By Sheila Mullane Estrada
MADEIRA BEACH — Barely three months after a transformative election, a stronger focus on infrastructure improvement is evident in the proposed 2011-2012 budget released Tuesday.
Mayor Travis Palladeno was elected largely on the basis of his promise to keep taxes low while spending more money to fix the city's roads, drainage and seawalls.
Commissioners Robin Vander Velde and Nancy Oakley, who were unopposed in the March election, made similar promises.
Under the proposed new budget, the city is projected to spend nearly $11 million next year, split almost evenly between regular operations reflected in the $5.33 million general fund and specialized expenses in various dedicated funds, ranging from $1.325 million in capital projects to $1.1 million for garbage collection to $155,000 for parking meter operations.
Among the big-ticket items: $500,000 for street resurfacing and $300,000 to replace deteriorating seawalls at the city-owned waterfront along the Intracoastal Waterway.
"There have been a lot of discussions, and it is clear street resurfacing is going to be a priority," Interim City Manager and fire Chief Bill Mallory told the commission Tuesday. "Do we want to be a little bit daring and do the whole city in one year?"
One thing the new commission does want is for its new, yet-to-be-selected city manager to also be the city's public works director — a move Palladeno says will save money and make city operations more efficient.
Mike Maxemow, the current public works director who has worked for the city for more than 30 years, would lose his job if and when that happens.
Mallory suggested that Maxemow remain on the city payroll "for a two-year transition period" as the project coordinator working directly under the new city manager.
"We will have a number of large heavy-hitting projects," Mallory said.
Mallory cut the city's general fund, which includes salaries and most operational spending, by 12.11 percent to help create a pool of money to spend on critical repairs and as-yet-unknown future projects.
Mallory also wants the city to spend $100,000 on City Hall repairs to fix roof and window leaks and to upgrade air conditioning systems.
Another $195,000 should be put in a contingency fund, Mallory said, to cover additional projects the commission might want during the coming year.
Mallory urged the commission "to step up to the plate and play catch-up" on many deferred maintenance projects. "We can't keep pushing some of these projects into the future any longer. We have to address these issues in the upcoming budget year."
The debate over spending priorities for the next year will start this week.
The first budget workshop will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Another budget workshop is scheduled for 5 p.m. July 20. Additional workshops will be held as needed in August, and public hearings on the final proposed budget will be set in September.
The key topic Wednesday will be setting the property tax rate for the coming year. That tentative rate, which must be set by the end of the month, will be the maximum the commission can levy on property owners for the 2011-2012 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
During subsequent budget discussions, commissioners can lower that rate but, under state law, they cannot raise it.
Mallory is proposing that the property tax rate remain unchanged at about $1.80 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value. For a home that is taxed, after exemptions, at $150,000, the city portion of the property tax bill would total $270.
Since property values are expected to drop by 4.6 percent, tax bills for many property owners will be lower even without a drop in the city's property tax rate.