Cutler Bay

Cutler Bay holds first 2015-16 budget hearing

Several budget-season amendments have made for informative budget workshops, leading up to Cutler Bay’s first 2015-16 budget hearing.

The town council met Sept. 10 at Town Hall to discuss how to keep taxes low while maintain the town’s services.

“There was only one member of the public in attendance,” Mayor Peggy Bell said. “Though I opened the floor for public comments several times, no one came forward. The resident told me he believes it is an indicator of the public’s satisfaction with the town and our proposed budget. I agree.”

Between the town’s July 22 and Aug. 19 workshops, the property tax rate was lowered from $2.53 to $2.39 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

“We are using the current rate of 2.3907,” Town Manager Ralph Casals said. ”We started the process internally back in April. The town council was able to host two budget workshops, one on July 22 and on Aug. 12. In between and leading up to those meetings, the town staff received clear direction to make sure we held the line on the existing [tax] rate and not use that ceiling that we all talked about before.”

The largest reduction from the proposed budget is the town’s desire to modify the impact window project at Town Hall to reflect only the design phase. The move will save Cutler Bay about $705,000.

“Besides the police department, we also have projects we will be improving and expanding our parks throughout the town,” Casals said.

The town’s general government budget increased $192,000, including the salaries and benefits increasing about $41,000 due to increased salaries related to the contract of Casals, and staff position reclassification. Debt service for general government allocated an increase of $128,000 from loans recorded in the Cutler Bay Town Center’s department of general government. This was the result of the town’s loan reconstruction in May.

“I believed keeping the historically low [tax] rate is important given the current economic conditions,” Bell said. “Residents are still struggling with the cost of gas, food and energy. I don’t want to add to their burden.”

An addition of three patrol officers was included in the police budget increase of about $218,000. Contracted police services increased about $239,000. The increase also includes the addition of equipment and vehicles. The increase was offset by a decrease of $54,000 for a budgeted police station specialist position.

“One of the things we are excited about, is that in our current year budget we were able to add another police officer and not fill a position for a crime analyst in the police department,” Casals said. “So we were able to have another police officer out in the force for this current year. In the fiscal year ’15-’16, that we just completed the budget hearing for, we were also able to hold the [tax] rate at 2.3907 and add two additional full time police officers. Which means now, effective, Oct. 1, we have added three.“

Cutlers Bay’s parks department budget increased about $219,000. All part-time staff will be budgeted the same fixed number of hours per week this year. Fewer seasonal hires will be required for the department. Budgeted salaries in the department increased about $28,000 as a result of two hires. Capital outlay’s budget increased about $75,000 as a result of planned parks projects. Capital outlay is budgeted to increase $1,450,000 as a result of upgrades to the Town Hall building.

“I want the residents to know we are in great fiscal shape,” Bell said. “We have healthy reserves. We are again concentrating on public safety by adding three new police officers. We’ve also added another budget workshop this year to allow for more public input. Next year, I hope to have a visioning workshop in the spring, to discuss town enhancements. Many of our initiatives are a direct response to the eight visioning sessions we held last year, in which residents informed us of their priorities.

“My personal goals remain traffic calming, which we will continue to address by instituting a pilot program funded by our gas tax, supporting our business community and attracting more restaurants, and improving our schools.”