LYNN HAVEN — The Lynn Haven City Commission approved a $31.1 million annual budget Tuesday, a 27 percent increase over last year’s $24.4 million budget that addresses hot-button topics including road paving and stormwater management.
The budget is based on projected revenue of $31.1 million, a significant increase that did not include a hike in the city’s millage rate but instead was fueled mainly by about $1.8 million from the Local Infrastructure Surtax and $3.9 million in Surtax Bond Proceeds. The city obtained the bonds using the new countywide infrastructure tax as leverage so it could more immediately tackle its road and stormwater needs.
In a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Judy Tinder dissenting, the commission at Tuesday’s meeting gave the go-ahead for the fiscal 2017-18 budget, which goes into effect in October.
“I am very pleased with the direction of the budget,” Mayor Margo Anderson said Thursday.
“The way I approached this is maintaining a conservative and responsible budget,” Commissioner Rodney Friend also said Thursday.
At Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Michael White noted the budget was the result of an evolving process that included discussion at previous meetings and that it underwent several drafts before being finalized Tuesday.
“It is a moving target, something we look at every day,” White said at the meeting. “We’ve added the $4,000 for the dog park accessories. ... There’s $15,000 in there for the golf cart crossings. That’s a lot of money, but that’s some solar stuff and some flashing stuff for safety reasons. If we’re going to allow them across the road, we got to make sure everyone’s safe.”
Major expenditures in the budget that showed an increase over last year are led by street paving, with $3.9 million budgeted there compared to about $800,000 last fiscal year. City officials said this is part of a large-scale move to upgrade roads across the city during the next few years.
Another major feature the budget will fund is a plan to tackle stormwater flooding, a big issue for the town that’s been discussed at previous meetings. The city will pay for a $225,000 study to see if the basins are big enough to handle flooding and figure out how to alleviate problems that crop up from heavy rains. Another $375,000 is budgeted for Engineering — Work Product in the sewer department.
Such a study, which will involve engineering work and surveys, never has been done before in the city.
“This will look at every ditch, every culvert,” White said.
Anderson said Thursday the dog park will be a new feature in Lynn Haven, the result of residents’ requests. The park will be near the animal shelter and sports complex on Recreation Drive off County 390.
“We’re adding separate fences for large and small dogs,” White said. “We’re also adding a baseball field at the sports complex.”
As for the golf cart crossings, about eight will be installed on various roads, including County 389 and State 77. The crossings will have flashing lights, striped markings and will interconnect so cart riders can “safely” travel anywhere in the city, Anderson said.
The commission voted in June to expand golf cart use to city streets that have a speed limit of 25 mph or under.
Other features the budget plans to provide for are a possible “splash pad” at the sports complex, which Friend said is essentially a “playground on the water,” as well as adding drive-through bill payment windows next to City Hall and more efficient government technology.
Part of the budget that did not involve as much money but which drew attention from a few residents and one commissioner was an increase in the stipend commissioners and the mayor receive.
The mayor’s stipend increased from $8,676 to $17,352 and the four other commissioners from $7,476 to $14,952. Anderson has said the stipend is to cover expenses related to public office, including travel and the time and effort that goes into talking to constituents.
One resident in particular, Janet Walker, repeatedly has said a change in commission compensation must be fixed and designated by an ordinance and approved by referendum, not by the budgeting process, as required by the city’s charter. Commissioner Judy Tinder agreed.
“I’ve had a lot of people bring up the issue,” said Tinder, who voted against approving the budget. “It’s pretty much all I’ve talked about for two weeks.”
Anderson and others defended the increase — noting they still get less compensation than commissioners in Panama City and Panama City Beach, and that the procedural questions are not new.
“To move Lynn Haven forward, to keep us in line, we are the second largest city. Even with the increased stipend, we’re still paying ourselves an expense account a third less than the other cities,” Anderson said. “It always sounds distasteful when an elected board” does it.
Commissioners Dan Russell and Rodney Friend agreed, with Friend saying that to “attract people that are going to give their time and education and experience,” they have to get “some type of compensation.”
“As Lynn Haven continues to grow and the challenges that we face, we need to get with the times as far as what our compensation is like,” Friend said.
City Attorney Robert Jackson said there is a “conflict” between the charter and code on the issue that has been addressed before.
“There’s a long history there,” Jackson said Tuesday. “There’s a conflict between the charter and the code on that. There’s a section of the code that says it can be approved by ordinance. The charter says that it can be approved by ordinance but it must go to a referendum approved by the voters. The origins of that go back almost to the beginning of the city.”
Because of that, the city decades ago chose to deal with compensation via stipends rather than salary.