The city’s proposed budget includes funding one additional patrol officer, but by the time the budget is approved in September there may be more.
“We need more boots on the ground,” said Vice Mayor Scott Newton. Currently, there are 18 patrol officers and four patrol sergeants.
Mayor Gary Resnick agreed with Newton, saying that if public safety isn’t addressed “nothing else will matter.”
Policing parks, specifically Colohatchee, which for years has been used by individuals to have sex, is also a concern.
The Budget Review Advisory Committee recommended hiring two part time police aides to police the parks. To fund the positions, the committee suggested using the $20,000 budgeted for improving the vacant lots next to Hagen. Those lots were purchased by the city to eventually expand Hagen Park.
Newton said he wants a full time park ranger to oversee Colohatchee in addition to the two current part time rangers.
“We’ve had a problem with Colohatchee for a long time,” said Newton. “I’m the vice mayor of the city and I don’t want to go there. We have to do something. This commission needs to get off our rear ends.”
Resnick said Colohatchee, a unique gathering of mangroves in the middle of built-out east Broward, used to be one of the parks he was most proud of when he first moved to the city.
Now, say residents, the park is a magnet for unwanted sexual behavior that keeps many away.
“I have pretty much given up on my neighborhood park,” said resident Carlos Fernandez who lives adjacent to Colohatchee. “There’s pimps, drugs . . . I took pictures of two guys masturbating.”
In addition to more personnel overseeing the park, Newton suggested redesigning the bathrooms with one stall to make it harder for them to be used for sex. He also said the park would have to be closed temporarily at some point, for an undetermined amount of time, to replace the decking, expand the dog park fencing and possibly remove the basketball court.
Commissioner Julie Carson said more oversight also needs to be taken when it comes to keeping parks clean.
With the cost of the Mickel Park redevelopment at about $1.6 million, Commissioner Tom Green cautioned that the city can’t spend a lot right away on Colohatchee. “We can’t build two new parks in two years,” said Green.
“I’m not saying do the whole park at one time,” responded Newton.
This year’s proposed budget is $31.1 million, an increase of $1.13 million over last year. The proposed operating millage rate will stay at 6.0683 but the overall millage has been reduced by 0.0454 because of reductions in the debt service. Although revenue will increase, including $443,439 from a jump in property values, the fourth highest in the county, there are also increases in expenses. Health insurance, pensions, salary increases and other costs added $650,000 to the budget.
The cost of the water and sewer utilities, mostly due to capital improvements and debt service, is also expected to rise, $10.09 million this year over $9.3 million last year. In 2013, the cost was $6.5 million. That number, said resident Paul Kuta, warrants more discussion. “The time is overdue to have a serious conversation with Fort Lauderdale (which provides Wilton Manors with water) about the components of their cost which lead to their imposing annual increase of five percent for water and sewage charges,” said Kuta.
The next budget meeting will be on Wednesday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the commission chambers. At the meeting, commissioners will vote on a tentative millage rate, preliminary special assessment rates and hold a budget workshop.
Visit www.wiltonmanors.com/documentcenter/view/1232 for a full schedule of budget meetings.