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BB commission mulls budget options

By Lisa Neff, Islander Reporter

Faced with several crumbling seawalls holding back Sarasota Bay, Bradenton Beach commissioners June 23 began scouring the city’s preliminary 2011-12 budget for possible cuts.

The commission and Mayor Bob Bartelt met with city clerk Nora Idso and other staff at city hall last week, where the discussion focused on how to pay for seawall replacements and still balance the next fiscal budget, which begins Oct. 1.

Another meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, June 30, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Idso drafted a preliminary budget for the new year based on estimated revenues derived from various government reports and estimated expenditures based on the current spending plan, forecasts and trends.

The basic forecast, without any seawall improvements, showed revenues falling about $18,000 short of expenditures, in large part due to another predicted decline in ad valorem taxes based on this year’s tax rate — from $873,808 to $858,339.

“Property values,” Bartelt said, “have gone down again.

That complicates matters for the city, which needs to replace seawalls at Sixth Street South, Seventh Street South and 13th Street South.

“We have two or three seawalls that are in distress,” Bartelt said. “We have to plug the holes in the dike.”

Public works director Tom Woodard said at least two of the three locations of top concern are “health, safety and welfare” hazards and the third seawall “wouldn’t hold in a Cat 3” hurricane.

He estimated seawall repair and replacement at about $600 a linear foot.

The needed seawall improvements and the $18,000 projected shortfall in the basic budget means commissioners must figure out how to come up with about $109,000.

“We have to make up that $109,000,” Bartelt said, and then he outlined three options:

• A. Increase the millage rate.

• B. Cut the budget.

• C. A combination of A and B.

“It’s going to be up to us now,” he said. “It is up to us to dig through this.”

Bartelt, Idso and commissioners spent about an hour reviewing expenditure and revenue estimates, and noted several matters for future discussion.

• Commissioner Gay Breuler suggested, to save money, the city hire a building official rather than continue contracting for building department services.

However, Idso, Bartelt and Commissioner Janie Robertson expressed concerns that hiring a new employee may not be cheaper and that the city’s experience with past building official hires was not positive.

“In the past, before we contracted this job out, we had lawsuits coming in, coming in, coming in,” Robertson said. “Since we’ve contracted that out, we’ve had no lawsuits coming against the city.”

• Robertson suggested reviewing code enforcement expenses to enforce the turtle-protection ordinance and exploring whether the city might employ more volunteers to monitor beach lighting.

Robertson said the city spends $40,000 a year to enforce the ordinance protecting endangered sea turtles that nest and hatch on the beach.

“To me that is way too much money to spend on one ordinance every year,” she said, adding that code enforcement salaries are “going to this unfunded state mandate.”

She suggested that if code enforcement officers spent less time on the turtle ordinance, they might focus on other enforcement matters that could generate additional income for the city.

• Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said she wanted to investigate seawall replacement costs because $600 a linear foot seemed high. Perhaps, she said, the capital improvement costs could be much less.

• Vosburgh suggested a discussion of personnel benefits, and possibly changing the benefit plan for any new employees.

“We all have to cut corners and we have to sacrifice,” she said, adding, “It’s going to start with our budget here.”

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