Key Biscayne’s new manager won approval of a $35.5 million dollar budget early Wednesday that sets the stage for as many as 24 projects over the next few years, including eight new staff positions ranging from additional police to public works employees.
“I am presenting something that I think is bold,” said Manager Steve Williamson, a former Army Corps of Engineers colonel and Miami capital projects chief, who stood his ground more than once in defending his budget plan. “It’s a downpayment on the future of the Village.”
The projects — nearly $6 million — range from completing a new park and pedestrian improvements on Crandon Boulevard to stormwater basin construction and electric vehicle charging stations. Spending is up about 4% from the previous year.
Because property values increased, the budget will increase property taxes paid by 0.7%, even though the Council made reductions of about $155,000 from Williamson’s initial budget Sept. 8.
For the average household, taxes would rise about $25 a year, according to estimates from the Village.
Other last-minute changes included a $5,000 bonus for interim police chief Jason Younes, a $14,000 dollar compensation increase for Village Clerk Joceyln Koch, and $35,000 for a roadway planner to help the Village better negotiate a proposed privatization of the Rickenbacker Causeway by Miami-Dade County.
Final approval came in a 4-3 vote with Mayor Mike Davey, Council Members Frank Caplan, Brett Moss, and Allison McCormick voting yes, and Vice Mayor Ed London, Council Members Luis Lauredo and Igncio Segurola voting no. As the hours wore on, the bickering increased, with voices being raised often.
Going into the final budget session, Key Biscayne already had the lowest total tax rate in Miami-Dade County, but members voting no — led by London — wanted it to be even lower, saying a 20% increase in population over the past 10 years didn’t justify years of increasing budgets.
The first fight of the night was over hiring a new Building and Zoning Department chief to take over some responsibilities being borne by current Public Works director Jake Ozyman, who was doubling as head of both departments.
London and Lauredo pressed Williamson, but he stood firm. “This is not an ordinary budget,” he said, stressing the projects. “We must staff up now.”
Well after 10 p.m Segurola complained he was being rushed in being able to propose specific line-item deletions. It was a position that irked Moss, who asked why Segurola didn’t communicate questions about line items earlier to Village staff, as he did.
“Did you meet with them? I met with them. I spent time with them,” Moss said.
“If you’re not willing to spend the time here, you know what, that’s your business,” Segurola shot back.
With time running out, Segurola then proposed an across-the-board reduction of $200,000 without any specifics, leaving the changes to Williamson. “We over budget for monies we don’t spend. We are taxing too much.” His motion failed 4-3, splitting along the same lines.
The biggest substantive change was a reduction to the power line undergrounding project that has been stalled for years. The original budget of $600,000 was trimmed to $200,000, because most of the work would not start until 2023 or later. The project depends on FPL’s prioritization of vulnerable communities and there is no firm timetable or details, officials said.
The change allowed the Village to slightly reduce the operating budget, but because the funding is coming from federal recovery funds, the tax impact is attenuated.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.