Turning Over Budget Hot Rocks!
By Kari Jo M. Rodgers
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - After thanking Commissioner Jose Coppen, and Mayor Bill Ockunzzi for their service to the commission, Circuit Judge George M. Jirotka swore in newly elected officials, Commissioner Cookie Kennedy and Commissioner Daniel Torres.
Kennedy told citizens, "We're going to make some positive changes." Later on she stated, "We're going to balance the budget. We're going to have a surplus, so you hold us to it."
One of the first money matters discussed was whether or not the City Manager would set up a contract with "Schippers Marine Construction, Inc." to build a "dune walkover" at the 21'st Avenue beach access area. The motion passed, with $25,080 being set aside for the project.
Later, O'Keefe, who is a consultant with Moore Stephens Lovelace P.A. Company talked to commissioners about their past budget choices. He explained that short-term loans in the amount of 1 million dollars were paid to the county towards the city's utility funds, and therefore, the city was in deficit. He further explained that even though the money could be found in the general funds, that because short-term loans were made, this money really couldn't be accounted for. He told commissioners that, "the sewer amount paid to the county for expenses was the biggest nut they had!"
O'Keefe said, "current assets were less than current liabilities." He explained that while last year, the city had come "dangerously close" to a deficit program, this year the city had reached that point! He said that if this happened two years in a row, "red flags" would go up," and mentioned possible consequences. O'Keefe informed commissioners that they needed to have a scheduled payment plan on how they were going to pay back the money by September 3, 2008. He said "he could neutralize it if the plan was adopted," and stressed that this would be a "big deal."
Commissioner Terry Hamilton Wollin asked," if the county was still interested in purchasing the city's sewer system?" Public Service Director Dean A. Scharmen said that they would be, but that they would probably have to make some amendments to the deal. O'Keefe responded by saying, "that would be a quick fix, since the county would pay as little as possible, and the commissioners wanted as much as possible."
Commissioners decided that they needed to develop such a plan, in order to repay the money borrowed.
Another heated discussion about the budget started when citizen Karen Obarski made allegations that the city had deficit problems, because a previous city manager had put his salary together with the financial director's salary for a total of $90,000. Commissioner Kennedy disagreed, saying that in 2002, the city had $655,000 cushioned in a "slush fund." Therefore, she feels that while $90,000 is not a small amount of money, it does not account for the current deficit. A citizen further commented that since that time, the city had gone through 1.4 million dollars.
How these budget hot rocks will be excavated remains to be seen.
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