her efforts to protect Florida homeowners. As a champion for homeowners, CFO Sink underscored her department’s My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program and efforts to address Florida’s high rate of home foreclosures.
“My priority is to do everything I can to help shore up Florida’s housing market, because it is the key to real economic recovery in our state,” said CFO Sink. “We have to look at every innovative approach necessary to ensure that the American dream is alive and well in the sunshine state.”
Over the last two weeks, CFO Sink has outlined specific recommendations and efforts to ensure a healthy housing market in Florida:
My Safe Florida Home The My Safe Florida Home program helps Floridians strengthen their homes against hurricanes and has completed more than 400,000 inspections and hardened more than 29,000 homes. Last week, CFO Sink stood with a bipartisan group of elected officials to urge the Legislature to continue the MSFH program, which would allow even more Floridians to lower their insurance rates and would create more jobs in our state. According to a new report by catastrophe risk experts Risk Management Solutions (RMS), for every grant dollar provided by the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program for strengthening Florida homes, hurricane losses are expected to reduce by as much as $1.50.This equates to a drop of around $140 million in total losses for the approximately 30,000 homes already retrofitted under the program – significantly more than the $93 million so far invested in grants.
"The My Safe Florida Home program been a great success and it continues to be a smart investment -- as a new study shows, hurricane losses are reduced by as much as $1.50 for every dollar invested in the program,” said CFO Sink at the press conference. “I am hopeful that lawmakers will consider this cost-saving measure that can best help Florida's homeowners in the future.”
CFO Sink will bring together Florida lenders and attorneys with the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program next week in Tampa for a roundtable discussion on efforts to keep Floridians in their homes. The roundtable, to be held April 20, 2009, will give lenders and pro bono lawyers the chance to discuss how to improve their communication and interaction as they work together to help Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure.
“As we are all aware, for a number of years Florida has been ground zero for the housing crisis faced by our country today,” said CFO Sink. “That’s why I continue to work to find all avenues possible to provide real, tangible help to Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure.”
Cracking Down on Mortgage Fraud CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud has embedded a specialized Mortgage Fraud Division to fight fraud hurting Florida citizens, businesses and our economy. CFO Sink’s Mortgage Fraud unit specializes in investigating and helping prosecute mortgage fraud across Florida by conducting aggressive outreach and education initiatives with state, federal and regulatory law enforcement agencies and by providing Consumer Services Community Outreach coordinators with information to educate consumers about how to prevent being taken in by this type of fraud.
“Mortgage fraud is a serious issue in our state and it negatively affects the housing market,” said CFO Sink. “When I took office, I immediately directed our Division of Insurance Fraud to dedicate more resources and increase their coordination with agencies at all levels of government to combat mortgage fraud, helping to protect Florida homeowners.”
Supporting Affordable Housing CFO Sink is a longtime supporter of the Sadowski Trust Fund, which prompted her to join members and a bipartisan group of elected officials in calling for a repeal of the cap on the trust fund. She has encouraged leaders to focus on taking full advantage of the aid to local governments from the Emergency Housing Act of 2008, while holding them accountable for their use of the funds to purchase foreclosed properties and provide down payment assistance in an effort to provide affordable housing opportunities for our citizens.
“Affordable housing is an essential element of Florida’s economic recovery, and we must be innovative in how we deliver affordable housing opportunities to the people of our state,” said CFO Sink. “We also have to take full advantage of housing aid to local governments and tax credits and money from the federal stimulus package, making sure these funds are being used in a smart and accountable way to provide affordable housing options for our citizens.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced on Tuesday that she will save Florida’s taxpayers over $2.2 million annually as a result of streamlining and consolidating the Department of Financial Services’ consumer call centers.
“Floridians expect us to spend their money as wisely and efficiently as possible, and I will continue to lead by example in these tough economic times,” said CFO Sink. “Finding cost savings is like peeling back the layers of an onion – everyday I am working to find more ways to cut costs and be responsible with Floridians’ precious tax dollars.”
Less than a year ago, CFO Sink announced plans to consolidate the Department’s 11 consumer call centers into 2 call centers, saving millions and improving customer service. The call center consolidation took effect February 1, 2009 and has already saved nearly $500,000, with $2.25 million projected in annual, recurring savings.
“With help from Department of Financial Services employees, we found smart operational efficiencies that will generate millions in taxpayer savings without compromising customer service,” CFO Sink continued. “With nearly half a million dollars saved already and a projected $2 million in savings annually, this is an example of waste cutting at its best.”
CFO Sink determined that eliminating lease expenses for multiple call centers and expediting the timeline for consolidation from five years to seven months would generate greater savings immediately and on a recurring annual basis, creating even more savings for Florida’s taxpayers. CFO Sink now has two high-quality service centers in Tallahassee and Largo, improving service and increasing customer satisfaction.
Until CFO Sink’s consolidation, employees answering the consumer call center hotline were scattered throughout the state, without the benefit of frequent training or best practices initiatives. All affected consumer service employees were given the opportunity to transfer to Tallahassee or Largo with moving cost assistance or offered other positions within the Department.
For the past two years, CFO Sink has been an outspoken watchdog on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers, pursuing cost saving measures in the Department of Financial Services such as renegotiating contracts and cutting down on state-paid cell phones. CFO Sink recently unveiled a new website, www.GetLeanFlorida.com, which allows citizens to offer tips on how to cut government waste and inefficiencies.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink will bring together Florida lenders and attorneys with the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program on Monday, April 20, in Tampa for a roundtable discussion on efforts to keep Floridians in their homes. The CFO and representatives from the parties involved will hold a media availability immediately following their discussion. The availability will begin at 11:30 a.m.
“As we are all aware, for a number of years Florida has been ground zero for the housing crisis faced by our country today,” said CFO Sink. “That’s why I have worked to find any avenue possible to provide real, tangible help to Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure.”
WHAT: Foreclosure Roundtable with Lawyers and Lenders
WHO: CFO Alex Sink, Attorneys with the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes Program, Representatives from Top Florida Lenders, Other Interested Parties
WHEN: 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Roundtable on Monday, April 20, 2009
WHERE: Chester H. Ferguson Law Building, 1610 North Tampa Street, Tampa FL 33602
The roundtable will give lenders and pro bono lawyers the chance to discuss how to improve their communication and interaction, as they work together to help Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure. For more information on the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
At the Cabinet meeting this week, the CFO sponsored a resolution designating April as Water Conservation Month in the State of Florida. The CFO recognized that state, regional and local entities have done much to increase awareness and to promote improved water conservation, because all citizens benefit, both economically and environmentally. However the recent droughts and water shortages, in conjunction with population growth, still serve as stark reminders that Florida’s water resources are finite and that more needs to be done.
Mike Sole, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection reiterated many of the CFO’s comments that saving water is an economic issue in that by saving water public and private entities don’t need to build as many water facilities. Maribel Balbin, Deputy Director with the Miami Dade Water and Sewer Authority reported that Miami-Dade County adopted a Water Use Efficiency Plan. As a result of that plan, since 2006, the per capita water consumption has dropped from 157 gallons of water use per person per day down to 143 gallons.
Everyone is well served if they use less water and the CFO noted that by continuing to raise awareness of water conservation, “we will also help to ensure the sustainability of our water resources, even in the face of climate change.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is advising victims of reported tornadoes that struck the Tampa Bay Area and severe storms in North and Central Florida that insurance specialists with the Department of Financial Services’ toll-free storm line at 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676) are standing by to assist victims in contacting their insurance companies with questions about their policies.
“Our specialists are ready to help and have the knowledge and experience to help disaster victims ask the right questions to begin the process of repairing or rebuilding,” said CFO Sink.
Tornadoes are reported to have damaged homes and uprooted trees in the Tampa Bay Area as a significant storm front moved through North and Central Florida. The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for 20 Florida counties through the early afternoon.
CFO Sink offered the following advice to property owners who have suffered damage:
The Department of Financial Services’ toll-free storm line -- 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676) – is operational 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
This severe storm system is also likely to cause flooding in North and Central Florida. If homeowners have questions about their insurance coverage in the event of flood damage, they are encouraged to contact the DFS storm line. For information about properly responding to flooding, Floridians should visit the FEMA Web site at http://www.fema.gov/business/nfip/.
The Department of Financial Services participated in an Economic Town Hall meeting organized by Congressman Wexler on Monday in Delray Beach as part of CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative.
The event assembled experts to educate more than 400 attendees about the vast amount of resources that is now available to homeowners who may be facing foreclosure.
CFO Sink’s West Palm Beach Outreach Coordinator Vicki Williams discussed how to avoid having your lender force-place costly homeowner insurance by reducing your own homeowner insurance costs using a variety of techniques such as shopping around for the policy and getting substantial mitigation discounts with a windstorm inspection report.
Chief Judge Jack Cook of the Palm Beach County 15th Judicial Circuit Court system spoke about the importance of answering any legal summons or foreclosure action that may be filed against you.
Local Realtor Diedre Newton, a member of CFO Sink’s Financial Literacy Council, spoke about when it may be necessary to have an exit strategy, such as how to do a “short sale” of the property.
Other speakers included representatives from HUD-accredited counseling agencies. After the presentations, Congressman Wexler and the panel took individual questions from the audience. State Senator Ted Deutch and State Representative Maria Sachs also provided insightful commentary.
Two additional workshops are scheduled this Saturday in Tampa and Fort Myers sponsored by U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor and U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, respectively. Congresswoman Castor’s workshop will begin at 9 a.m. and will be held at Middleton High School, located at 4801 N. 22nd St. in Tampa. Senator Martinez’s workshop will begin at 10 a.m. at Edison State College, located at 8099 College Parkway in Fort Myers.
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle’s FLOW mobile unit will be in the Capitol Rotunda the week of April 20- 24th from 8am to 5 pm.
Take advantage of this unique and convenient opportunity to renew a driver license or vehicle registration/tag. Check the FLSMV Web site to find out if the FLOW mobile unit will be in your area.
Services available include:
A 2006 survey by the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University showed how valuable family meals can be. According to the report, young people who ate dinner with their family five or more times per week were more likely to say that they receive either all As or mostly As and Bs in school. Teens who had family dinners less than two times per week were more than twice as likely to have tried cigarettes and one and one-half times likelier to have tried alcohol. Family meal frequency is also linked to fewer behavior problems in school and improved youth self esteem.
Eating more meals together can make a big difference in your family’s health, happiness and finances. Dinners at home can be less expensive and easier to fix than you think. Plan a weekly menu and make it simple – the key is to have a plan. Involve everyone; let each person have a night to pick their favorite dishes. Cook once and eat twice. Save time by cooking and freezing key ingredients like low fat ground beef or turkey for tacos, spaghetti, lasagna or other favorites. Cook a pot of brown rice and store family size portions in the freezer. These are cost- and time-saving strategies that definitely provide more nutrients than most drive-thru fast food! Keep the kitchen stocked by packing your pantry and freezer with staples like canned beans, tuna, fruit, rice, baking mixes and frozen vegetables will make supper more of a quick fix.
However, the most important part of family mealtime is the family. Children learn by modeling themselves after their parents. Eating together allows parents to set a good example and show their children how to choose nutritious foods, know when they are full and how to try new foods. They also learn social skills like table manners and conversation. The family meal allows family members to share information on activities, interests and even concerns. Thanks to UF/IFAS Extension Agent Jo Shuford-Law for this article from Solutions for Your Life.
Did you know that 30,000 Burmese pythons are estimated to inhabit the Everglades? That thousands of non-native Mexican and green iguanas are digging up gardens along the west coast of Florida? And that Nile monitors, with their aggressive temperament, are living in neighborhoods around Cape Coral? Florida now has 44 species of invasive reptiles recorded throughout our state, representing a fast-growing expense for parks, home-owners, and regional governments. According to scientists, most of these invasive reptiles are thought to have escaped from well-meaning pet owners. Children can easily buy a young Burmese python that is only 12 inches long, but will grow approximately six feet in its first year and in four years can reach adult size - a length of eighteen feet and up to 160 pounds. It quickly changes from a cute pet that fits into a small cage to a monstrous hunter. Many Florida residents mistakenly assume that it is humane to release large reptiles into local parks and natural areas, but this has proved extremely expensive in terms of both ecology and economics. Invasive species disrupt the local ecology, and – in the case of iguanas and pythons – feed on native birds and other wildlife. They threaten tourism, which is important to Florida’s economy; and ultimately, invasive species require enormous amounts of fuel, manpower, and funds to eradicate.
Please educate your children and friends about appropriate pets for Florida! With our subtropical climate, many invasive reptiles can easily establish populations outdoors if they escape or are released. It is now costing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to attempt to eradicate invasive reptiles from the state of Florida. Such funds could be much more effectively used to improve the quality of education or local services, instead of controlling invasive reptiles that are a consequence of escaped pets. If you see a large, invasive python, iguana, tegu (a large, South American lizard) or other questionable reptile, be sure to call your county officials to report it. By removing these invasive reptiles from our Florida natural areas before they become established, we are all helping to improve our quality of life for the future.
If your child loves reptiles and amphibians, think carefully about your options for pets. Educate yourselves on the ultimate size and maintenance required for larger pets, and think carefully about your ethical responsibilities as a pet owner. There are many small, non-invasive animals that can provide a wonderful education for children by offering the responsibility and joys of caring for a pet.