With budget talks resuming July 9 at Bradenton Beach City Hall, commissioners turned their focus to infrastructure issues. Implications continue that a tax hike might be required to address neglected city needs.
Commissioners have not said taxes will rise, but they made repeated statements that taxes have not been increased since 2002.
During a budget talk July 9, Police Chief Sam Speciale said department heads have drifted away from preventative maintenance to save money.
“Starting years ago, all the departments had the feeling — slowly but surely — that we got away from the preventative maintenance thing,” said Speciale. “What’s happening now is the infrastructure of this city is starting to get old and it’s starting to crumble. We can’t let that happen.”
Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said, “The sorry state of maintenance in the city really came home July 4, when the city couldn’t muster something to represent ourselves proudly in the parade because the boat trailer is so rusted out, it won’t hold the boat.”
Speciale said no one in the city is looking to have the best, “but just give us the tools to do what we have to do.”
Mayor John Shaughnessy said the city cannot continue to just get by, and Tropical Storm Debby was an example of a bad situation making things worse.
“Things come up that we have to have money for,” he said. “Everybody is cutting back, but there are certain things you can’t live without.”
Vice Mayor Ed Straight said the public supports decisions to maintain services, and is willing to pay for them.
As commissioners move forward with the budget process, Straight said, “I think we need to keep that in mind. The support is there to keep the services there.”
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said she understands the need to maintain essential services, but called for due diligence as the budget process continues.
“I’m just looking out for the citizens of Bradenton Beach,” she said. “I’ve walked around the city, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city look better. I have a neighbor who is going to have to move because she can’t afford the taxes here.”
Shaughnessy reminded commissioners that the city has not raised its taxes since 2002. He said the city lowered its tax rate last year.
“It’s the fire department getting an increase and the sheriff’s office looking for an increase, and the county giving their employees a raise,” said Shaughnessy. “Those are the taxes we are paying, so where are we?”
As budget talks shifted to capital improvements and stormwater issues, what to do to protect the city’s infrastructure became the focus.
Commissioners debated their options with city staff.
“I wonder if we shouldn’t start now, and each year put a little more aside for infrastructure,” said Commissioner Gay Breuler.
Gatehouse said the development of one- and five-year maintenance plans is essential for the city to prioritize projects and budget for the future.
“If we do nothing, we will be scrambling” every time a new issue arises, he said.
Janie Robertson, a former commissioner, attended the July 9 budget talks and said she also believes taxpayers would support higher taxes for infrastructure improvements.
“If taxpayers know an increase in tax is going to be spent on infrastructure, and not to the benefit of anyone else, I don’t think you’ll have a problem,” she said. “Citizens will say absolutely yes, let’s get this city back in shape.”
Shaughnessy pointed out several projects over the past year that unexpectedly cost the city money, including a sewer line collapse, hiring a contractor to build trolley shelters and addressing Tropical Storm Debby damages.
Now or never
City clerk Nora Idso said she appreciated the concept of trying to save money for future projects in a budget item fund, “but you guys are a revolving door. We are at your mercy. Two years from now, you aren’t here, and we get a brand new commission and they decide that’s not what they want to do.”
Idso said putting away money “is not worth the money it is written on,” and a future commission could decide to take the savings and put it into the general fund.
“Get the project done right away,” she said. “Name a project and get it done within a couple of years. You can’t put it in the budget unless you are going to spend it.”
Gatehouse said that is what he’s asking for in having department heads develop one- and five-year plans. He also said priorities and clear timelines must be established.
“While beautification is nice, and streets and sewers aren’t sexy, that’s what makes the city livable,” he said. “You can’t live here without working sewers, drivable roads and walkable sidewalks. We should do the right things now, and if someone else comes along later that wants to do the wrong thing, then that’s on them.”
Breuler asked department heads to submit a priority list before commissioners cast their votes July 25 to set the maximum millage rate for the next budget.