INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The Board of County Commissioners Wednesday night passed a $259 million budget that will eliminate two full-time lifeguard positions and leave the Treasure Shore Beach Park unguarded.
County Commissioners heard more passionate pleas from constituents asking to find the $119,000 it would take to keep the county’s northernmost beach facility guarded, but in the end held firm in their goal not to raise taxes.
Commissioners begrudgingly voted for a $100 million reduction from last year’s $359 million budget. Commissioners Gary Wheeler, Bob Solari and Wesley Davis voted against a motion by Commissioner Joe Flescher and supported by Chairman Peter O’Bryan to put money back in the budget to keep the lifeguards on duty at Treasure Shore.
Commissioners heard from Sebastian resident Frank Bilotta, who led a petition drive that generated about 3,300 signatures from people asking to keep the beach guarded.
“You know the 30 reasons why you should (keep the lifeguards),” he said. “In this case the easy thing to do is the right thing to do.”
But Commissioners are facing a revenue shortfall and remained steadfast that they will not raise taxes.
“We spend over $4 million on recreation in the county,” said Commissioner Gary Wheeler. “We have people now who can’t afford their taxes.”
One of the ideas floated from the audience was to use part of $1 million dollars that Windsor gave to the county as part of a land swap deal. However, given an outlook that revenues will be down again next year, commissioners Wheeler, Solari and Davis were not in favor of tapping into that fund.
“I don’t believe it will be a one-time deal,” Solari said. “It’s not that we are picking on lifeguards, we have asked every area of the county to cut.”
Commissioner Davis agreed that given a long term outlook of declining revenue, tapping into other funds to keep the lifeguards on duty was not something he could support.
“I listened to every point each person raised and they are all valid,” he said. “It is just $119,000, but we are going to be in the same position next year.”
Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan favored putting the funding in this year to allow supporters to come up with ways to generate the funding next year.
“I think we can find the funds for this year and come up with some creative ideas,” he said.
Among the ideas floated were parking fees based on an honor system or allowing vendors to buy permits to sell food or other items.
The Commissioners approved a millage rate of $6.28 for every $1,000 of taxable value, meaning a resident in the unincorporated county would pay $942 in taxes for a home worth $200,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption. Last year the same person would have owed $940.50 on his $200,000 home.