The budget presented to the Edgewater City Council Aug. 5 put the proposed millage rate at 6.9603, which would mean a 12.84% tax increase for property owners.
Finance Director Bridgette King outlined a series of items she said necessitated the need for more property tax revenue. Ms. King explained the city was expecting an increase in health insurance premiums, and the proposed budget included a recommended 4% wage increase for all employees.
Staff further outlined the proposed budget includes adding seven full-time and four part-time positions in the coming year. Two other large expenditures mentioned were the cost overrun for Whistle Stop Park and a railway crossing agreement.
The millage rate increase would generate an additional $854,413 in revenue.
The majority of proposed new positions to be created are in parks maintenance. Samantha Bergeron, parks and recreation director, explained to keep Whistle Stop Park well-maintained and in an effort to reduce vandalism there, they want to keep two park maintenance workers during operating hours.
Ms. Bergeron said in the first two months the park was open, the restrooms sustained extensive vandalism. The police chief added that since the park opened, there have been 69 calls to the police department for incidents at Whistle Stop Park.
Councilwoman Kimberly Yaney asked during the workshop what the total damage was to the park in terms of dollars, but that information was not available. Asked after the meeting about this issue, Councilwoman Yaney said she would be looking at that in more detail.
“It is my plan to evaluate the number of additional staff, vandalism and other issues to potentially propose a better solution,” she said. “If we are maximizing staffing and vandalism continues to occur, we must seek alternate solutions to protect our investment in Whistle Stop Park.”
Councilman Gary Conroy questioned using a parks maintenance worker for security. He suggested a community service officer since they are uniformed and carry a police radio. Mr. Conroy thought that would be more effective and less expensive than a parks employee.
The proposed budget also includes several capital purchases that will add $3.4 million to the city’s debt. The two largest expenditures are for new refuse vehicles at a cost of $1.490 million and $1.1 million for new trash receptacles for all garbage customers. Buying a new generator for city hall, a new fire engine, two new police patrol vehicles and a power broom to use for patching asphalt also are planned.
The city is already more than $25 million in debt. The payments on all the various bond issues and loans for the upcoming year will total just under $4 million.
Councilwoman Yaney questioned the plan for the city’s sanitation services. She indicated that before major purchases are made, she wants to make sure the new plan is right for Edgewater. The plan calls for continuing to use city employees to provide garbage service. Edgewater is the only city in Volusia County that does not contract out for this. As it stands now, rates will increase and service will decrease, from twice-a-week pick-ups to once.
When asked after the meeting how she felt about moving forward with the plan for garbage service, she said she needed to do more research. “I do plan to address the sanitation issue again,” the councilwoman said. “Since the last budget meeting, I have been provided with the 2015 study, which I am currently reviewing. Refuse service will decrease from twice a week to once a week and residents will receive two cans that are four to five times the size of regular garbage cans for use with the automated refuse collection truck as the proposed budget currently stands. This would reduce current workforce from 28 to 21 employees. Those seven employees are to be placed in other departments that have openings.”
Several of the council members wanted to see a reduction in the millage rate. The council discussed using money from the city hall fund, which was established many years ago to save money for a new city hall. About $100,000 was put in to the fund each year. There is about $800,000 in the fund.
Mayor Michael Thomas said he would like to get the millage down to 6.65. Ms. King said they would need to take $308,300 from the city hall fund to make that happen.
City Manager Glenn Irby and Ms. King recommended the council consider staying at the current 6.7 mills rather than reducing it further to 6.65. Ms. King explained that it is typically recommended that cities have a minimum of 17% of their budget in reserves. With the proposed budget, without the money taken from the city hall fund to lower the millage rate, Edgewater only has about 15% in reserves.
There was a consensus of the council to prepare the budget for the September hearings with a 6.7 millage rate.
There will be two public hearings on the budget in September with adoption at the close of the second hearing.