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Council Tentatively Approves Budget, Pleased With Storm Response

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Posted: Thursday, October 5, 2017 9:53 pm

Delayed by Hurricane Irma, Homestead City Council met Wednesday September 29. 

   The meeting began with a brief budget hearing for the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).  CRA conveyed title to six properties within the Losner Park complex to the City, a proposal first advertised May 25, 2017. 

   The CRA budget of $3.276 million was approved with an amendment.  Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough proposed increasing the Not-for-Profit grant category to $150,000. 

   The proposal took $25,000 each from residential improvement funds and from the commercial façade program.  Both programs’ funds were not fully encumbered this year. 

   The amendment was approved unanimously, as was the larger CRA budget. In response to Councilman Jon Burgess, CRA staff said notification of not-for-profit grants is issued in January and applications are due in March.  Staff also responded that the CRA program expires in 2024. 

   The City budget features a proposed millage rate of 5.2915.  Staff said the budget philosophy remained the same for the last seven years - no millage rate increase, no reduction in City services, no increase in City fees, and no layoffs.  General Fund projects were reviewed.  Annual debt service of $1.8 million is to be covered primarily by the local option gas tax. 

   Staff noted Homestead receives twenty-nine cents of every tax dollar, the rest going to the County and school district. City Manager George Gretsas traditionally prepares an interesting slideshow to highlight the budget.  Instead he used his platform to showcase the Hurricane preparation and recovery efforts of City staff.  Irma was the first storm to be weathered in the new City Hall communication center.  “Planning, preparation and great implementation, put us ahead of all other communities,” Gretsas said. 

   The Manager closed with an emotional recognition of staff loyalty.  The sentiment was echoed in Council member remarks and a standing ovation from the audience.  Mayor Jeff Porter applauded employee efforts as evidence of a ‘real strong community’. 

Councilman Burgess said in reference to the City budget, “I looked at my TRIM notice and I’m paying 50% of ten years ago but receiving a lot more services.”   

“Individual taxes are less compared to ten years ago  I commend the City for not taxing our way out of (trouble) but building our way out,”, said Councilman Larry Roth. 

   Council unanimously approved the draft City budget.  A final budget hearing and vote is to occur October 4. 

Council moved briskly through a lengthy agenda after discussion of extending the Urban Development Boundary (SEE related story). 

Staff recommendation for a Popeye’s franchise at 605 North Krome Avenue was approved.  Staff worked with the franchisee to modify the façade to fit the area, plot a drive-thru and nineteen parking spaces along NE 6th Street, and move an iconic Royal Palm with the approval of the Historic Preservation Board. 

   Twenty-six parking spaces for boats and RVs were approved including a secure 3-story building in an expansion of a self-storage facility along Campbell Avenue at NE 12th Avenue.  Council approved staff recommendations for a variance, waiver of plat and site plan approval. 

   Final plat approval also was given for a 92-unit twin home residential subdivision on ten acres near Homestead High School. 

   Amendments were approved to the police officers’ retirement plan, changing it to a deferred contribution plan and retaining premium tax revenues to pay for it.

   Council accepted two grants from the state.  A major award from FDOT for the Biscayne Everglades Greenway Trail was approved.  The $1,843,910 is for a shared use non-motorized trail in the state network from Mowry Drive to SW 137th Avenue. 

   A grant of $94,000 was accepted to provide crime victim advocacy services through the police department. 

Council agreed to spend $149,000 to replace the gas line at the electric plant, $49,785 to resurface the tennis court at J.D. Redd Park, $12,577 for a pollutant discharge system permit through the County for storm sewers, and $196,485 to purchase a new electric utility bucket truck.

   The City accepted title from the CRA to the six parcels within Losner Park in order to plan that park’s expansion.  The City’s annual insurance package was approved by Council including $408,158 for liability insurance and $189,958 for workers’ compensation coverage.    

   Council also saw a draft of the proposed 2018 state legislative requests that is shared with the City’s lobbyists in Tallahassee.  A brief discussion concerned the philosophy of selecting a few priority projects versus listing all City needs for advancement as policy discussion permits it in the state Capitol.

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