Village Council passes $34 million budget; votes to award $1,000 bonuses to Covid-19 first-responder staffers

Village Council passes $34 million budget; votes to award $1,000 bonuses to Covid-19 first-responders

The Key Biscayne Village Council on Tuesday completed a sometimes contentious budget season by passing a $34 million budget, including a compassionate bonus for “boots on the ground” police and fire department personnel who have risked their lives as essential personnel during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The surprise last-minute $69,000 bonus plan was offered by council member Luis Lauredo -- often the most vocal critics of village spending and procedures. The measure will give $1,000 bonuses to 47 police and fire staffers who have regularly been exposed to risk in their jobs.

All council members were in agreement about the allocation. Council member Allison McCormick wanted to wait to fund the bonus in October, when they could tap into carryover funds from the previous tax year.

McCormick said she wanted to avoid even a slight tax increase and be able to tell citizens the council had held the line and maybe end up with a slight reduction in the millage rate, often the goal in the budgeting process. The final millage rate was set at 3.2022. McCormick sought to reduce millage rate to 3.195, however, Village Manager Andrea Agha did not know if there would be excess funds to cover the proposed bonus to uniformed personnel.

In the end, however, McCormick withdrew her amendment when Lauredo convinced the council that funding the move now shows city personnel they are serious about the gesture of appreciation -- even if it involved a small tax increase.

“These are people who have risked their lives for months,” Lauredo emphasized. “It’s a small token of our appreciation’’

In other budget-related action, the council moved funding for community groups and events --- many on hold because of Covid-19 --- back into the regular budget rather than a Pandemic Reserve Fund created at the last budget hearing.

The Pandemic Fund gave the impression to the groups that they were on the way to being “defunded” by the council, even though the allocations were still in the budget at the requested 2020 levels.

Now, the allocations remain as they had originally, as a line item in the budget. The funds not expended on community groups or events this year will be transferred to the village emergency fund.

“Creating a pandemic reserve fund was a good idea, but it just didn’t work out,’’ McCormick said.

In separate discussion, the council agreed to maintain holiday lighting as a way to help cheer up the community. Several other morale boosting events are being considered and may occur if acceptable safety precautions are put in place.

The evening’s budget session began with a debate about the estimated $2 million in savings from the previous budget, representing a 6 percent reduction. Lauredo questioned the figure because a large portion was the retirement of debt services and other non-recurring or deferred expenses.

Village Manager Andrea Agha defended her assessment of the budget savings and noted there were cuts made as well as cost-saving personnel changes.

If you would like to watch the entire meeting, click here.

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