Holmes Beach public works is getting a new toy.
During a March 25 commission meeting, city commissioners unanimously approved an unbudgeted purchase of a backhoe, a Bobcat Skid-Steer Loader.
The new equipment comes with a price tag of $37,812.95. The city will take $20,000 from the funds set aside for Grassy Point Preserve and supplement the remainder from the stormwater utility fund.
“The major portion of the city’s stormwater management plan is an open swale drainage system … it was determined several months ago that a small backhoe is an essential piece of equipment to maintain our drainage swale system throughout the city,” superintendent of public works Tom O’Brien said in a statement to the commission.
According to Commission Chair Judy Titsworth, the work was previously done manually with shovels, and was ineffective.
Commissioner Pat Morton moved to approve the purchase, and Commissioner Jean Peelen seconded the motion, albeit with a condition. Peelen asked the mayor to take a second look at the budget to try and find another source for the backhoe without dipping into the Grassy Point fund.
According to Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti, $40,000 was set aside in this year’s budget for the preserve. However, none of the money has been used for projects in the preserve and he recommended using it for the Bobcat purchase.
In last year’s budget, $180,000 was set aside for the preserve and all of it was allocated to other projects.
“Is there anything in the Grassy Point funds we need that money for?,” asked Peelen.
Monti said there were no “meaningful plans” for the preserve, and mentioned the park board’s project to erect a bat house.
The 34-acre nature preserve between East Bay Drive opposite Walgreens and Grassy Point Bayou on the bayfront was purchased by the city in parcels starting in 2000.
In 2012, the city purchased shell for a 1,000-foot path and, with a $3,000 grant from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, added a shell parking lot, three picnic tables, six shade trees, native plants and a mulch-lined path.
The Florida Department of Transportation also kicked in more than $500,000 for a crosswalk into the preserve.
Plans discussed by officials in 2012 also included adding a boardwalk and lookout tower.
“I’d like to talk about it at some point. Do we really want Grassy Point to be fixed up? If we do, we need to talk about it,” said Commissioner Marvin Grossman.
Human resource specialist Mary Buonagura said she plans to apply for grant money next year from applicable organizations to supplement the funds to be set aside in next year’s budget.
“If we keep stealing from that fund, we’re never going to build that boardwalk,” said Commissioner David Zaccagnino. “There are plans and we’re just waiting for matching grants, waiting to apply for grants, and that’s not going to cut it. We need to keep building that money, so we can have it.”
Monti said the funds set aside for the preserve in this year’s budget were allocated to purposes other than maintaining or improving the preserve. He also added a plan was needed for the preserve in order to allocate any funds.
Zaccagnino said he had shared a plan for the preserve with Grossman, Morton and the mayor.
And Grossman said he felt the plan, including the raised boardwalk through the wetland area, was substantial enough to move forward.
According to Monti, the boardwalk would cost $300,000, which is well over the $180,000 budgeted last year, and the $40,000 set aside in this year’s budget.
“I think we do need this Bobcat and, in the grand scheme of things, $20,000 isn’t a big dent in our budget. Maybe this will bring attention back to Grassy Point,” said Zaccagnino.
In other business, Hugh Holmes Sr. decided to deed 5 feet of his property leading to the beach on 81st street to the city.
According to Titsworth, the 5 feet, which includes a beach access, would relieve Holmes of any liability for people using the access.
Titsworth, the daughter of Holmes Sr., also reported some residents of the street voiced concerns about the access being used by the public. Titsworth said there is no public parking on the street, and no sign leading to the access and she did not see it as a problem.
The commissioners also held a vote to amend an ordinance deleting redundant land-use definitions. The motion passed 5-0 with no comment.