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BB seeks to overcome budget shortfall

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Most Bradenton Beach department heads have submitted proposed budgets that exceed this year’s budgets, and commissioners already face a $104,000 shortfall in 2012-13.

The shortfall was originally calculated to be $117,000, but an updated report from the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office shows increased property values, which decreases the shortfall at the present millage rate.

Still, a shortfall remains and commissioners have indicated that an increase in city property taxes is on the way to fill the deficit and pay for a larger 2012-13 budget that includes increased salaries and attorney fees.

City clerk Nora Idso presented the administration and planning budgets to commissioners July 11 at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., to close out the first round of department-by-department budget talks.

The proposed administrative budget is up more than $10,000 from this year’s budget, which is $358,617 compared to the proposed 2012-13 budget of $368,858.

An anticipated increase in fees for city attorney Ricinda Perry is expected due to a pair of lawsuits against Bradenton Beach. Attorney fees account for a $4,000 increase in the administration budget and an additional $2,000 in the planning budget, with a total of $45,000 planned for Perry’s services.

Idso is not confident that amount will be enough, saying there is no way to anticipate legal fees.

The proposed planning department budget increased by more than $12,000, and operating expenses increased from $1,400 this year to $4,500 next year. This year’s budget for the planning department was $340,057, while next year’s proposed budget is $352,741.

Idso said building official Steve Gilbert would explain the operating expense increase to commissioners at an upcoming work session, but she also said the state is now requiring cities pay it a percentage of permits.

“Depending on the size of the project, it will be from $150 to $700,” said Idso. “There’s just no other place to put that money other than in a line item. It’s just one more thing to get our money.”

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse addressed the fees for Perry and Gilbert, who bill the city for their hours as contracted employees.

“We have engaged (Alan) Garrett to take care of the planning side of things, which should significantly lower (Gilbert’s) workload,” said Gatehouse. “Now that we have two individuals, I would like to see significant cost reductions for Mr. Gilbert.”

Gatehouse continued, “I realize we’ve been put into a position where we have no choice but to spend the money, but I wonder if (Perry) has to be at every meeting. There are a lot of meetings that are not controversial that I think we could stumble our way through without an attorney present.”

Idso said Perry has attended 11 meetings since November for a total of $1,870 based on a rate of $170 per hour.

“If she wasn’t giving us a government rate, it would be more like $230 an hour,” said Idso. “But you are right. Out of those 11 meetings, it was only necessary to have an attorney there for six of them.”

Mayor John Shaughnessy referred to Perry’s invoices. “She doesn’t charge us anything for a lot of things she does,” he said. “We are very fortunate for that.”

Idso said if commissioners want to cut hours from contracted employees, the easiest route would be to trim Gilbert’s hours.

“Mr. Gilbert comes to more night meetings, and that usually costs more,” said Idso. “I’ve looked at that compared to the attorney, and my concern is that we never know what exactly will come up, not only for you, but from the audience.”

Idso said Gilbert could only attend day meetings, which “could cut down considerably on his bill.”

Gatehouse said the same could be done for Perry.

“We can direct the attorney that her services won’t be required that night, and we can also table the issue until another date (if something does come up) and call her in on it,” he said.

Idso said Perry’s fees are not as much of a concern as the litigator commissioners agreed to pay for the two lawsuits.

“We’ll be paying the piper on that,” she said. “We’ll be paying full price and I think that will be a very sizeable bill.”

Commissioners will review the budget through July 18 and set the tentative millage rate July 25. The budget will not be voted on until September.

Idso said once commissioners set the millage, “that’s not set in stone. You can change it right up until September. Once you set it though, you can only come back and lower it. You can’t raise it, so keep that in mind.”

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