INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – The City Commission approved a controversial charter amendment on second reading at Tuesday evening’s meeting. The amendment, which will be on the Nov. 2 ballot, would require a supermajority of four out of five votes to approve an ad valorem millage rate increase greater than 6 percent.
Once again, Commissioner R.B. Johnson raised strong objections to the amendment, reading a prepared statement raising several key points.
Johnson said the amendment language is misleading and does not adequately inform citizens that the increase is to the rollback rate, not to the current millage rate.
“The amendment represents a major shift in public policy from distributing the benefits arising from increasing property values to the entire city to a new emphasis on protecting a specific class, investment and commercial property owners,” said Johnson. He also noted that the city charter, as its constitution, is an inappropriate place for “tactical budgeting instructions.”
The amendment was approved 3-2, with Johnson and Mayor Bob DiNicola voting nay. Commissioners requested that voters be provided with explanatory information on the charter amendments prior to the election.
Also approved by a 3-2 vote was a second charter amendment to appear on the November ballot. It removes the ability of the mayor-commissioner to take command of the police and govern the city by proclamation during times of grave public danger or emergency. DiNicola and Commissioner Jim Palamara voted nay.
The city’s Finance and Budget Review Committee turned over its recommendations on the proposed 2004 budget to the commission. The committee had accelerated its meeting schedule to analyze the budget and prepare timely input for the commission as it begins annual budget action.
Committee chair Betsy McKenna provided an overview. The board recommends that the millage rate reduction go no lower than the 7.5 percent proposed by city manager John Coffey in his June 30 budget document. Among other recommendations, the committee also suggests that the city do a study to investigate if there would be a cost advantage to the residents of selling the sanitary sewer system to Pinellas County in light of expected rate increases. DiNicola commented that Indian Rocks Beach has the best sanitary sewer system in the county and that prices will go up even if the county were to take over the system.
The Sheriff’s Office reported an increase in vehicle thefts last month. In all three cases, the keys were left in the cars, two in residential garages and one in front of a business, said Lt. Steve Rasor.
Rasor also reported an increase in incidents at the Red Lion bar. Twenty-seven complaints have come in so far this year, compared to a total of 24 for all of last year. Most of this year’s complaints have been noise and disturbance incidents. Commissioners reached a consensus to ask the city manager to send a letter and meet with the owner to express the city’s concern.
Tuesday’s agenda also included the hot topic of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue Fire District’s budget. Commissioner Jeremiah Carmody commented that the citizens are “looking for leadership” from fire Chief John R. Leahy Jr.
Vice Mayor Bill Ockunzzi observed that the fire district only wants to discuss revenue initiatives. He proposed that the city draft a letter to county administrator Steve Spratt requesting the county immediately create an oversight review process for the fire district as authorized by state statute.