Sebastian council’s CRA budget discussion draws fire from public

(Editor’s note: Recasting lead to reflect candidate was asked to sit down rather than thrown out. regrets the error.)SEBASTIAN — In a meeting last month that saw a candidate for city council being asked to sit down and another citizen don a blonde wig, the Sebastian City Council unanimously approved the city’s budget for the Community Redevelopment Agency. The budget discussion drew opposition and questions from members of the audience at the meeting, which ended with city council candidate Joe Scozzari being asked to sit down after standing up in the audience to address a question not posed to him from councilwoman Andrea Coy. Scozzari had taken issue with the Sebastian VFW receiving CRA funds for landscape redevelopment money since the group grossed $363,000 as a tax-exempt organization last year.

“Seven thousand five hundred dollars of taxpayers’ money went to their landscape and signs when they are operating tax free,” Scozzari said, adding that the VFW “application was written out to one of our council members.”

Professing his full support for and the involvement of his family members in the military, Scozzari made the point that, nevertheless, “tax exempt outfits are not entitled to tax money.”

When Scozzari asked the council about the recourse to this situation, Councilwoman Andrea Coy told him he could “take it to the State Attorney’s office.”

Further comments from Scozzari led to the candidate being asked to sit down for the remainder of the CRA meeting.

Scozzari was not the only one to upset members of the council. Sebastian resident and businessman Damien Gilliams donned a wavy, shoulder-length blond wig and attempted to address the council, expressing opposition to the CRA budget.

The wig prompted Mayor Richard Gillmor to interrupt Gilliams in an effort to get him to remove the wig.

Gilliams protested the Mayor’s request, saying that he was “tired of being discriminated against” and was merely having “a bad hair day.”

Mayor Gillmor asked City Attorney Robert Ginsburg for advice on having Gilliams remove the wig, which he viewed as disrespectful to the council. While Ginsburg concurred that the wig did convey disrespect, he advised the mayor to “hear him out.”

Gilliams proceeded with his opposition to the budget, telling the council that he believes special events held within the community redevelopment area – such as Riverview Park – should help fund the CRA budget. He took particular issue to the Sebastian Clambake, which he said grosses $300,000.

“As a taxpayer, I want to see money come back,” he said. “Spend tax money to redevelop the area not on less parking. We’re going from a recession to a depression. Rather than spend, spend, spend, let’s fix up what we’ve got first. The Clambake should put money toward the CavCorp (Improvement Project) Property. Why do we always have to go to the taxpayer?”

Councilman Eugene Wolff said that the Sebastian Clambake, which helps fund the Clambake Association, benefited the new soccer fields at the North County Regional Park.

“It is truly a field of dreams,” Wolff said. “Everyone told me that without help from the Clambake Association it would not have happened. This type of partnership can benefit the City of Sebastian.”

The fiscal year budget for the CRA is $605,402. The CRA budget is incorporated in Sebastian’s annual budget as a Special Revenue Fund.

The CavCorp Improvement Project is the major expense in CRA budget and amounts to $400,000. The budget for special events, which include the Sebastian Clambake, is $71,600. This allocation encompasses billboards, holiday decorations, portable toilets, advertising and concerts in Riverview Park.

The budget also allocates $30,000 to the Façade, Sign and Landscaping Grant Program, which provides funding to encourage improvements to facades, signs and landscaping for existing residential and commercial buildings in the CRA area.

In addition to passing the budget resolution, the Sebastian City Council also unanimously passed changes to the Façade, Sign and Landscaping Grant Program to include the formation of the Façade, Sign and Landscaping committee. The committee will consist of three business owners and two citizens at large.

Other changes include grant match requirements, restrictions on grants for improvements made prior to application, and the provision of additional points for first time applicants or those who have not received grants in the previous three years.

The CRA boundaries are roughly the Indian River on the east, the Sebastian City limits on the north and south, and the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks on the west.

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