MADEIRA BEACH — Despite two long and verbally contentious meetings, the city's proposed 2010-2011 city budget and millage rate remains unchanged.
Residents, who filled the commission chambers twice in July to protest the budget and the city's financial management, now will have to wait until September to renew their objections.
The proposed $5.686 million general fund budget is balanced without any significant loss of services, according to City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr., who said he was "pleased" to keep to the current 1.7954 millage rate — a rate that will raise $165,000 less in property taxes because of a 10.15 percent drop in property values.
Public hearings on the proposed budget will be held Wednesday, Sept. 15, and Tuesday, Sept. 28, both beginning at 6 p.m.
Last week, Higginbotham defended his proposed budget before a lineup of angry residents who questioned many of his management decisions.
"It is difficult at times to sit here and listen to the politics that quite often are the basis for the attacks that are launched at this commission, on me and my staff," Higginbotham said as he read from a five-page memo he wrote to answer many questions raised by residents at a prior budget workshop.
Specifically questioned were spending on redevelopment planning, code enforcement, construction of public restrooms off the City Hall lobby, reconstruction of the city marina, parks maintenance, solid-waste pickups, employee health insurance, and Higginbotham's decision to rehire retired community services director Mike Maxemow.
"I have six pages of questions and there are a lot of questions a lot of other people have that are not answered here," Commissioner Nancy Oakley said, repeatedly challenging both Higginbotham and the commission over prior commission decisions she said she did not remember occurring.
Several days earlier, Oakley's car was vandalized with multicolored paint and peanut butter smears — an act she says was directly related to her complaints about the budget.
Commissioners decried the vandalism incident, as well as anonymous letters attacking Oakley and several other residents, but supported Higginbotham's budget.
"I see nothing wrong with the budget of Madeira Beach this year," Mayor Pat Shontz told the audience at the beginning of commission's July 27 budget workshop.
Commissioner Steve Kochick attributed many of the complaints over the budget to the pending commission election in March.
"I understand this is an election year coming up," he said. "If you think there is some skulduggery going on or you think the city is stealing money from you, stand up now or file a report with the state attorney."
Resident Joe Jorgensen claimed the city has lost more than $70,000 in a state investment plan — a charge Higginbotham denied, reminding Jorgensen the state froze the plan during the economic downturn and is gradually releasing the funds back to municipalities.
Jorgensen and City Attorney Mike Connolly also argued over how and when budgeted capital improvement projects must be reported.
A number of residents had sharp criticism of the commission and the city administration.
"I believe we are paying too much for city government," said resident Marilyn Hafling.
"Most of the residents have been very polite and we don't appreciate being lectured to by our elected representatives," said resident Robin Vander Velde.
Even former City Manager Jim Madden got into the act, criticizing Higginbotham for what he said was a lack of detail in the budget.
"If it were more clear, we wouldn't have these questions and you wouldn't have people angry at you," Madden said.