BELLEAIR BEACH — A new Financial Advisory Committee comprised entirely of residents will tackle the city’s financial challenges.
The mayor has described finances and budget as “complicated, very detailed and tricky” and in need of attention. The committee was created and its members appointed at the Oct. 7 City Council meeting.
Mayor Joseph Manzo spoke of “the enormity of the budget” and of the challenges faced by the city in paying for crucial road and stormwater projects that are “causing a $400,000 deficit.”
The committee’s creation comes after the city lost its finance director in July and has been using a part-time finance person. Its task, as described by Manzo, is wide-reaching and covers virtually every aspect of the city’s finances.
The purpose of the Financial Advisory Committee, Manzo said, is to “take a look at all of our revenue, all of our expenses, all of our city resources and our assets, and see what we can do better. Can we leverage our resources, can we invest better, can we make more revenue, can we look for grants? Can we rent City Hall, have more weddings or events?”
“This council is making great strides in continuing with capital programs to fix your streets and stop the flooding,” Manzo said. “But if we don’t get the revenue stream, the money will run out in about 2 to 3 years. If we need to get $400,000 on a $2 million budget, we’re looking at a significant tax increase.”
Manzo said the committee’s job is “to look and see if there is a better, faster and cheaper way to run the city.”
The committee will have a limited time to accomplish its task. It was set up to last for 120 days.
Despite the size of its mission and the challenges ahead, there was no shortage of residents wanting to serve on the Financial Advisory Committee. The council agreed to expand the committee’s size from five to six members to let all the applicants serve.
Council member Marvin Behm, who made the motion to create the committee, said he really likes the idea.
“I’ve waited a long time for this to happen,” Behm said. “I think it will bring a lot of things to light.”
Added Manzo, “It’s a powerful committee.”
Deputies to do code enforcement
The Sheriff’s Office will begin providing code enforcement in the city. The council agreed to a contract for a deputy to work 15 hours a week at a cost of $37,000 for the year, which works out to about $46 an hour.
Manzo said five cities in the county use the Sheriff’s Office for code enforcement, including Belleair Bluffs, where he said it has worked “very successfully.”
The duties of the city’s code enforcement officer were recently reorganized to break out administrative work from the neighborhood code enforcement.
“I hope it works,” Behm said. “We need to keep an eye on it.”
Council member Jody Shirley said she was not in favor of shifting the code enforcement duties to the Sheriff’s Office.
“We have code violations all over the city and nothing is being done about it. I’m doubtful this is going to work,” Shirley said.
City Manager Lynn Rives said the arrangement “is just a trial.” He said the contract with the Sheriff’s Office for code enforcement can be canceled if it doesn’t work out.
Manzo pointed out that the days and times the officer works will vary but will now include Saturdays and Sundays. In the past, the code enforcement officer did not work on weekends, so “what we would sometimes see on the weekends is that all hell breaks loose,” Manzo said. “That’s not going to fly any more.”
The council voted 6 to 1 to hire the Sheriff’s Office to do code enforcement in the city. Shirley voted no.
Fall Festival “a success”
The Festival by the Sea, the city’s first major event in years, went “without a hitch” and was “very well received,” according to its organizer and manager, Park and Recreation Board Chairwoman June VanScoyoc. That board had sponsored the event, which was held Sept. 28 at Bayside Park. It drew about 300 to 350 visitors, VanScoyoc said.
The parking plan, booth rentals and contract agreements with vendors all worked out well, VanScoyoc said.
“Everyone worked together as a team to make this happen. This will be a good learning experience for future events,” she said.
Council member Robyn Ache, who had a craft booth at the festival and was there with her children, said “everything was very well-planned-out.”
“There was great entertainment, with residents participating, free hot dogs, three bounce houses for kids of all ages, and residents promoting their businesses, special crafts and artistic abilities,” Ache said. “My kids keep asking when the next event will be.”
Alexandra Sarafian, 8, who led the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the meeting, was also at the Festival by the Sea with her family. She asked to give her comments.
“Thank you for setting up the festival,” Alexandra said. “I liked the bouncy houses, I met a lot of new friends and I enjoyed coming to Miss Robyn’s (Ache’s) stand.”
Manzo said the Festival by the Sea “made our city look so good. It was everything you could expect in a small community event.”
He congratulated VanScoyoc and the Park and Recreation Board members.
“You hit a grand slam home run,” he said.
More city events are coming. Trunk or Treat will be held Wednesday, Oct. 23, and a Christmas event with Santa is Saturday, Dec. 7. A car show is also planned.
Rives announced that the citywide garage sale will return on Saturday, Nov. 2. Hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.