REDINGTON BEACH – Discussions ranged widely at the Aug. 16 Redington Beach Commission meeting, from salary caps to staff raises to the need for a more active finance committee and the possible effect of a proposed state constitutional amendment.
But all of the conversations were focused on the only item actually on the agenda: the coming year’s town budget and millage rate.
Commissioners had only two obligations during the meeting, Mayor Nick Simons said early in the evening – to agree on a budget and reach a consensus on a tentative millage rate. That eventually happened, but not before the panel plowed a metaphorical field of affiliated issues.
Much of the 35-minute meeting was consumed by the question of raises for town staff, particularly for Deputy Clerk Adriana Nieves.
Vice Mayor Fred Steiermann proposed to give a 4 percent raise to Clerk Missy Clarke and the town’s two public works staff members and a 5 percent raise to Deputy Clerk Adriana Nieves.
While all the town’s employees were “fabulous,” he said Nieves was not only doing an “excellent job,” but was “going above and beyond.”
Since starting with the town in May 2016, she had expanded her role, Steiermann said. He noted she is taking classes to be a certified town clerk, and has assumed responsibility for all work related to the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
Steiermann said he was proposing the additional money for Nieves because the commission did not have any criteria in place to give bonuses.
The suggestion received mixed support from the rest of the commission. Simons said a 5 percent across-the-board raise had been proposed for all employees at the Aug. 2 meeting. Dave Will said he agreed with Steiermann, while Tom Dorgan said, “I agree with Fred in principle but not in fact.” He proposed a 5 percent raise for Clarke and the public works staff and a 6 percent for Nieves. Tim Kornijtschuk supported 5 percent for all employees.
Simons said that “for purposes of moving along,” the consensus appeared to favor Steiremann's proposed 4 percent/5 percent raises. In the future, the mayor added, he hoped the commission would “agree on a number” for raises.
He instructed Clarke to use those figures in calculating salary costs for the 2017-2018 budget.
Salaries also were a subject of a presentation by Finance Advisory Board Chairman James Hoffman earlier in the meeting. He and Dorgan had met the previous week at the request of Steiermann to determine whether salary caps needed to be put in place for staff.
“I don’t know that [the need for salary caps] is imminent,” he told commissioners. However, he said “I don’t think it’s a bad idea.”
“If other towns are not doing that, it might not serve us well at this point and there’s not a pressing issue that needs to address that problem,” Hoffman added.
Hoffman also noted he and Dorgan had discussed a proposed state constitutional amendment set to be voted on in 2018 that would create a third $25,000 exemption on property values.
“We just didn’t see there was a lot of benefit to the town to lower millage rates now in anticipation of other revenue being reduced later.”
Instead, Hoffman said, the town needed to build up its reserves.
He advised the commission that the finance board did not have a quorum at its last meeting, so no formal vote could be taken.
Commenting later in the meeting, Hoffman asked for more members on the finance board, which currently has four members.
Simons replied that when the finance board was created, the town was in “tremendous disarray.” While there was still a need for the board, “things are going smoothly” now.
Hoffman said the finance board did not need any changes, just “more participation.”
When discussion of the budget began, Dorgan said he supported retaining the current millage rate of 1.849. He said the roll-back rate of 1.727 saved each homeowner about $18, whereas some of the town’s reserves were “woefully inadequate.”
According to Clarke, the roll-back rate would produce $37,555 less revenue than this year.
Dorgan noted the current millage rate was “a lot cheaper than many other towns on the beach.”
Simons said while the consensus of the commission appeared to favor maintaining the current millage rate, he favored the roll-back rate.
Given the “complexity of some of our homes,” Simons said, rising flood insurance rates for those homes would eventually mandate they be torn down and rebuilt “and when that happens we are going to continue to see an increase in the overall total property appraiser’s record of what the values are worth in Redington Beach.”
“We’re going to see the total value of revenue raised by Redington Beach homes increase and increase and increase,” he continued. Keeping the millage rate the same would constitute a tax rate, he said.
The first public hearing on the proposed millage rate is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 6 p.m. The next regular commission meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 6, 6:30 p.m.
In other business:
• Steiermann said “the big house on Gulf Boulevard” was for sale and questioned whether a sign could be placed near the home that announced to potential buyers that “Redington Beach discourages short-term rentals and strictly enforces its code of ordinances.”
Some of the larger homes on Gulf Boulevard are allegedly rented out for less than the required six-month minimum. Short-term rentals are a long-standing controversy for Redington Beach.
Steiermann offered to pay for the sign himself after Dorgan said it would have to be paid for by a committee of residents. The vice-mayor said the sign would not say anything illegal and questioned why the town couldn’t pay for it.
Town Attorney Jay Daigneault declined to offer an opinion, saying “I don’t know that I want to answer that question on the dais.” He added there were “a handful of statutory limitations that might be at play.”
“I’m going to go with probably not,” he said.
• Kornijtschuk, whose position handles public safety issues, reported that crime was down 6 percent in Redington Beach since July 2016.