MADEIRA BEACH — Several charter amendments coming to the voters in November could, if approved, bring significant change to the City Commission’s election process and operations.
Changes being proposed include longer terms for commission members, limiting residents to voting for commission candidates from their own district only, a shorter qualifying period to run for a commission seat, and changing the means of deciding close elections.
The commission voted at its June 10 meeting to put the charter amendments on the ballot in the November election. Each will require a “yes” vote from more than half of the voters to become law.
The charter amendment on commission member terms would lengthen the present two-year term for commissioners to three years, and the mayor’s term from three years to four. An option, rejected by the commission, had been four-year commission terms and a five-year term for the mayor.
Longer terms would result in fewer elections, which Commissioner Helen “Happy” Price said would “make a big difference in getting things done and calming things down.” Right now there’s an election every year, and that means constant turnover that brings constant turmoil, Price said.
“There’s no continuity of legislation and it takes years to get things done because there’s constant turnover,” Price said.
Another charter amendment would allow residents to vote only for commission candidates representing their district. Currently, the district commissioners are elected by voters citywide.
“We have commissioners by district, but everyone is voted on at-large,” Mayor John Hendricks said. “So, a certain district, if they have a high voter turnout, is really controlling an area they don’t live in.
“I’ve seen it happen, where a very small group of voters gets control of the commission. Madeira Beach needs to have their commissioners voted on by their district, not by the rest of the city,” he added.
Price said she agreed, so she and Commissioner Nancy Hodges joined Hendricks in voting for electing commissioners by district rather than at-large.
Commissioner Doug Andrews voted no.
“We need to take every advantage of getting as many people involved as possible,” he said, while admitting both sides of the issue have merit.
Other charter changes being proposed that were approved to send to the voters would decide tie votes on very close elections by drawing lots rather than having a recount, and shortening the qualifying period to run for election from four weeks to two.
“We are the only city with a four-week qualifying period,” Price said.
Marine “slow down” zone in city waters created
The commission took final action to approve the creation of slow-speed minimum wake zones that cover all waters within the city, except the channels that are controlled by the state in John’s Pass.
Community Development Director Linda Portal said there are currently a lot of individual areas designated as slow.
“This will make it all one zone. The whole city is being protected,” she said.
Enforcement of the law will be easier, Portal said, because the Sheriff’s Office marine unit that patrols the waterways “will have a clearer map of what they are enforcing.”
The ordinance will now be taken to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for its approval, City Manager Bob Daniels said.
“I’ve been working with them behind the scenes to see what we can do,” he said.
Signs designating the slow-speed zone will be purchased and put up once the official approval comes back from FWC, Daniels said.
Resident Ray Kerr said speeding boaters are a safety issue, as they are endangering people using kayaks and paddleboards, and those surfing and swimming.
“There is a fatality waiting to happen if this is not approved,” Kerr said.
Resident Robert Preston said passage of the slow no-wake zone is the beginning of a process to work on the manatee zones. He spoke of seeing a baby manatee with a gash made by a boat propeller.
The marine slow zone ordinance passed unanimously in a 4-0 vote. Commissioner John Douthirt was absent from the meeting.
Beaches “being trashed”
“Our beach is being trashed,” Hendricks said. “People are coming to the beach and leaving debris all over.” “No littering” signs showing fines should be put up and enforced, with a stiff fine for violators, he said. “Not $25, but more like $500. When you see that on a sign, you may think twice, without having to get a ticket.”
The issue will be discussed at a future workshop, Hendricks said.
Law enforcement contract reviewed
The city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office for policing services next year was presented by Capt. Mike Leiner. The projected cost is $1.35 million, which is a 2.66% increase over this year, Leiner said. In the past, the yearly cost has usually risen 3 to 3.5%, but it is below 3% in the upcoming budget due mostly to lower fuel costs, he said.
He also said Madeira Beach has two deputies on duty all the time providing law enforcement.
Afterward, during the public comment period, resident Vivian McDowell said she wanted to “thank our police.”
“They’re doing a great job. Our police and all the police of the United States of America,” McDowell said, followed by applause from those present.
Property values rise
Taxable property values in the city rose 6.67%, Finance Director Walter Pierce said. The estimated property tax revenue for fiscal year 2021 is $3.7 million, compared with $3.4 million this year, he said.
No increase in the millage rate is being proposed for next year. It was raised to 2.75 mills this year from 2.20, where it had been for four years.
Information presented by the city shows Madeira Beach’s 6.67% increase in home values is the second highest among comparable local communities, which all had increases. Gulfport was highest at 8.36% growth, followed by Madeira Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Treasure Island, Indian Shores and St. Pete Beach. South Pasadena was the lowest of the group at 5.35% growth.