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Wilton Manors Commissioners finalized the 2021-22 budget — barely.

At a final public hearing on Sept. 20, the commission mustered the three votes required to fund municipal operations. Mayor Scott Newton, Vice Mayor Paul Rolli and Commissioner Chris Caputo voted in favor of the nearly $40 million budget.

“It takes money to be better here in Wilton Manors so if we want the quality of life that we want here it takes so much services,” said Newton before casting the third vote that essentially kept the city alive. 

Commissioner Mike Bracchi voted no, citing rising costs, low revenue forecasts and missing data.

“I don’t think we can do this in a vacuum or with tunnel vision,” Bracchi said. “We need to approve budgets that can be sustainable long-term, year-after-year and I’m not overly confident that this upcoming budget looks beyond next fiscal year.”

With Bracchi signaling his objections coupled with the absence of Commissioner Gary Resnick, the city’s future was briefly in limbo. Newton’s vote put any doubt to rest.

“We’re in a different world,” Newton said. “There are different things going on that we have to take care of and they need some help. We’ve been pushing the employees for the last few years to do more work for the same money and it’s time that we try to help out some of the employees that are here working very hard and need some help.”

Half of the money in the budget — $19,946,696 — goes into the general fund. Permits, fees, fines and taxes generate a majority of the revenue streams in the general fund. The city is forecasting $10,068,015 in ad valorem taxes next fiscal year. 

“We cannot expect property values to continue to rise the way they did in 2020,” Bracchi said. “Realistically we’re not going to have enough development over the next two to three years that would significantly increase the tax base. The only way we’re going to be balancing these future budgets will be to drastically increase taxes, slash costs or cut employees.”

Four employees were added to the budget, said Finance Director Pennie Zuercher. An administrative coordinator for the utility fund, a full-time and part-time code enforcement officer and a community planning technician. Collectively, the four positions will cost the city $236,977 plus benefits. 

“I can’t in good conscience support adding 4 FTEs to the budget,” Bracchi said. “I have not received any data, no information, statistics or bench marking to show these positions are critical to the operations of the city. I like to make data driven decisions all the time, not when it's convenient for me. We need to stop looking at this budget in a silo. On paper this budget looks good, but looking ahead at a 50,000-foot level I don’t think it would be fiscally responsible. I think it would be poor fiscal management.”

City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson said the new budget accounts for 150 employees, including 10 seasonal part-time staff working in the summer camp program. A school resource officer position, funded through a $60,000 grant with the Broward County Public Schools, was also added to the new budget. 

“Our employees are underpaid,” admitted Caputo. “I don’t disagree that the future budget has some really serious risks in it and we are headed for some real serious challenges.”

Commissioners also voted to lower the operational millage rate to 5.8360, marking the 10th year in a row the rate has been reduced. 

“In future years we’re going to have to look very carefully at where we are spending our money,” said Rolli.

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