Indian River Shores voters are expected to be asked to consider several amendments to the town charter laying out new provisions for town staffing, land use, potential highway widening and participation in special taxing districts.
The town’s Charter Review Committee, with the help of Town Attorney Pete Sweeney, combed through the 25-page governing document, consolidating and moving legal definitions to an appendix, correcting word capitalizations and tightening up housekeeping matters to make sure the charter is consistent to state law.
The Town Council reviewed the recommended changes at a council meeting in March, and directed staff to work with Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan to coordinate a mail-out ballot packet to be sent out likely next January when the most voters are in town.
Four proposed substantive changes would impact the Town Clerk position, protect Shores property owners from condemnation for private development, to make it tougher for Highway A1A to be widened within the town limits, and to give voters a say on special taxing districts.
Town Manager Jim Harpring said the proposed charter changes would be considered as a whole new document by voters to either accept or reject. The changes will not presented as individual yes-or-no questions.
If approved by voters, the amended charter would continue to have the Town Council hire the Town Clerk and determine that person’s salary, but would make the next Town Clerk to replace the recently retired Laura Aldrich “administratively responsible to the Town Manager.”
Mayor Brian Foley has said the council’s concern was that having both the clerk and the manager report separately to the council is inefficient.
The next substantive change, if approved, would amend the charter so that private property in Indian River Shores could not be taken through an eminent domain process for any sort of commercial development. The use of eminent domain for government purposes would still be permitted provided property owners were fairly compensated.
The third major change would require Shores voters to approve any planned widening of A1A.
“The Town Council shall not approve or undertake any project to add one or more additional driving lanes to State Road A1A without first submitting the project to the electors of the Town for approval by a majority of those voting at a general election or at a special election called for such purpose,” the proposed amendment reads. “If the project is not approved by a majority of those voting, then the Town Council shall not proceed to adopt or otherwise approve such project.”
Harpring noted on the marked-up draft going to council that he was unsure how much control the town might have on that matter, since A1A is a state roadway.
The fourth substantive proposed change protects Shores residents from taxation by new entities outside the town government.
“The Town Council shall not approve or undertake approval to be included in any proposed taxing district without first submitting inclusion in the proposed taxing district to the electors of the Town for approval by a majority of those voting at a general election or at a special election called for such purpose,” the proposed amendment states. “If the project is not approved by a majority of those voting, then the Town Council shall not proceed to adopt or otherwise approve inclusion in such proposed taxing district.”
That amendment was precipitated in part by the recent effort to tax Indian River Shores, Vero, Orchid and unincorporated Indian River County residents on the barrier island for children’s services programs through a phased-in property tax. Island residents would have shouldered the bulk of that new countywide tax burden, but it failed to gain needed support from the island’s municipalities.
Harpring said the charter question could have been placed on the November general election ballot, but having Swan mail it out will give residents time to sit down and read the whole charter before making their decision. He said the council may also hold a public workshop on the changes for those interested in being more informed.