Commission votes for small millage increase; officials present demolished Holiday Inn as one of this year’s accomplishments

The town commission this week voted to increase the millage rate to 3.5 percent, up from the rolled-back rate of 3.3781 percent.

“We take the great pride in keeping our millage rate as one of the lowest, and again this year, we are in the running as the lowest in the county,” said Vice Mayor Buz Oldaker. “There’s not a lot of fluff in our budget. You can’t have a lot of fluff when you’re 3.5 [percent].”

The commission unanimously passed the proposed $24 million budget as well as the fire assessment rate – $129.85 for each residential unit and 21 cents per square foot of non-residential units.

The final vote that will adopt the rate will be at the next meeting on Sept. 21.

Finance Director Lucila Lang said the proposed millage is the second-lowest in Broward County. If approved, it could be the lowest and generate $9 million in ad valorem taxes. The town’s taxable value increased 3.61 percent over the last year.

The budget proposal includes no salary increases for the town manager and staff. A major personnel increase was for health insurance premiums, up 17 percent.

“Staff did have conversations with a few other brokers, and one broker actually came back with a higher rate,” Lang said during the meeting. “A second broker actually said this increase was on average with the industry this year.”

Commissioner Edmund Malkoon was the single dissenting vote on the millage rate. He suggested keeping it at the original rolled-back rate, but staff said they would have to overhaul the entire budget with a one week deadline before the final vote. Mayor Chris Vincent told him, “we’re on borrowed time here with this.”

Malkoon responded, “I think we have the ability to complete everything in the budget . . . I think it could be accomplished with the budget we already have.”

Commissioner Elliot Sokolow disagreed, noting that the town can afford the slight increase to get projects done. “I would prefer that while the funds are here and we’re still fiscally sound, we go ahead and get these long-term projects that have been here for a long time, done,” he said. “. . . It’s  a slight increase, does not cost anyone in town a whole lot of money, and I think it’s the appropriate way to deal with our situation.”

Oldaker also brought up funding the budget with parking fund revenues.

“We need to know and address the fact that we are plugging a gap with parking fund monies. If we want to do that and we all agree on that and we vote on that, I’m fine with that policy, but I think it’s a policy direction the commission should take,” he said. 

“At the end of the day, we have no debt and that’s a claim that not many municipalities in the county can make.”

Lauderdale-By-The-Sea looks back

Neysa Herrera, assistant to the town manager, presented the commission a look back at the town’s accomplishments in the current year.

Holiday Inn settlement and demolition

Perhaps the most highly anticipated action was progress on the Holiday Inn site. The property owner paid $1.65 million in negotiated fines and will pay $390,000 in demolition costs and $83,750 in site restoration work.

Initiation of designs

The designs for the Palm Club septic-to-sewer project have been completed. Construction begins in Spring 2021. The Terra Mar stormwater improvement project is set to begin four-to-six-months of construction in November if commissioners approve it at the next meeting. Finally, a design proposal for El Mar Drive has been presented to the commission.

Upgrading Town Hall

Town hall’s antiquated phone and IT systems were upgraded and a new security system and panic buttons installed there and at parking services, development services, the visitors center and the community center.

Improved infrastructure around town

Lighting was installed at the West Commercial Plaza and the Bougainvillea parking lot. The town installed a bike repair station, electric vehicle charging station, and three new bus shelters. The Jarvis Portico was improved with new tiling, railings, paint on walls and ceilings and new ceiling fans. The new Friedt Park courtyard got lighting, pavers, upgraded landscaping and seating areas. In the works are the construction of the A1A Hibiscus crosswalk, landscaping at South A1A and dune maintenance.

Dealing with COVID

The commission touted its response to COVID-19 which included increased online services, partnering with the LBTS Chamber of Commerce during reopenings in Phase 1, as well as increased signage and a Broward Sheriff’s Office presence in the downtown area.

Other notes

During public comments, multiple residents asked the town to consider moving back to Jarvis Hall for town commission meetings. Mayor Chris Vincent noted that the town has to follow the governor’s orders to hold remote  meetings. He especially hopes to be able to meet with citizens soon on the El Mar project.

Barricades erected during COVID-19 on A1A cost the town $14,000 a month. Town Manager Bill Vance said if they are up for more than a few more months, it would pay for the town to purchase them.

Originally published in The New Pelican.

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