Council moves to approve budget during second reading hearing

The Village Council conducted its second budget hearing for fiscal year 2020 Tuesday night, addressing the need for a resilience officer and expanded communications program, and tackling issues of beach nourishment, iguana nuisance and road cyclists.

Mayor Michael W. Davey opened the meeting for public comment, and three local students from the MAST’s Green Champion Program, Ellie Reyna, Felipe Paioietti and Holly Thorpe, addressed the council asking for funding support of climate change initiatives.

MAST students Holly Thorpe, Felipe Paioletti and Ellie Reyna address the village Council

The council went off script to discuss support of a youth council, acknowledging how it fits into the “village of kindness” vision.. Councilmember Luis Lauredo wanted to support the initiative with $4,750.

Vice Mayor Allison McCormick agreed and said, “I think we should support anyone who's trying to find ways to make us a kinder place.”

village Council settles in for Tuesday's budget hearing

Then the discussion moved to the 2020 budget, specifically Village Manager Andrea Agha’s proposed expansion of a communications program. Council members engaged in a lengthy discussion. Agha was asked why she had allocated $30,000 for social media.

“That amount of money is put aside in case of an emergency for communication purposes,” the manager responded. “Additional assistance would be needed in case of a hurricane or like the past Ultra (music festival).”

As the council discussed a proposal to add a chief resilience officer, more back-and-forth ensued. Mayor Davey said he wants both positions vetted and that he would not be approving the budget then and there.

“I'm fine with us budgeting money, but I'm not approving a communications position. I'm not approving a communications department,” he said. “If I'm putting money in the budget, can the manager automatically get to run with that? I see $170,000 here for communications, I believe. And I see another few things that I want to know about.

Village manager Andrea Agha, Council Member Ignacio Segurola and Village Clerk Jennifer Medina

Village manager Andrea Agha sidebars with Councilman Ignacio Segurola while Village Clerk Jennifer Medina looks on

McCormick said the resilience officer position is a separate discussion, but Davey disagreed, saying the two potential hires are relevant for one conversation.

The discussion steered back to Agha’s communications plan. She explained the costs involved, the strategic goals, and provided a detailed breakdown of the communications plan, as well as the need to hire a full-time professional for the role.

She got pushback from Council Member Luis Lauredo and Council Member Brett Moss, who asked why the position’s proposed salary and a proposed 15 percent wage increase aren’t represented fully in the proposed budget.

“Andrea, you said that you're going to hire somebody full time, correct?” Moss questioned. “So why is it in the budget? We don't have the salary under the salaries and wages, and it's under strategic priorities?”

Agha explained that “in order to capture all of the direction we set at the May retreat we put everything in one section in the budget.”

He said how things are organized isn’t “clearly telling us the real picture of what's going to happen. Because right now, you have a 15 percent increase in salary and wages, which is actually going to be a lot larger when you put the communications person in there.”

Council member Ed London, Village Manager Andrea Agha and Vice Mayor Allison McCormick

Village Manager Andrea Agha consults with Council member Ed London and Vice Mayor Allison McCormick during Tuesday's budget hearing 

Agha responded that, “We don't really have the greatest systems in place, and so we're trying to work with what we have.”

To which Council member Luis Lauredo quipped, “We need to get the greatest system in place.”

“So I want to be clear,” said the mayor. “I will vote to include that amount [of $170,000], only if nothing goes forward without approval.”

For Agha, it’s a time sensitive issue because the contract for the current communications consultant ends at the end of September.

Council Member Katie Petros urged that a chief resiliency officer be hired so that any moves the village makes on solar initiatives has proper leadership.

“If we're going to (implement a solar initiative), we need to do it with parameters and direction,” she said, adding that she is not against the initiatives. “I just think they should wait until we have somebody who coordinates priorities instead of putting in the solar benches, or some of the charging stations, or even the educational lectures.”

Davey agreed that a resiliency officer should be hired.

Council Member Ed London later suggested that the town might be able to find a resiliency officer from the building, planning and zoning staff instead of hiring from outside.

Among other topics discussed in the meeting was the quality of the island’s beaches.

“Biggest for me, from a policy standpoint, I think our beaches really need help,” said Moss. Fecal matter in shoreline seaweed has been especially bad lately, with several “no swimming” warning advisories posted by the health department.

“We need to get rid of the seaweed because it is covered with feces from birds and living organisms are decaying,” Moss said. “I don’t know if it’s causing our water quality issue.”

Agha said, “the highest levels of bacteria are basically from the high tide line until about knee high in the water… When our initial beach management plan was established, decades ago, the seaweed wasn't nearly as bad as it is today.”

It could cost about $2.3 million to haul away the seaweed, Moss said.

The town’s iguana population was also discussed. Council Member Katie Petros claimed the population is growing and it has caused hazards for kids playing around St. Agnes Field, where iguanas are burrowing.

McCormick said iguanas are deemed as an invasive species and should be “eradicated.”

Another hot topic of discussion was bicycling. Lauredo asked about the initiative to deal with bicycle traffic on the island.

“You know, it's not politically correct, because we're all into ecology and everything else,” he said. But, he added, the community is “almost united” in the feeling that “there are issues with the (bicyclists) and the attitudes they have, and the way they offend people.”

Petros responded, saying, “As someone that used to bike and actually was a victim of a hit and run on the Rickenbacker, I don't think this green lane is going to affect the pelotons one way or another. And I think that it is really more for our citizens that are riding on bikes on Crandon. A lot of them end up on the sidewalks.”

The final millage rate for Key Biscayne for the 2020 fiscal year -- which runs from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept., 30, 2020 -- was set at 3.195 mils, which is $3.20 cents per thousand dollars assessed property value.

All approved to move the budget, with Davey noting that he wants to do much better next year, He said he's not proud of "this work product."

The council’s next meeting is October 15.