By REID TUCKER
After months of discussion on the matter, the DeFuniak Springs City Council took one of the final steps toward a referendum to remove the mayor’s right to cast a tie-breaking vote.
The Council voted 5-0 in favor of the proposed ordinance, which had its first reading at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 28. The ordinance, if adopted on Feb. 11, will put before the public the mayor’s voting power, which, in accordance with Florida State Statute, prohibits holders of the office from communicating with Council members regarding city matters out of publicly noted meetings.
The referendum will be placed on voter’s ballots at the upcoming general election on April 9. Even if passed, the referendum will not affect the mayor’s executive power to veto ordinances, a power reserved to the office by the City Charter.
City Manager Sarah Bowers was officially re-hired by the City Council by a unanimous vote to renew her contract, which terminated by clause on Jan. 16. The only substantial changes to Bowers’ contract were a $1,040 pay increase equal to that given to other city staff and updated terms of hire. Councilman Ron Kelley praised Bowers for her dedication to the city over the past year, when she was chosen to fill the position.
“I’ve been very delighted with Ms. Bowers and all of her hard work,” Kelley said. “She showed she could juggle a big, big job and make it look easy.”
The Council dealt with a few other matters related to hires, as City Marshal Mark Weeks requested the board members to approve the promotion of a DFSPD lieutenant and sergeant and the hiring of a new sworn officer due to the resignation of the department’s evidence property technician. The intra-department promotions will not negatively affect the police budget and will actually save the city some $20,000-plus in salaries while maintaining the same 20 sworn officer positions for the loss of only one non-sworn position, Weeks said. The narcotics detective duties of the lieutenant being promoted will be spread among other sworn officers as part of an effort to expand training on the force, Weeks added.
Additionally, the Council approved a temporary pay increase of $2.88 per hour for City Clerk Loretta Laird, who, alongside Bowers, has been handling the duties of planning director since the resignation of Greg Scoville. The Council members voted 4-1 in favor of the raise, which will be applied retroactively from last September forward until the time that the position is permanently filled. Councilman Mac Work cast the lone opposing vote, expressing his view that the “time wasn’t right” due to budgetary concerns.
Work also proposed instituting a new permit affecting out-of-town solicitors, namely the automobile “tent sales” that operate in the city from time to time. Work said he received reports that some citizens had been taken advantage of by unfair pricing practices, and he furthermore expressed his aversion to businesses from out of town taking customers from local businesses. Further discussion on the issue was tabled until next month’s meeting when Bowers said she would present the Council with a proposal regarding the desired permits.
“I want [a permit fee] made stiff enough that they have to think about this,” Work said.
Bowers got a unanimous vote from the board to authorize the mayor to execute an engineering agreement for the city’s long sought-after compressed natural gas filling center. The environmental report needed to apply for a USDA Rural Development grant has been completed and filed, accounting for roughly half of the process toward making a full grant application. Once Rural Development returns its authorization for the loan, the city will go out for bids to begin construction. If all goes according to plan, the fueling station is projected to be up-and-running within four to six months after the 60-90 days needed for the loan approval.
The city will also begin accepting customers’ credit cards for utilities payments, though a variable convenience fee will be charged for the service. Payments up to $50 will have a $2 fee assessed, while payments from $50.01 to $100 will have a $2.50 service fee, and an additional $2 fee will be charged for every additional $100 past the first $100. E-checks have a flat $1.50 convenience fee attached.
In other money-related news, the Florida League of Cities, with which the city purchases its liability, auto and property insurance, returned a $20,085 refund on unused premiums, while the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood donated the total amount needed for engineering costs associated with installing an elevator at the Hall. The Council voted 5-0 to approve the budget amendment needed to spend the money donated for the project.