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Date of Issue: March 31, 2005

Police pension benefit increase fails

After more than seven months of wrangling and debate over an increase in the Holmes Beach police pension benefits, city commissioners effectively defeated the measure March 22 when the vote on the ordinance ended in a 2-2 tie. Commissioner Don Maloney was absent from the meeting.

The Holmes Beach Police pension board in August 2004 had sought an increase in benefits with the city upping its contribution to an officer's retirement from 33 percent to 36.8 percent.

Mayor Carol Whitmore had opposed the request, noting that city staff receive only a 9 percent contribution.

Commissioners had drafted their own ordinance that said the increased benefits would be funded from the amount of money the city gets annually from the excess premium property tax paid by Holmes Beach property owners whey they buy their property insurance. If there was not enough money in the excess taxes to pay the benefits, police would not get those benefits.

The pension board, however, wanted benefit funding tied to the city's annual budget, with the city making up any shortfall. The expected funding would only cost the city about $21,000 annually - if anything - pension board actuary Ward Foster told commissioners last year.

Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger objected to the ordinance at the March 22 commission meeting, noting that the ordinance does not identify what benefits would be provided. The board needs to account for revenue and benefits from the premium tax, he said, before he can consider any further benefits.

Commissioner Roger Lutz thought the ordinance might be inadequate, but City Attorney Patricia Petruff pointed out that the pension board did not want the ordinance drafted by the city to come before the commission, just their original ordinance.

"You could, however, change the language to clarify accounting for the premium tax," she suggested.

"Premium tax dollars have to be used for extra benefits," replied Bohnenberger, and the pension board has never accounted for those dollars. Until those funds are accounted for, he can't support the ordinance, he said.

Lutz and Commissioner Patrick Morton voted for the ordinance, while Bohnenberger and Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens were opposed.

The tie vote effectively defeated the ordinance and, Whitmore said, even if Maloney had been at the meeting and voted for approval, she would have vetoed the measure.

To override a veto would then require a super majority vote of 4 to 1 from the commission.

Lutz suggested to Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson, who is on the pension board, that the board revise its proposal to meet commission concerns.

Stephenson expressed disappointment with the vote, noting the pension board has not asked for any changes in benefits since 1997.

Responding to Bohnenberger's comments, he noted that since the current police retirement plan "does not even meet [state] minimums, we don't have a lot of benefits."

"I still think the city treasurer should know where the premium taxes go," Bohnenberger replied.

"So, I suggest you get back here as soon as possible," Lutz told Stephenson.

Mixed use

Whitmore confirmed that the planning commission is presently looking at a mixed-use district in the city that would allow business owners to live above their business. That's similar to the residential-office-retail district along Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

"It is being discussed by the planning commission," noted Lutz, "and everyone here I believe is in general agreement with the concept."

Whitmore emphasized that the planning committee is only "discussing" the issue and has made no recommendation to the commission.

Waste Management Inc.

Approval of a new contract for waste and trash hauling service with Waste Management Inc. was recycled to the April 12 meeting after resident Joan Perry raised a number of objections to the contract.

"I'm not here to fight about garbage cans," Perry said, but the ordinance does require a public meeting.

She suggested the liability limits and performance bond amount be increased in the contract and the default section should be clarified.

Petruff agreed. Perry has "raised some good issues," she said, noting the contract was negotiated by Maloney, not by her.

The board agreed to continue the ordinance while Petruff and WMI staff iron out the suggested changes.

Dave Smith of WMI said the company would agree to increase liability limits to $1 million and $3 million and up its performance bond to $100,000.

"But time is running out," he said, noting the current contract expires at the end of June 2005.

Reports

Haas-Marten reported that the Palma Sola Scenic Highway Committee in conjunction with Manatee County plans to build rest rooms at the Kingfish Boat Ramp. The rest rooms will be part of the overall beautification project of the causeway currently being planned by the committee.

Whitmore said bid packages for the city's trolley shelters and the drainage pipe relocation project by the Holmes Beach Pure Oil Station at Gulf and Marina Drives have been sent to prospective contractors.

A traffic calming study of Marina Drive from the intersection of Gulf Drive north to Jesse's Island Store has been completed by Manatee County, but Whitmore said she's asked the county to study the road up to city hall and present that report.

Among the county's proposal is making Marina Drive one-lane driving north from the Gulf Drive intersection, but widening the sidewalks and bench areas.