Cutler Bay council members hired a new town clerk and talked about their annual budget Thursday night.
The Town Council chose Debra Eastman as successor to interim town clerk Missy Arocha.
Eastman, currently the Islamorada town clerk, has been a clerk for more than 30 years, first in New Hampshire and most recently in Miami Lakes, Surfside and Islamorada.
Interim town manager Rafael Casals worked with Eastman when he was the assistant town manager of Miami Lakes.
“The manager’s office has to work so closely with the town clerk,” Casals said. “It’s great to get someone like Debra that has so many years of experience under her belt.”
Arocha, who recently was named the assistant to Palmetto Bay town clerk Meighan Alexander, will remain with the town as a consultant until Eastman begins in late September or early October, pending final background checks and drug tests.
Next, Casals presented the council a preliminary proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
According to Casals, the proposed budget would take $2.3 million from the town's reserves to cover existing loan payments and the creation of a new high school.
The proposed numbers come out to a $2.7 million increase in the budget from last year. Changes include a $300,000 increase to public works for sidewalk repairs, a $300,000 decrease to the police department and a $50,000 increase to the town clerk’s office, which will provide for livestreaming council meetings.
Casals said police staffing will not be reduced.
The numbers can change later this month when the budget goes before the council for votes.
“This budget is going to include a situation in which we will be dipping into our reserves,” Casals said of the tentative figures. “This budget is a worst case scenario.”
According to Mayor Ed MacDougall, the biggest expenditure in the last year was the high school.
“When we look back at the course of the last six years, it’s unbelievable we haven’t had to go further into our reserves,” MacDougall said. “What I foresee, we’ll see a great improvement.”
The council members brought up raising taxes versus taking out money from the reserves as a topic that will be discussed at September’s hearing.
“Personally, I feel that we can’t take out any more debt,” said council member Peggy Bell. “Anything unnecessary this year I would hope and pray that our fellow council members put away for another year.”
MacDougall did not rule out the possibility of raising taxes to pay for the new school.
“The idea of the time was we want a high school and were willing to pay for it,” he said.
Among the items council members asked to be considered for the budget: LED signs for Old Cutler and Caribbean Boulevards, more programs for seniors, and a founder’s day for the town.
The two budget hearings will be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 10 and Sept. 24 at Town Hall, 10720 Caribbean Blvd.